Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

Why Black Lives Matter

November 24th, 2015 Comments off

The black community needed to make a statement regarding the continued and repeated killing of innocent, unarmed black people at the hands of the police or others using violence as a result of prejudice, so they began the Black Lives Matter movement. It wasn’t about just Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other one case. It was about the hundreds of unarmed black people killed by police, and more still killed by others, every year, year after year.

Conservatives shot back with “All Lives Matter” and “Cops’ Lives Matter” memes, thinking that they were being righteous and clever: belittle and denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement, while at the same time making it look like the Black Lives Matter movement itself was the one belittling and degrading others. After all, who could argue that the lives of the police, or indeed, all lives don’t matter? How callous and wrong of those black people!

That response by conservatives is, at best, completely missing the point—and, at worst, is at once disingenuous, asinine, and deeply racist in a very fundamental sense.

Why? Simple. Because when people say that Black Lives Matter, they are not talking about the relative worth of the lives of members of any one group compared to any other. They are, instead, making a statement about how people are treated.

When a police officer is killed, under any circumstances, it instantly becomes a significant case. Police begin massive operations to hunt down and capture or kill whomever committed the crime. When the perpetrators are captured, they are punished far more harshly than one would be for killing just about any other person. Meanwhile, the community grieves and shows utmost respect, and very commonly, funerals with auspicious honors are held and attended by hundreds, treating the victim as a hero.

In short, when a police officer dies, the reaction shows that that person’s life mattered to the community, and mattered a great deal. The entire community, and indeed the law itself, reacts in a way as to say, “This person was a fine, honorable person who will be remembered with pride, who sacrificed everything; they will be honored in a special way.” There is no question about whether their lives matter.

However, when an innocent, unarmed black person is killed by police, the response is the exact opposite. Until forced to pay attention only recently, the media ignored such cases. The powers that be refuse to even keep track of the numbers of innocent, unarmed black people killed. The police force closes ranks to protect their own, and investigations almost universally find that the killing was “justified.” The victim, far from being honored, is painted as a villain who deserved death. Every mark on their record is dragged out and exaggerated to play up the idea that the person was obviously a criminal who must have been at fault. The police leak prejudicial information to influence the public’s reaction. The community shuns the victim and their survivors, gives them no respect and no honor.

If the black person was even once arrested for an altercation or a charge of drug possession, that is made to be their identity. And such blemishes are not hard to find in a society whose law enforcement targets black people simply because they are black, and when a prosecution is carried out, it is rigged all too often to force a plea to that effect. In contrast, if the police officer’s report says that the black person “advanced in a hostile and threatening manner,” or that the black person “appeared to have a weapon,” that statement, even without a shred of evidence to back it up, is given every benefit of the doubt—even if it is inconsistent with every other indication in the case.

In short, when an innocent, unarmed black person is killed, the community’s reaction shows that that person’s life did not matter at all, at least not to the community. The system and the law itself gives their killers a nod and a pass, and shows utter disrespect for the victim and their rights. The message is clear: black lives don’t matter.

That is what the Black Lives Matter movement is responding to. Not, as their callous detractors insinuate, that only Black Lives Matter, but that society is committing an injustice when it acts as if their lives do not in any way matter. When no respect is given, no grief is displayed, only the disrespect of blaming the victim for their own death and allowing the killer to walk free.

All lives matter. Everyone knows this.

The point made by the movement does not at all dispute this. It simply points out that our society acts as if the lives of black people matter far less than do others—and the Black Lives Matter movement feels it to be an imperative to point this out as wrong.

The conservative reply, in the true context therefore, is essentially saying, “No, they don’t matter, not as much as other’s lives matter.” But they engineered it look like the victim is the villain, and the villain is the victim.

Aren’t they so clever?

Categories: Race Tags:

Blaming the Firemen for the Fire

August 30th, 2015 1 comment

Another police officer has been gunned down, another black man the suspect. No matter what the provocation, any violence is utterly unjustifiable.

protesters wearing unite not incite shirtsThis killing is immediately being linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, as have other killings of police officers by black men, and is being used to shame and denounce the movement for criticizing police for their actions. Certainly, were the rhetoric of the representatives of Black Lives Matter to rise to the level where they incited violence, that would be objectionable; however, they have been quite careful not to, including using the slogan, “Unite, Not Incite.” That hasn’t stopped the connections from being made, and from various voices among conservatives denouncing Black Lives Matter, calling them “race hustlers,” and accusing them of inciting a “race war.”

Even the sheriff who lost a deputy yesterday said, “when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, coldblooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control.”

You hear about this quite a bit, but you rarely hear anyone point out any actual rhetoric which incites to violence. When such is found, it is usually someone from left field, some unknown person who was cited only because they said something outrageous. The national rhetoric, however, has been clearly against violence, not for it. They condemn acts of violence against police and instigate for less, not more killing. What are they supposed to do—stop protesting the widespread killing of people in their community? Stop pointing out the injustice?

I would like you to reflect for a moment, however, on what would happen if one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter were to react to these killings by saying:

“We will look at an unaccountable, arrogant, out-of-control police force showing contempt for the law, and we know that the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

And perhaps it would be followed up by NAACP president Cornell William Brooks announcing:

“There may be some connection where police are killing unarmed black men, yet are unaccountable to the public, and it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence. No one, including those police officers, including the sheriffs and police chiefs nationwide, should be surprised if one of us stands up and objects.”

I would think that there would be massive outrage and indignation against these people and the entire movement. We would probably never hear the end of it.

Of course, neither the BLM movement nor Brooks said any such thing, nor would they.

The thing is, I didn’t make those quotes up out of thin air. I minimally rephrased two people who did say those things. However, they weren’t black leaders—they were conservative leaders. They were, respectively, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Republican Senator John Cornyn, back in 2005. They were not talking about police officers killing unarmed black men, they were talking about judges making decisions they did not like. DeLay was reacting to the Terry Schiavo case, and Cornyn was reacting to the Supreme Court overturning a death penalty in Missouri.

DeLay got into some trouble for his remarks, Cornyn much less. The point, however, is that the tragic killing of the deputy in Texas was not due to the Black Lives Movement, nor did their rhetoric make it happen. Conservative rhetoric often flares to the level of incitement, usually over fictional things like Death Panels and Jade Helm (remember when the right-wing nuts fired on U.S. troops?), and when that happens, they feel fully justified and indignant when the fact is noted—recall Sarah Palin’s outrage when her use of gun crosshairs on liberal politicians was called out.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order when the right-wing media, which makes a daily practice of inciting their base into a frenzy, and mostly over imaginary or vastly exaggerated things, to denounce the Black Lives Matter for “inciting a race war” when they specifically denounce violence of any kind.

When an African American movement protests the regular slaughtering of hundreds of unarmed black people each year, and does so whilst carefully warning against violence, this is called “out of control.”

Despite the sporadic and horrible random acts of violence we are seeing, the movement to stop violence is not the one that should be denounced.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

The Donald, Racism, and the Right

July 6th, 2015 6 comments

The Republican Party has a racism problem. They simply can’t shake it. They wanted to appeal to black voters, and draw them into the fold—but they could not help saying and doing things that offended and alienated that entire part of society. Then they realized that Hispanics are becoming a vital demographic, and again vowed to pull them in—only to quickly revert to form, and drive away even many who are already conservative.

Why? Because the right wing is beholden to its base like nothing else, and its base has a wide swath of racism right down its middle. As has been often said, not all Republicans are racist, but if you’re a racist, then it’s a good bet that you’re a Republican.

Conservatives have denied this for years, trying to dismiss what they can, and blame the rest on extremists and outliers, combined with a generous helping of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. The party does not have a racism problem, they insist. In fact, they claim that racism just isn’t a thing anymore—I mean, hey, we elected a black president, so, racism: gone!

When Donald Trump entered the race, however, he uncovered and laid bare the massive eyesore they all have been trying to deny. Trump now-famously said:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Far from apologizing, Trump has been doubling- and tripling down on those remarks ever since.

What has not really been remarked upon lately is how Trump’s unrepentant racism has shown up the racism in the party itself.

Consider that Trump, despite making blatantly racist remarks at the very outset of his race, jumped into second place after Jeb Bush, holding 10-12% to Bush’s 16-19%. That in itself is very telling, perhaps to the degree that “despite” is not the right word for the previous sentence—maybe it should be “because.” (Okay, “due to.”)

It’s not as if Trump’s qualifications, ideas, or intelligence dazzled anyone. Nor is it his celebrity, as he was holding at about 2% in the polls before his remarks. Nor is it his general conservative outlook. What marked Trump was his unabashed extremism, and in particular, the racism. A lot of people in the party responded to that. Even Ted Cruz said that Trump should not apologize, adding, “I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth.”

Meanwhile, we on the left are still agog, scratching our heads, asking ourselves, “How can these people take such an outrageously idiotic buffoon so seriously?” Even Sarah Palin can’t bring the magnitude of the stupidity into clear focus. It’s as if some psychopathic clown just walked on to the GOP stage with his pants around his ankles, started swearing a blue streak, and they’re all sitting there applauding, as if it were Dan Quayle spelling “potato” with an “e.” We just can’t comprehend this. We’re just asking ourselves, “Don’t they know how this looks??

What was even more telling, however, was the reaction from the leading GOP candidates. Normally, a comment like that would bring an instant firestorm from all sides. But while the left and the public in general raged… conservatives kept quiet. Except for the ones like Cruz who praised Trump, or Chris Christie, who called Trump “a good guy.”

But for a whole two weeks, all criticism was held back. Marco Rubio, the quintessential Hispanic candidate, took the whole two weeks before saying anything critical. Jeb Bush, claiming many Hispanic family members and trying hard to ingratiate himself with Hispanics, took two and a half weeks.

Ask yourself, why? Why not shoot down a potential rival right away, and score some nice, juicy Sister Souljah points, making it work with the Hispanic demographic? It seems so obvious! Instead, they just stand back, and wait so long that it sounds like they are commenting on history, for cripe’s sake.

The “why” should be clear: Trump said something that a very large portion of the base has been waiting to hear for a long time. Bush, Rubio, and the rest immediately recognized that if they took shots at Trump, they would strongly alienate this core group that they so badly need. So instead they waited until the groundswell became so inevitable that they could finally say something bad about Trump, while still sending the clear message to the base: We’re really okay with all this. Don’t worry.

This is the only reasonable explanation for their reticence—but it very clearly shows that not only does the racist base exist, but that Republican politicians are very consciously aware that it exists, and are eager to pander to that group. This is also why they mouthed ignorance as to what Dylann Roof’s motives were, as if it were some inscrutable mystery. To recognize that it was about race would have been to tie a despicable act directly to the racists—and thereby to their own party.

Time to live up to your very real roots, Republicans. You are not all racists, not by a long shot.

But almost all the racists call your party “home.” And they are there in large numbers, and they have very substantial clout. You simply cannot deny it any longer.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

The Problem Isn’t Just in Ferguson

April 10th, 2015 4 comments

If you or someone you know believe that public and police reactions to white and black people are not distorted, this is an excellent example of how that’s simply not the case. Disproportionate attention means disproportionate response. In the video below, a white man tries to break into a car for half an hour: nobody notices, not even a cop who drives right past him, even as the patrol car is slowed by traffic right in front of him, as the guy is jiggering the door lock and the car alarm is blaring loudly. No reaction. Then his black cohort begins doing the exact same thing, and people immediately begin to react. In just two minutes, a police officer, gun drawn and instantly hurling profanity, arrests him, as more police converge on the scene. Because, coincidence, right?

Check out this video of two young men, one white and one black, trying to steal a bike, even openly admitting to passers-by that that the bike is “technically” not theirs. Predictably, the white guy is left to his business and no one calls the police, while the black guy is instantly surrounded by a group of people who get in his face and call the police. These are just social-experiment videos, but they are not isolated. There’s no end to evidence you can find, if the daily march of videos of white policemen killing unarmed black men isn’t convincing enough for you.

The core problem is how we react to race. Having a name that sounds black on your resume, for example, will make it harder for you to find a job. Are so many employers white supremacists? No.

The thing we don’t hear enough about is the fact that pretty much everyone is part of the problem. Including people who will swear up and down that they never would do anything like this. Our reaction is usually, “Not me!” Guess again. You don’t have to be a “racist” to be part of the problem.

This is a systemic problem in our society, not just with police, but with ALL of us, that must be addressed. The reaction amongst conservatives is to deny and demonize the victims, and the reaction on the left is all too often, “Hey, it’s not me, so what are you going to do?”

The first step is to admit that anyone can have this issue, regardless of color, including people who hate racism, and to understand that this does not mean you’re a dyed-in-the-wool epithet-hurling hate-monger. But you CAN do this, you probably HAVE done this, and you have to acknowledge that before you can begin to deal with it. Awareness is a good first step.

Demanding justice at the societal level isn’t a bad second step. It shouldn’t be hard to be outraged at how this is manifesting today—though a huge segment of our society is trying its damnedest to stay in denial. We should all be demanding a radical change. But if that’s just not in your DNA, then at least stop getting in the way—I guarantee you, history will not be on your side.

Categories: Race Tags:

It Never Left

November 18th, 2014 2 comments

One of the hallmarks of modern racism has been its covert nature. For better or worse, racism, while still strong in the United States, has gone underground. People with racist inclinations have learned that it is no longer acceptable to make outright public statements of a racist nature.

Or, actually, not. Racism in recent years has bounded back, largely helped by institutional racism and the ability to go largely anonymous in public thanks to the Internet.

You still cannot make outright racist statements in public, but you can use a rather well-established code. Racists have found cover in this, encouraged by the institutions of the media—Fox News and even more extremist outlets reporting relentlessly on minorities in a fashion that all but screams racism—and of politics—conservatives nationwide showing contempt for minorities, blaming them for the nation’s woes and passing laws to cut off their voting rights.

This is further spurred by the widespread insistence, legitimized by the Supreme Court no less, that even in face of some of the most racist policies and mindsets that we have seen in decades, America is supposedly “past” racism, that it is no longer a problem. In the same way that historical revisionism whitewashes the wrongs done by the nation and gives us the confidence to march forward into more wrongdoings in the world, this so “post-racialism” gives cover to those with racist intent, making them feel that so long as they conform to the new rules of the game, then their rather overt—even blazing—racism is not actually “racism.”

Reading the comments in an ABC News story about how the FBI expects violence in the wake of an upcoming grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO, I was truck by how baldly racist the comments were, using the rules of New Racism:

Any decision will lead to violence. Violence is what the DOJ and Obama want. It is what the Jacksons and Sharptons do. The protesters can’t wait to loot any business.

And they should be shot down for the criminals they are. They have been on the dole so long they cannot accept “No” for an answer for anything or any situation. They are a bunch of uncivilized hoodlums.

Guilty or not guilty it does not matter…They are getting their free TV’s and Rims one way or the other…And none of them cares or knows who Michael Brown is.

Don’t knock ‘affirmative shopping’ ! the brothas gotta eat !!

The FBI is obviously a racist organization. Blacks are peaceful people. They would never ever hurt anyone or destroy anything. They are the pillars of intellectual achievement across the globe. They are simply misunderstood. When they burn down a small business, it’s because they have visions of putting in skyscrapers of achievement in their place. White folk just don’t grasp the higher (ebonic) math needed to burn down a small business and injure or kill innocent civilians.

When Ferguson happens it will saturate the media. That is exactly the time Obama will give executive amnesty to untold millions. Don’t waste that crisis.

The story had more than 1600 comments at the time of this posting—and was gaining dozens of new comments every minute. Most of them were like the ones above.

One of the key rules of New Racism: avoid using classic, outright epithets; instead, use names of prominent people of color in a disparaging way, in addition to a variety of widely-disparaged names, terms, and stereotypes. Obama, Sharpton, Jackson, Holder; Affirmative Action, food stamps, ebonics, handouts, amnesty; looting, lazy, hoodlum, moocher, thug… not hard to see where all of it leads.

It is sadly ironic that one of the few posts to be editorially questioned was one which labeled some of the above posts as “racist.” It was available on a link, but marked “held for moderation.” And the commenter who made that remark was immediately attacked by several as being racist himself—another standard tactic in the New Racism: anyone who calls you a racist is a racist. Pile on, quickly and in force.

Not far behind the New Racism, however, does the Old Racism lurk. Spurred by enough sentiment going their way, those who would gladly dispense with the more politically correct racism soon come out—and too many of the comments are not held for moderation:

If violent Negroes want to burn businesses and not accept the verdict, they should be dealt with with water cannons first and then guns. There’s no place in the USA for Violent people to kill and burn because they don’t agree with grand jury court verdict. This is the USA, not some third world toilet bowl country and if Negroes can’t live under the rule of law, they need to move overseas and leave the USA, period.

Feral animals at it again. And, of course, that’s how this whole situation began.

Back to trees Boogies!

all i see is organized terrorists. time to squash the savages


Time for a race war. Let’s just get it over with.

Yep. No more racism in America. We’re all clean.

Categories: Race Tags:


May 4th, 2014 1 comment

In recent years, there has been the pernicious claim that racism is over. We are post-racial, living in a color-blind society. In 2002, two black actors won the best actor and actress awards. In 2008, we elected a black president. Racism is thoroughly stigmatized.

In short, Mission Accomplished. We no longer need institutional protections against racism. Quotas? Long outdated. The Voting Rights Act? Defunct. Who needs bulwarks against something that is extinct?

Somehow, even as there is a resurgence of Jim Crow laws, the Supreme Court ruled that protections against such laws were unnecessary—thus setting off a surge of even more egregious laws designed to shut out minorities from the voting booth.

Perhaps one reason this hasn’t struck home as hard as it should is that the effects are almost never directly visible to most people. Evidence is usually statistical or theoretical, and these can be rather easily denied. Will a law keep more minority voters away from the polls? That’s just a theory, and Fox News is always ready with some statistic or another which lets me deny it. What about the study [PDF] which shows that job applicants with white-sounding names get 50% more callbacks than applicants with black-sounding names? Surely there’s something wrong with the methodology, as hiring is purely about qualifications. There’s always some excuse for the evidence. None of my friends are racist, they told me so. I never see racism.

However, surely even the most die-hard adherent to the idea that racism no longer exists in America must be at least somewhat shaken by the two rather marked public displays of racism in the past few weeks.

Cliven Bundy made headlines recently when he turned from being a right-wing folk hero to a flaming racist by casting black people as criminal, abortion-seeking layabouts who never learned to pick cotton and would be happier as slaves. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who had been slated to receive a (second!) lifetime achievement award from the NAACP for his contributions to the minority youth community, also came under fire when a tape surfaced of him demanding that his girlfriend delete photos of black players on her Instagram account, and not to bring black guests to the games.

It’s kind of hard to see these two recent cases, and accept that they are somehow radical exceptions in an otherwise non-racist society. Although these displays are the least of what is damaging about racism, there are the most visible, and the most difficult to dismiss. As a result, they become highly conspicuous examples.

However, holding up Bundy and Sterling as being representative of racism is part of the problem.

Here’s the problem: most people don’t understand what “racism” is. Bundy and Sterling themselves are excellent examples of this: even as they made racist statements, both professed the belief that they were in fact not racist.

You might just dismiss that as a self-serving delusion, but I think that this highlights a central problem in dealing with racism.

If you ask someone what racism is, a standard response would be, “someone who hates people of another ethnicity.” If you ask them to give an example of what a racist looks like, they might bring up a white supremacist who posts on Stormfront and unabashedly uses racial epithets and states their hatred for people of color.

A more considered response might take into account the fact that racism has become so stigmatized in society that racists have taken it underground; that a racist might look and sound like a normal person, but would quietly harbor such beliefs and act on them in a disguised way.

However, even that view overlooks the greatest misunderstanding about racism: that you can be opposed to racism, even despise racism, and yet you can still do something racist without even realizing it.

As Bundy and Sterling demonstrate, even rather extreme displays of racism can be unrealized by the people who perform them. This should demonstrate the fact that countless other acts of racism much less clear also go undetected by the people who perform them.

It seems clear to me that this is in large part because of our simplistic definition of what racism is. We think of Bundy and Sterling as being the face of racism. We think that in order to be racist, you have to be like them, or much worse. This is simply not true.

Having open hatred of people different than you is simply a more extreme form of racism. Racism, in fact, is any act influenced by a consideration of race.

Reading that, you might see this as a classic example of liberal overreach: “Oh, so everything a white person does is racism!” No, no: in order to understand the emphasized sentence above, you must first remove from your mind all connotations you have for the words “racism” and “racist.” Do not jump from “racism” to “act filled with overt hatred.”

This is why we need new vocabulary on this: the words “racism” and “racist” have such extreme associations that they instantly and radically blur the lines between thoughts and actions that are worlds apart from each other.

Consider someone who is hiring for a job. They do not hate people of other ethnicities; they have acquaintances, coworkers, and friends who are people of different races, and they regard and treat these people with compassion and respect. However, they have also been exposed throughout their lives to certain ideas of how people of certain groups behave, from stories they hear from friends, to representations in TV and movies, to reports on the news, and more. So, when hiring for the job, these ideas creep in, usually unconsciously, and influence impressions and judgments which contribute to decisions being made. This employer, seeing two candidates, one their own race, and one of another race, might make a decision they truly believe to be based on non-racial considerations, and yet racism could very clearly have been a tipping point in the decision. Were this person made aware of the nature of their actions, they would likely be appalled.

Is this person a “racist”?

In a very real sense, they are racist: they made a decision which discriminated against a person based on their race in a way that could have a severe impact on that person’s life, and when repeated endlessly in a society, has a chilling effect on racial equality.

However, because we equate “racist” with the nastiest, most overt form of racism, using that word to describe their actions would immediately alienate this person who otherwise would be sympathetic, giving them tremendous offense and perhaps leading them to think of you as a shrill, judgmental ass ridden with “white guilt” who calls everything racism, and that you are slandering them in the worst way possible. The person can then rationalize their behavior in any number of ways, from arguing that they are only responding to statistics to outright denial.

You see the problem.

Part of the difficulty is to get people to accept that they may harbor feelings which are influenced by race even when they are not what most people would consider to be racist. Our feelings on race are not simply binary or clear-cut. They exist on a rather broad spectrum, and are scattered about our psyches. These ideas and feelings are usually subtle, based on unchallenged assumptions, and are often by definition unrealized. Take one of my own experiences, not directly about race, as an example. I wrote a blog post years ago about the connection between poverty and crime. I tried to explain how it could be true that poor people commit crimes more often. However, years later, I realized that I had made a critically unchallenged assumption that poor people actually commit more crimes. I simply accepted this without question—something I no longer do. We make these kinds of assumptions constantly.

Consider walking down a mostly empty city street late at night. You become aware that a young man is walking not far behind you. Your thoughts turn to the fear that you could be in imminent physical danger. You glance back to get a better look. How differently will you react if you see that the person walking behind you is white or black? Not in the safety of your armchair considering the scenario, but actually being there? Can you honestly say that the race of the person following you has no effect on how you feel? Is it at all possible that you would feel less safe if the person was black? Even if you yourself are black?

You can perhaps relate to this experience, and hopefully understand how irrational it is to feel that way, whatever your justifications may be. Perhaps you can then understand how your judgment of the person behind you is not a unique or isolated feeling, but one of many, only this time enhanced by the prospect of personal danger. Perhaps you can accept that the same feeling might influence your thinking when you do not feel that you are in danger, but instead are just reacting to something. Perhaps you can reflect on how certain thoughts and impressions which you are ashamed of come unbidden to your mind—and perhaps you can accept the idea that you do not recognize all of them as being shameful. Perhaps you can accept that sometimes these impressions are subtle enough that you do not even recognize them at all, and yet they influence how you think, feel, and act.

So, are you a racist?

Once again, you can see how the terminology is woefully inadequate. There are clearly a great many levels and nuances, from the morally sound person reacting to subconscious assumptions, all the way up to the despicable monster filled with violent contempt.

What we need are new words, words clearly defined, words which do not equate the best people making an unknowing mistake to the worst people perpetrating considered hateful acts. We need words for various feelings of uncomfortableness that you get when you see a person of another race, one which brings enough painful awareness so you will recognize it and deal with it, but not present so strong an accusation that you will reject it out of hand. We need words for actions based upon assumptions which may seem reasonable in a pragmatic sense but do harm to individuals. We need to publicly explore and chart these different areas, enough to create broad awareness of them, but not so complex as to make common acceptance overly difficult.

Perhaps if we have a greater understanding of this issue, and can communicate it without extreme misrepresentations, it will help us get to a point where we can realize what racism is, to the point where enough people would see the current claims of our society being “color blind” as the outrageously ludicrous misstatements that they are.

When Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the best acting awards, a lot of people were saying that this proves America is color-blind. It seemed so clear to me that this was patently absurd. You know what would have been “color blind”? If Halle Berry and Denzel Washington had both won the Oscar, and no one thought about or cared that both were black.

A year later, maybe, someone would sit up and say, “Hey, I just realized, Berry and Washington won the same year and both were black!”

To which the common and reasonable response would be, “So?”

We don’t live in that society yet. We are nowhere close to being “color blind.” We have made a lot of progress, to be sure. However, the importance of that event was defined by the fact that it was, in every sense of the word, remarkable. We have to begin to realize why that is, and take the next of many, many more steps.

Categories: Race Tags:

Sterling and…

April 29th, 2014 5 comments

In the wake of Sterling’s alleged recorded comments demonstrating his racism, major sponsors for the Clippers are now pulling out, and the NBA may be considering suspending Sterling for “conduct detrimental to the league.” Fans are boycotting the games and merchandise. The NBA could eventually put enough pressure on Sterling as to essentially force him to sell the team.

People are comparing Sterling’s remarks to Bundy’s, but I see an even more appropriate comparison: Brendan Eich.

Now, Sterling has been accused of institutional racism for years, most notably in two suits brought against him, one for housing discrimination (favoring Korean tenants over blacks and Hispanics), and one for pay discrimination. Both involved allegations of racist remarks by Sterling, but there was no definitive proof. His contributions to an array of minority advocacy groups may have smoothed over the ruffled feathers—enough, apparently, that Sterling was about to receive his second lifetime achievement award from the NAACP.

How does this compare to Eich? Well, keep in mind that there was no firestorm over Sterling until the recording was made public. While it hasn’t been positively proven as genuine, there is little doubt regarding its authenticity. And now pretty much everyone has started shutting down their relations with the man, leading to much harsher consequences than Eich suffered. Remember, there was relatively mild reaction to Eich—employees and users protested, and one company disallowed Mozilla’s browser. In response to Sterling, however, fans are in an uproar, employees are protesting, virtually all sponsors are pulling out, and the league is probably going to get involved.

In Sterling’s case, we suspect that he was discriminating against minorities, while at the same time, we know he was helping them in other ways. The key point is that no great public outrage happened until there was evidence of a racist belief; the charges of actual discrimination have been around for years, and never sparked anything like what we see today.

Eich is usually defended on the basis that only his beliefs are in issue—so how is that not equivalent?

In Eich’s case, however, we know that he not only believed that gays should be denied the civil right of marriage, but that he wanted that discrimination written into law. Not just applied to people he dealt with directly, but to one of the most populous and influential states in the country.

Naturally, the two cases do not line up perfectly, but I find it hard to see how the reaction to Eich is unjustified if the reaction to Sterling is justified—unless you consider discrimination against gay people somehow more acceptable.

One common response is that the discrimination against gay marriage was more popular, that millions of people voted for it. Is that supposed to somehow make it better?

Tell me, if Eich had contributed to a bill that would have made it illegal for non-whites to get married, would the reaction have been different? Would it have been more OK if millions of people had sided with such a proposal?

An amusing side note: though Sterling was already drowning out the Bundy story, conservatives did not waste a minute pointing out that Sterling is a “Democrat donor,” and that “100%” of his political donations are to Democrats. See? Democrats are racist! And hypocrites!

What they don’t mention is that Sterling has been a registered Republican for the past 16 years.

They don’t mention that the donations to Democrats were made 22 and 24 years ago and amounted to all of $4000.

They also do not mention that Sterling made a grand total of three donations to three politicians. Two of them—Bill Bradley and Patrick Leahy—were basketball players before becoming politicians. How about that. For all we know, the NBA or someone within the organization may have solicited the donations in order to garner support for the organization. The other donation was to a California governor. Sterling has not donated anything since then, suggesting that he is not exactly a political activist. In short, there is as much reason to believe that Sterling made the donations for pragmatic rather than political reasons.

Not that I am surprised at the conservative attempts to frame Sterling as a Democrat; it’s what conservatives do, especially when right-wingers are on edge about associations of such people with conservatives and conservative causes. Take, for example, mass shootings; whenever there is a notable mass murder involving firearms, there is a common assumption that these people are wingnuts, so conservative forums, web sites, and bloggers waste no time in labeling them as “Registered Democrats.”

A recent viral email (which made it into letters to the editor as well) identified a half dozen infamous mass murderers as “Registered Democrats”:

Adam Lanza was tagged as a “Registered Democrat” on nothing more than that Connecticut is a blue state. Lanza was said by people who knew him as politically conservative, and he was never registered to vote.

Nidal Hasan, the (first) Ft. Hood shooter, was also tagged as a “Registered Democrat”—but lived in states where there was no registration by party affiliation.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was called a “Registered Democrat” despite the fact that he was not even a U.S. citizen and thus not eligible to vote.

James Holmes, the Aurora theater shooter, was described not only as a “Registered Democrat” but also as staff worker on the Obama campaign, an Occupy Wall Street participant, and a progressive liberal. The voter registration was based on someone else of the same name. The other stuff is complete fiction made up by conspiracy theorists.

Finally, while Columbine shooters Klebold and Harris were too young to vote, their families were identified as (you guessed it) “Registered Democrats” and progressive liberals. This claim was never substantiated; the families lived in a conservative suburb; and the boys’ ideology was most marked by admiration for Timothy McVeigh. Which is not to say that they or their families were conservative, but rather to point out that what little evidence there is points in neither direction in any conclusive regard.

Versions of the email also included “Timothy McVey” (presumably Timothy McVeigh) and the Unabomber.

“McVey” is labeled as “Oklahoma City Bombing raised Democrat and pro-Union.” McVeigh was a registered Republican who also voted for Libertarian candidates. His father was a Democrat and a union member; to label McVeigh, his causes, and his inspirations as somehow influenced by ideological opposites simply due to family association is, to say the least, specious.

Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, is claimed to a “Registered Democrat and inspired by Al Gore’s Book Earth in a Balance.” Kaczynski was neither Democrat nor Republican, but a rather specific breed of anti-technology anarchist, and wrote disparagingly of “leftists.” The Gore reference is based both upon a right-wing meme that connected Kaczynski’s writings to Gore’s book, and an unsubstantiated rumor in the conservative American Spectator that FBI agents had found a heavily notated copy of Gore’s book in Kaczynski’s cabin, but this was “suppressed” to avoid embarrassing the Clinton administration. In short, more conspiracy theorist crap.

In short, just a whole lot more hooey. Not that one could expect much more from a viral right-wing email.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Lies Tags:

Offended by What America Is

February 4th, 2014 5 comments

Yeah, time for more right-wing hate at an ad (this time for Coca-Cola) that tries to include more people and more diversity. Conservatives truly hate diversity. I mean, the whole idea of people coming here from all over the world to form a melting pot of cultures where everyone loves America—really, I ask you, how un-American is that?? How can you not be offended?

The commercial, clearly intended to be an outreach to as many people as possible who make up our nation, and a celebration of the fact that we have such richness in culture and language, royally pissed off those who see America as being white and English, as this writer from Breitbart suggested:

As far as the executives at Coca Cola are concerned, however, the United States of America is no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government. It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. It is instead a nation governed by some all inclusive multi-cultural synthesis of the various forms of government in the world, as expressed by the multiple languages used in the Super Bowl ad to sing a uniquely American hymn that celebrates our heritage.

I think you can call that “reading way too much into the message.” No more Constitution? Really? How the hell can you get that from the ad? Was there some subliminal message against the three branches of government that I somehow missed? And American traditions? Apparently, if it’s not white people singing in English, then it’s not “traditional America”? And “English is the language of government”—seriously, I do not recall seeing any government officials in the ad.

The next line is the giveaway: “It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty.” First, how was anything in that ad not about liberty? But “Anglo-American”? How could the writer be more clear without saying “white”? In other words, America must be white to be free; you can’t have liberty with all these foreigners running around speaking other languages. It just won’t do.

Here is someone who sees other colors and other languages, and cannot help but feel oppressed by “various forms of government in the world.” They’re taking over!

Glenn Beck also crystallized the racial fear:

“So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’ And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’” he said on his radio show. “Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: To divide people.”

He’s actually very correct in one respect, though I don’t think he meant to be. If you watch an ad where people of different races join together to sing praise to America, and you are offended by the fact that there were people of different races doing that… well, I hate to say it, but yes—you’re probably at least somewhat racist.

But as far as dividing people? Those who would show unity in diversity are not the ones dividing us. It’s the ones who hate diversity who are dividing us. We are, after all, a diverse nation; it’s the core of what we are. It’s the (original) national motto: e pluribus unum, “from many, one.” People like Beck want to push away anything that is not white and speaking English, or at least trying its best to imitate that. They embrace the “one,” so long as it is the right color and language, and reject the “many.”

You cannot do that. We are many. To deny that, to claim that America is white and English-only is to deny our history, to deny our origins, to deny the core of our very identity.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

Sometimes It’s Hard Not to Say What You Think

January 5th, 2012 3 comments

Rick Santorum, speaking to a crowd in Sioux City on how liberals make people dependent on them by aggressively signing them up for Medicaid, said this:

I don’t want to, to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.

What’s interesting is that his speech for the most part was clear and fluent, but when he came to the part about “black people,” he hesitated and stuttered a bit, and the word “black” came out a bit slurred, almost as if he was trying damned hard not to say it but couldn’t come up with something else quickly enough without coming to a complete rhetorical stop.

Santorum later claimed, “I’m pretty confident that I didn’t say ‘black.” [I] was starting to say one word, and I sort of came up with another word and moved on and it sounded like black.“

Nope, it was pretty clearly ”black.“ It’s hard to imagine what else the word could have been. But his denial only adds to the verbal stumbling in creating the rather clear impression that he is focusing on the idea that black people mooch off of whites, that this is what he believe is the real problem, but knows that would sound racist (because it is) and so, like creationists using ”intelligent design,“ dresses it up in more respectable clothes.

Categories: Election 2012, Race Tags:

Post-Racist Conservatism?

December 4th, 2011 5 comments

Some have commented recently that, no matter how it turned out in the end, the Cain campaign proves once and for all that conservatives are not racist and would accept a black candidate for president.


I have to respectfully disagree with that assertion. In doing so, I should make clear that I have never thought that all conservatives are racist to some degree, nor that most of them are. Exactly what proportion I cannot guess, but it is clear that a good many are. Probably only a small percent are hardcore racist (i.e., would admit to it openly), and most of the remainder who are racist find rationalizations and belong to the “some of my best friends” category.

How can I say that racism is still a problem in the GOP, however, after a black man was, for some time, the GOP front runner?

First of all, one has to remember that this is pre-primary, not an election. This is the tryout period, where you can “approve” of someone without it meaning anything.

One should also keep in mind that the current race is more of a political purity test among the GOP core, and reflects the other qualities of any given candidate to a much lesser degree.

Also, Cain never rose above 25% in the polls; he was the “front runner” only in that he was, for three weeks, no more than 3% ahead of Romney at any given time.

Next, one must remember that many white conservatives likely supported Cain for the same reason they assumed liberals supported Obama: because it made them feel good to be able to say that they support a black person for president. This was something which, when conservatives were accusing liberals of it, made little sense to most white Obama supporters. We didn’t vote for him because he was black; had that been the case, Jesse Jackson would have been the candidate long ago. Obama could have been white and we’d have supported him all the same. His race was no more than a fringe benefit, an inspiring side note. But for many conservatives, this was the only thing that made sense, because it is how they would have felt. Conservatives project a lot.

Then there’s the fact that they’re looking toward an election against a black incumbent; remember Michael Steele being appointed GOP chairman right after Obama became president? Remember how they imported Alan Keyes to run against Obama in the Illinois Senate race? There’s more than a little conservative history of playing race against race, especially against Obama.

Finally, one has to remember the context of Cain’s campaign. The GOP has been frantically scrambling to find someone, anyone, who could possibly challenge Obama next year. For crying out loud, Michele Bachmann, a complete loon, was the front-runner for a while. Perry, an idiot, had far better numbers. And after Cain, the same people are now looking to Gingrich, a mercurial, flip-flopping serial adulterer with serious likability issues. Against this backdrop, becoming the front-runner by a few percentage points is pretty far from a ringing endorsement.

So we have Herman Cain, who, for about three weeks, barely edged out the next candidate by a few percentage points in a political purity test a few months before the primaries in a desperate race where all the other candidates have serious problems themselves.

This is hardly what I would call iron-clad evidence that racism is no longer a problem for conservatives in America.

Categories: GOP & The Election, Race Tags:

Fighting “Affirmative Action” and Not Racism

April 29th, 2011 Comments off

In Oklahoma, there is a bill that passed the legislature putting before voters a constitutional amendment that would ban “affirmative action” in the state government.

In the past, I have remarked on the confusion associated with this term: “affirmative action” in fact refers to a set of rules and guidelines which inform employers that when they hire, administer, and fire employees, non-relevant considerations such as race and gender must not play any part. Examples of “affirmative action” include rules about extending hiring information in broad environments, not just targeting one community or social group; or, if you employ men and women for the same position, you cannot pay the men more than the women.

What people often mislabel as “affirmative action” is quotas, a rudimentary practice of enforcing equality in a workplace which is identified as suffering from discriminatory practices. For example, if an office hires two hundred people, and 99% are white despite whites being only 70% of the qualified workforce, this is fairly substantial evidence of discrimination. Since such discrimination is rarely overt and cannot be redressed directly, the only options are to (a) allow the discrimination to continue unchecked, or (b) impose a requirement that hiring must reflect the makeup of the local qualified workforce–e.g., if the percentage of qualified workers of African-American descent in an area is 10%, then an office hiring 200 people should have 20 African-American workers. Quotas take into account standard deviations, and if an employer can demonstrate that they could not find enough qualified candidates to fill the quota, they are off the hook.

While quotas are seen as oppressive and unfair, this is primarily based on disinformation and misunderstanding. Quotas are attacked, usually using apocryphal and exaggerated stories of quotas run amok, creating the impression that they cause workplaces in which unqualified, undeserving minorities are hired and then become impervious to dismissal no matter how badly they perform. These stories are often taken as representative of the rules of quotas by managers, who, fearful of being sued, will sometimes follow the false rules instead of following the actual rules, thus providing more fodder to show that “quotas” are unreasonable.

The fact is, if hiring is equal and fair in the first place, quotas would never apply in any way, shape, or form. And when they do apply, they never require any employer to hire anyone who is not qualified, nor do they provide one iota or special protection or special preference to a worker once they are hired.

So, back to the Oklahoma bill. It took me a little bit to find the specific legislation, but eventually I found it listed as Senate Joint Resolution 15. It would amend the state constitution to read:

Section 36. A. The state shall not grant preferential treatment to, or discriminate against, any individual or group on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.

Now, that sounds reasonable. However, note the language: “preferential treatment.” Also note the word “group.” Those are the key terms. “Preferential treatment” has long been a code word for people who attack affirmative action. The basic idea is that the effects of discrimination are partly or wholly ignored, and the immediate effects of quota-based hiring are considered completely out of context. Imagine considering sending a person to prison but ignoring the crime they committed; it would seem a horrific injustice. This is how affirmative action’s critics view it: not as a redress to an imbalance, but as a special boon, a bonus given only to minorities and women at the expense of white men.

Now, the rest of the language is pretty much the same as standing law. Here is Oklahoma’s state law on equal employment, a.k.a. affirmative action:

Title 25 O.S. 1302 – It is a discriminatory practice for an employer:

(1) To fail to refuse to hire, to discharge, or otherwise to discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation or the terms, conditions, privileges, or responsibilities of employment, because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap unless such action is related to a bonafide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer’s business or enterprise.

(2) To limit, segregate, or classify an employee in a way which would deprive or tend to deprive an individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status of an employee, because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap unless such action is related to a bonafide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the employer’s business or enterprise.

The only real differences are in the terms “preferential treatment” and “group,” and that is what they likely hope will kill off quotas.

Discrimination is not overt. Very few employers ever announce that they are hiring based on race or gender. As a result, it is impossible to address the damages of discrimination specifically, on a case-by-case basis. Instead, it can only effectively be addressed in a general way, i.e. quotas. What this may mean, however, is that if a workplace is hiring an individual, but because of past discrimination, white men have been hired over women and minorities and an imbalance exists, a qualified but less-experienced black person may be hired over a more experienced white person. This could be termed as “preferential treatment” for the individual. Since it could be argued that it is the group which is being given preference, the new legislation adds that term. Of course, the group is not actually being given preference–it is being compensated for preference given to white men. But this is the consideration that conservatives hope to dance around.

In effect, the amendment would, if effective in what it is designed to accomplish, forbid the use of quotas in the state. Racial and gender discrimination would therefore go unchecked, leaving strong “preferential treatment” only for whites and men.

The impetus behind this bill was made rather transparent Wednesday through the comments of one rather infamous Oklahoma state legislator named Sally Kern. On the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, she made this statement:

We have heard tonight already that in prison there’s more black people. Yes there are, and that’s tragic. It’s tragic that our prisons here in Oklahoma – what are they, 99-percent occupancy? But the other side of the story, perhaps we need to consider: Is this just because they are black, that they are in prison or could it be because they didn’t want to work hard in school? And white people oftentimes don’t want to work hard in school, or Asians oftentimes. But a lot of times that’s what happens. I’ve taught school for 20 years and I saw a lot of, a lot of people of color who didn’t want to work as hard, they wanted it given to them. As a matter of fact, I had one student who said, “I don’t need to study. You know why? The government’s going to take care of me.” That’s kind of revealing there.

Yes, it’s revealing, just not how she thinks it is. Frankly, I have strong doubts that she really had black students who seriously admitted that they didn’t want to study hard because the state would support them no matter what. It is far more likely that students made statements meaning something entirely different, but which she interpreted the way she wanted to–or she just made the whole thing up, based more on what she wanted to believe rather than on what she actually observed.

Disproportionate numbers of black people are not in prison because affirmative action made them lazy; they’re in prison due to a variety of factors, including racial discrimination over decades and centuries up to and including today, which induced poverty and a sense of hopelessness; sub-standard educational funding for people in poorer areas, which “just happen” to be largely minority; and laws written which disproportionately target and more strongly punish people of color.

To instead claim that it’s primarily or even partly due to laws which promote equal treatment and higher employment rates is farcical at best.

Listening to Kern’s whole remarks, there were several other telling points. One was that she extensively quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; when a conservative does that, you know it’s a cover for killing off civil rights and fair treatment. They love trotting out King’s statements and interpreting them in such a way as to kill the spirit and intended meaning of those statements.

Kern also made distinctions between “equal opportunities” and “equal results” (famous among affirmative action deniers), saying that opportunities were more important than results. This is another tell, as she clearly meant that the results should be determined wholly by a person’s accomplishments, and that affirmative action destroys that–completely ignoring the fact that before affirmative action can play any part, racial and gender discrimination must first destroy fairness, thus leaving affirmative action to restore it.

These people see affirmative action as anathema to equal opportunity, once again completely ignoring the effects of discrimination. In effect, in the absence of affirmative action, they blame minorities and women, and not discrimination, for their inability to attain employment on an equal level with white men.

Kern went on to explain why women don’t earn as much as men:

Women don’t usually want to work as hard as a man because … women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time.“

Ah. I see. Women earn less than men because they spend more time at home. You can observe the logic at work here. The actual issue is that, when at work, with the exact same background and qualifications, doing the exact same job, women are paid a lower wage than men. Obviously Kern doesn’t even understand this; she thinks that the complaint that women earn less than men is about how many women work and how many hours they put in, not about equality in wages.

All of these claims center around a basic theme: blame the victim. It’s not discrimination which is hurting them, it’s their own decisions.

All of this echoes what we heard in the Tennessee legislature when they passed a bill to teach creationism in public school science classes: a vast lack of understanding of the reality of issues accompanied by a desire to implement laws which follow a strongly conservative bias.

These bills being passed are not about reality, they are more about Colbert’s ”truthiness,“ about establishing and codifying conservative beliefs and tenets in law.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

The Brewing Race Conflict

August 22nd, 2010 14 comments

An interesting take I’ve heard spoken here and there recently is that at least part of the focus on immigration, “anchor babies,” and the repeal of citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is on “demographics.” In this case, “demographics” is a very polite way of saying “race.”

A famous factoid most people know about is the projection that by 2050 less than 50% of the country will be non-Hispanic whites. That projection seems to be pretty significant to some people. I remember back in the 90’s, reading the posts of a right-winger on GEnie who was unabashed in his expressions, stating baldly that such trends scared the crap out of him. And while few in this day and age will say it outright, I think that this is a more and more common sensibility among conservatives in the nation.

The sense of persecution among whites, especially white male Christians, has been marked for some time now. Despite currently holding disproportionate power and influence, we hear complaints of the opposite–that this demographic is being persecuted mercilessly.

It does not really seem like too much of a coincidence that soon after a black man became president for the first time, that we started hearing right-wingers angrily exclaim, “we want our country back.” This was a kind of scary thing to hear, because in pretty much every decent sense, we had never “lost” the country so that it had to be taken back. Even when liberals had won the presidency and controlled Congress, I don’t think I heard anyone but political strategists put things that way, and they meant in a purely political sense.

Here, there was the strong, undeniable implication that a national identity had been lost. Not just a political identity, but one of color. Our jobs were white, our leaders were white, our country was white–but now we’re seeing the non-whites start to take over in very real ways. These people had felt it starting to slip away, and then Obama gets elected.

Suddenly, key issues that right-wingers used to focus in on begin to fade, issues like abortion, gays in the military, prayers in the schools, and the pledge of allegiance.

Instead, we saw the emergence of a completely new, radical political surge, one which was almost purely populated by whites. A party who believed the president was an alien, his birth certificate was not legitimate no matter what, that he was born in Kenya. And we started hearing more and more and more about three issues: immigration, blacks, and Islam.

Really, why immigration? Of all topics to gain prominence, why that one, and why now? It’s not because of the recession–it’s not as if there are many whites who want to pick strawberries, become nannies, do yard work, or sew garments in sweat shops but are turned away because the damned immigrants have pushed them out. It’s not as if our economies are actually taxed by illegal immigration–on the contrary, all the evidence says the opposite. Maybe it could be the result of exhausting other culture-war issues and this one was imply next in line, but I doubt it.

And the New York mosque? Muslims in general? Even after 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment didn’t seem as high as it is right now. Where did that come from all of a sudden?

And how about all the stuff about black people? Why did ACORN take on such sudden significance when it had been around for about four decades? Why so much intense focus on the NAACP recently? Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, Henry Louis Gates, the “New” Black Panthers… strangely, black and white race conflicts were front page news, and were focused on intently. And most of them involved a negative public up-swelling, accusing them of wrongs, calling for their ouster.

Strangely, most of the top issues were in some way related to race, to aliens in our midst, and how they are making things wrong.

There was the abrupt, almost jarring about-face on problems that have existed for years and the right-wing considered tame, but suddenly they are crises and, somehow, all Obama’s fault. No matter that deficits truly started getting out of control under Reagan and Bush 43; Obama’s to blame. Unemployment was clearly a Bush artifact–but since it did not magically dissolve under Obama, he’s to blame. The debt, suddenly, will wreck us, as if it weren’t going to before, and since the right wing suddenly realized this under Obama, he of course is to blame. This recession could not have more clearly started under Bush and the stimulus could not more clearly have started to reverse it–but of course, Obama’s to blame for it all. And our rights–despite the fact that they were decimated under Bush, and Obama at worst has perpetuated some of Bush’s policies that threaten them–somehow Obama is the one who has deprived us of all our rights. And our money! He’s stealing our money! Doesn’t matter that taxes are at a historic low, that he has actually cut taxes for most of us, nor that the worst he would do would be to allow taxes for the rich to return to where they were in the 90’s like the Republicans planned; no, he’s taxing us to death!

This is also why news like Afghanistan, at any other time a big opening for the opposition, is not an issue–the president pushing a war, against Muslims, no less? That doesn’t fit, so they act like it doesn’t exist.

No, there seems to be a special reason why immigration, Islam, and color, of all hot-button issues, have suddenly catapulted to new heights, and why all things economic are suddenly of notice. The country is changing color, and it’s suddenly ruining us. It’s their fault. It’s because of that threatening, polysyllabic prognostication of doom: demographics. just look at the president, for chrissakes. Everything was going fine before he took over.

A lot of white Americans are seeing the future, and I think it scares the crap out of them. And if there is anything that conservative politicians are good at, it is seeing the fear in people’s hearts, playing on it, setting it afire, and then capitalizing on it.

Categories: Race Tags:

It’s Possible Arizona Has an Even Bigger Race Problem Than I Thought

June 7th, 2010 3 comments

As part of a larger mural project, painters created a mural on one side of an elementary school facing a roadway. The mural’s theme was “Go Green,” and featured four boys using green transportation–walking and riding bikes among images of nature. So, how could this possibly generate racist hatred? Well, this:


No, not the woman in front of the mural. It’s the kid prominently featured in the mural. Specifically, the fact that he’s not white. The image is based upon a student at the school who is of Hispanic origin.

For a few months, while painters were putting the mural up, they endured a steady stream of racist shouts from passing cars. Among the most common comments: “You’re desecrating our school!” “Get the nigger off the wall!” “Get the spic off the wall!” Comments on a newspaper web site said the mural was “ugly,” “tacky,” and “ghetto.” Callers complained of “graffiti” and “forcing diversity down our throats.”

Wow. That’s almost like 1960’s Mississippi or something. Now, seriously, how screwed up do people in a community have to be to spout such racist crap because of a mural like that?

Apparently, screwed up enough that the school district gave the artists a directive: lighten up the face.

More was vocalized by Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair, who had a local radio talk show. On May 21, he got onto the topic by starting with the phrase, “I am not a racist individual, but….” Right there we have a red flag. You know that any statement starting with “I am not a racist individual” will have a pretty strong dose of racism. And the fact that he followed it with the word “but” is telling; that conjunction is contrasting, meaning that the following phrase contains meaning opposite from the preceding one, as in “I don’t like romance novels, but I loved that one.”

Blair’s full statement: “I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who’s president of the United States today and based upon the history of this community when I grew up, we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years – to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, ‘Why?’”

Welcome to post-racial racism.

Several interesting cues in there. First of all, what the hell does Obama have to do with this? The fact that Blair hit on that shows that he’s got Obama hatred on the brain. If the mural was made two years ago and featured a white kid, would it have been “based upon” Bush? Clearly this guy has issues with the president which are linked in with his reaction here.

Second, “we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years” is the classic “some of my best friends are black” statement, almost universally used in racist statements, as a way of legitimizing the speaker as somehow non-racist, as if liking specific people in a racial group means that you can’t possibly hate the group in general.

And finally, his question: Why depict the biggest picture on the wall as a person of color? The answer, of course, is why not? Now, I am not suggesting that there is not a tendency to emphasize diversity in public murals or other works depicting people, it is quite common. But the real question here is, what’s wrong with that? Does Blair not want his kids exposed to other children of color? Is he offended that a minority face got “more screen time” or “better representation”? More likely, he is simply offended by the idea that someone thought it would be a good idea to express a level of diversity in the community–a thought Blair made clear by saying, “I’m not a racist by any stretch of the imagination, but whenever people start talking about diversity, it’s a word I can’t stand.” Again with the “I’m not racist, but” bit. And his use of the contrasting conjunction is logically sound: “I’m not racist” certainly contrasts with “I hate diversity.”

Fortunately, there is a a streak of sanity and reason in the community. Blair was let go from the radio station and no longer hosts the show (he is still ticked off about the mural, calling it a “defacing” of the school building). The school principle and superintendent stood up in public and said, “When we asked them to lighten the mural, we made a mistake,” and “Shame on us if we can’t say, ‘We made a mistake and we’re sorry.’” Now, that’s an attitude I can respect–though I am sure that conservatives gagged on that, seeing it as equal to “apologizing for America” or some such. A rally was held at the school where the school officials made this statement with a healthy number of people protesting the racism. Presumably, the less tolerant citizens stayed away in disgust.

Categories: Race Tags:

Excusing Republicans

May 5th, 2010 Comments off

Something I’m hearing a lot is people excusing Republicans for the Arizona immigration law because a few Republicans are speaking out against it. For example, take this diversion by Jake Tapper from This Week:

To be fair, to conservatives, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a conservative Republican, and Florida Congressman Connie Mack have had some tough words about parts of this law … these are conservative Republicans, nobody would question Bob McDonnell’s bona fides as a conservative, and they are voicing serious concern about those laws.

Tapper, who leans to the right himself, said this as the conservatives at the table nodded sagely and voiced assent. But the whole claim is BS, frankly. Think about it: if a Democratic legislature in a Democratic state passed a bill banning guns, and a Democratic governor signed it into law while a large majority of Democrats across the country approved, would conservatives agree that Democrats were not responsible just because Brian Schweitzer and Jim Webb spoke out against it? Please.

Republicans thought up this law. They passed it, against a solid wall of Democratic votes. A Republican governor signed it. 75% of Republicans who have heard of the law approve of it, and are the only ones I hear defending it. That there are a few right-wingers who see the true ramifications of the law and object hardly make this not a Republican matter. This may be the right wing of the Republican Party, but it is the Republican Party which produced it, and most Republicans approve of it.

What we’re seeing is Republicans trying to disavow the more radical actions of what is frankly the majority of their party while not really doing anything to stop or reverse those actions, so they can appeal to a broader base and not be taken to account for what the party is as a whole. Good midterm election strategy, but not the truth.

Bill Maher, in that same round table discussion, made a few excellent points about the racism inherent in the law. Imagine a law, maybe based on militia activity, that would pressure the police to pull over white males in pickup trucks indiscriminately, asking them for their papers and jailing them if they fail to produce. Like they’d be OK with that, wouldn’t scream “reverse racism” or some government plot to oppress them, and create widely-believed conspiracy theories about Obama and this is what happens when you put a black guy in the White House. The Tea Party crowd would be in an uproar about that, unlike now, when we’re not hearing a peep out of most of them. No, only when it’s people of another color whose rights are trampled when 3 out of 4 of in the party as a whole give hearty applause. As Maher pointed out, if the large masses of hysterical, gun-toting radicals calling for government overthrow were almost all black, you think they would be treated like the teabaggers are? Would Fox News be organizing for them and upholding their Second Amendment rights? Hell no.

But, remember: IOKIYAR. And being white helps a lot. Not that the two are different data sets, mostly.

Segregated Restaurants, Now?

September 20th, 2009 Comments off

Last week, Rush Limbaugh made a deal out of black kids beating up a white kid on a bus, suggesting that it was a result of “Obama’s America” in which, apparently, black people now rule supreme and feel like they are entitled to beat the crap out of white people whenever they want. He used this as an excuse to call for segregated busing. Soon after, it became clear that the beating had nothing to do with race, though Limbaugh and others in the right-wing blogosphere deny this is the case.

Not too long before the bus incident, there was another beating. This one was much more serious, and was clearly racially charged. A white man named Troy Dale West Jr. was coming out of a restaurant called the Cracker Barrel (no comment) with his wife when Tashawnea Hill, a black woman and Army reservist was walking in with her 7-year-old daughter. West reportedly opened the door in such a way that it almost struck Hill’s daughter in the face. Hill reportedly then admonished West, telling him what he’d almost done, and, according to Hill, “it just went downhill” from there.

What she means by “downhill” is that West ended up beating Hill severely, injuring Hill and traumatizing her daughter:

Police say Hill stated that “West punched her in the left cheek, forehead, kicked her body in several places, and punched her head in many areas several times.”

As for how we know it was racially charged, West allegedly should the “n-word” and the “b-word” at her during the attack.

West’s justification? “[S]he spit on me and accused me of trying to hit her daughter with a door.” Not only does it sound improbable that Hill spat on him for such a thing, but (a) there is a surveillance video of the event which Hill’s attorney says proves that she did not spit on him, and (b) even if she had, it would not even come close to justify hitting someone, much less punching and kicking a woman in front of her small daughter.

Can’t wait to hear what Rush Limbaugh would have to say about this one. Likely he’ll just ignore it. But maybe he’ll say it was understandable backlash, that the man was just so infuriated by what Obama has done to our country that he simply couldn’t restrain himself, and so we should segregate restaurants now, too.

I’d also love to hear what this says about right-wingers’ claims that we’re in “post-racial” America now, and that racism doesn’t exist anymore. Not that the irrational rage against Obama which just by coincidence is heavily concentrated in the south is connected to race, either–no, I’m sure all the images of Obama as a witch doctor and monkey are completely unrelated to race.

Categories: Race Tags:

Beatings, Race, and Memories

September 16th, 2009 2 comments

The right-wing pundits are all over a couple of black schoolkids beating up a white schoolkid on a bus, making a big deal over race and how black leaders are not falling over themselves to own the incident and apologize. This despite the fact that it has now been established that the beating had no racial component whatsoever. Limbaugh is spouting that it’s Obama’s fault. I’ll buy that when Bush owns up to every act of violence committed against black people by white people during his eight years in office.

When I was in high school, I was packing up in the locker room after a P.E. class. I heard two kids arguing at the other end of the room. I circumspectly ignored the dispute, and don’t recall much else until I heard someone behind me shout, “And don’t you laugh, either!” Before I could even turn around to look, my head was slammed against my locker door so hard that I actually lost consciousness for a moment–only one of two times that’s ever happened to me, and the worst concussion I have ever sustained. That the assailant was black and I am white had nothing to do with it. Sometimes a beating is just a beating.

On a side note, that incident really burns me to this day. Not that the kid took out his anger at not being able to beat up on another kid so he took it out on an unwary bystander. No, it was the high school vice principal, who heard about the incident (I didn’t even report it myself, I forget why not), and called us both into his office. The idiot actually used the old “I don’t care who started it line” and forced me to shake hands with the assailant to show there were no hard feelings. Isn’t that sweet? In an completely one-sided and unprovoked beating, one person indiscriminately uses enough violent force on another to potentially cause serious injury or even death, and the adult in charge doesn’t want to bother with the details. Instead he lets the assailant off with a handshake from his victim. I was too young and timid in those days (not to mention shocked and overwhelmed by the unfairness) to say anything, but I wish I could go back in time and confront the unspeakable moron. My darker half would have me take the guy’s head, slam it into a wall, and then tell him to shake my hand in reconciliation because, after all, we were not interested in who started what, right?

On another tangential side note (getting way off the original topic now, stream-of-consciousness time here), speaking of losing consciousness, my second worst concussion I referenced above was at a miniature golf course, also in my high school days. The 19th hole was a narrow ramp at an upwards angle into the end of a pipe, a hard putt shot which, if you made it, got you a free game. After finishing up, I and some others gathered around the back end of the setup to watch others make the difficult shot. One genius, completely without warning, thought he’d drive the ball into the hole, taking a huge swing worthy of a 100-yard shot. The ball cleared the entire setup and hit me square in the forehead at high speed. I swear I can even today still feel the dent the ball made in my skull. By the time I came to a few moments later, the culprit had run off. Kids.

In an attempt to bring this back to the main topic, in the miniature golf incident, both the assailant and I were white.

I never got Ronald Reagan’s apology for that one.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Race Tags:


August 2nd, 2009 Comments off

Some of the remaining bits & pieces now being tabulated in the Gates arrest drama are the side players who got involved in it for various reasons. One that’s a bit scary involves a police officer, Justin Barrett, who sent a letter to Boston Globe writer Yvonne Abraham, in which he said this:

His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with the police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [oleoresin caseinate aka pepper gas] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.

Barrett also forwarded the letter (full text here) in an email to colleagues. When the inevitable fecal matter hit the fan, Barrett said of the letter, “I did not mean to offend anyone. The words were being used to characterize behavior, not describe anyone … I didn’t mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect.” Later in the same email, he wrote to the female journalist:

You are a hot little bird with minimal experience in a harsh field. You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind [sic] detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning.

Umm… Okay. “banana-eating jungle monkey” is not racist, and “hot little bird,” “infidel,” “fool,” and “you should serve me coffee and donuts” to a woman is treating her with “dignity and respect.” Gotcha.

Barrett described “jungle monkey” as a “poor choice of words,” and not racist, but he repeated the phrase four times, ending the letter with:


Certainly, adding “back to one’s roots” dismisses all speculation that it’s about race.

Hoo boy.

Let’s set aside the “jungle monkey” thing for a moment and look at the rest, shall we? Spraying someone in the face with pepper spray in their own home because they accuse you of being racist? That’s quite something right there. But a lot can be gleaned from the expression, “belligerent non-compliance.” That’s a strongly loaded phrase, in part because he’s likely quoting a commonly-used police expression. Now, if a police officer is acting in the line of duty to accomplish a task necessary to the safety of the public or themselves, and a citizen angrily refuses to comply with a direct order necessary to accomplish that task, then “belligerent non-compliance” is in order. But remember, Crowley arrested Gates after it was firmly established that Gates was a college professor in his own home, and there was no crime involved; already, the situation was confirmed to be completely free of risk or danger, and all you’re left with is one pissed-off old man on a cane.

In exactly what terms was Gates supposed to be compliant? “Compliance” suggests that he had been ordered to do something–well, he had been asked to show ID, and he did. That’s all. After that, there was nothing.

But the reason that “belligerent non-compliance” is somewhat scary here is that it subtly suggests more than just professional police work; it hints at a mindset, hopefully not shared by too many in uniform, that police are less civil servants and more civil masters. That a citizen is expected to comply with any police request in any way, with a smile, or else.

How many think in this way? Crowley felt this strongly enough that he arrested Gates. One can only imagine what Barrett would have done if he were the officer at the scene. What percent of all police officers would have done less or more than Crowley did? How pervasive is the natural expectation of meek compliance by the public?

Think of the atmosphere in which police serve, understand that they are people just like everyone else, and it becomes easier to understand how many could easily be lured into a mindset that is less than appealing. You belong to a fraternity charged with public safety; like doctors, the power of life and death in your hands can attract or lead to the mightiest of egos. You carry a gun, and in terms of authority, you are high on the totem pole in society. People fear and respect you just for wearing the uniform. You are given a certain deal of latitude to act on that authority, and you have the solid support of the entire police force, often the prosecutors as well, in case you step over a line. Your word is far more often respected than that of an ordinary citizen if there is a disagreement. Culturally, you might even feel elevated to the role of hero; certainly, the role of cop is exhaustively expressed in all forms of entertainment in a manner that speaks directly to the male sense of dominance and ego.

In recent comments, a visitor to this blog and I had a discussion about how this relates to customer relations in retail work, where workers dealing with customers have to deal with various kinds of people on a daily basis. Most are non-offensive, some are very agreeable, and some are disagreeable. People in these jobs tend to become aggravated by the disagreeable ones, and much time is spent with co-workers carping on how stupid and unreasonable they are, with the worker usually holding back great resentment while having to be outwardly respectful while being abused by them.

Now put that into the context of police work, where the situation is greatly exaggerated. The disagreeable customers are often armed, dangerous, or aggressive in some way; a good part of your job is to deal with the worst and least respectful elements of society, and it is likely very easy to see anyone acting disagreeably with you–including Harvard professors–to be part of that overall group. You are Authority. You carry a gun. You are to be respected and obeyed. And here’s some ass giving you lip, after you put your life on the line to protect him. He should be grateful.

This is likely not helped by the other end of the spectrum: the respect, fear, and even adulation others show to you. People who automatically show great deference, who will comply readily with your requests, with “thank you” and “please.” That plus the general respect, recently enhanced (especially since 9/11) that police share with firefighters and soldiers, as being the segment of society that keeps everyone secure and alive, boldly patriotic, heralded as heroes and you’d better not disagree.

Enough of this sinks in with enough people that it comes to the point where some start abusing that authority, even in small ways. Here you are protecting this guy’s home and he thinks he can accuse you of being racist? Let’s show him the error of his ways.

I’m sure that many if not most police officers would read this and laugh. But I am just as sure that some, perhaps many, would feel the expressions resonate. That there is an entitlement that goes with the job. That citizens had better respect and obey. Certainly that was the case with Barrett; think you can talk back to me, jungle monkey? Enjoy some pepper spray, boy. And you, lady, you think he’s in the right here? Well, serve me coffee and donuts, hot little bird. And don’t forget to do my laundry. With all due dignity and respect.

Hopefully, Barrett represents the worst and nowhere near the norm. But Crowley, who comes across as much more reasonable, still let himself step over the line when he arrested Gates. And these are not isolated cases.

We probably have no choice but to accept a certain amount of this; police are not supermen, they have to deal with an insane amount of crap, and that kind of authority cannot be expected to have zero effect. But neither should the situation be ignored or dismissed when it does become a problem. Crowley should have been disciplined for the arrest. Barrett was very rightly suspended, but only because he clearly went too far and posed a greater risk.

And, as a co-worker pointed out, all of this is an excellent example of how we are not the “post-racial society” that many have suggested exists.

Categories: Race, Social Issues Tags:

Will Sgt. Crowley Apologize to Lucia Whalen?

July 30th, 2009 7 comments

Crowley has made a defiant point that he would not apologize for the arrest of Gates. He was almost certainly speaking in terms of apologizing to Gates for acting in a racist manner. Probably he would react the same way if asked to apologize for an unwarranted arrest.

The real question is, will he apologize to Lucia Whalen for falsely putting words in her mouth? In his police report, Crowley wrote:

As I reached the door, a female voice called out to me. I turned and looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified as Lucia Whalen. Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand and told me that it was she who called. She went on to tell me that the observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of 17 Ware street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry. Since I was the only police officer on location and had my back to the door as I spoke with her, I asked that she wait for other responding officers while I investigated further.

Whalen today claims that she never told him that; that instead, she simply said, “I was the 911 caller,” to which Crowley responded by pointing at her and saying, “Stay right there.”

One might call this a case of “he said, she said,” except for the rather significant example of the 911 call in which Whalen specifically mentions seeing luggage, suspects that the men might live in the house and not be intruders, and refuses to identify either as black, guessing instead that one might be Hispanic and she couldn’t see the other one. This is solid, being recorded on the 911 call. Which means that it is pretty much certain that Whalen did not, seconds later, change her story when she met Crowley. Of the two reports, Whalen’s is infinitely more credible.

This in turn means that Crowley simply fabricated that part of the police report. “Remembered wrongly” could be applied, but taking “I was the 911 caller” and translating it into a conversation which never took place in which Whalen identified “two black males with backpacks” is quite the case of remembering wrongly.

Whatever the case, and whatever Crowley’s intentions, one thing is crystal clear: Crowley’s false report made Whalen look very bad, even possibly racist, and being the public record which most people gave ultimate credence to, it amounted to libel against her. Whalen did not fail to see the luggage, she did not fail to consider that they might live there, she did not fail to see that one had gained entry before force was used, she did not report backpacks that weren’t there, she did not even make certain statements about race, however accurate they may have been to make. But by making the public claim that Whalen reported what was seen as “two black males with backpacks” forcing entry into a house when such was clearly not the case, Crowley made Whalen look like a borderline racist, for which she received a great deal of unjust criticism.

So: will Crowley apologize to Whalen for issuing a bad police report and making Whalen look bad?

Somehow I think not. Crowley does not strike me as the kind of guy who admits a mistake on the job, especially when his reputation is at stake. But then again, this tends to be par for the course with police and prosecutors in any case.

Categories: Race, Social Issues Tags:

Not Looking Good for Gates Crowley

July 28th, 2009 5 comments

The Cambridge police released the 911 call and the tapes of the police radio, and things don’t look all that spiffy for the story of Sgt. Crowley. They do not come close to proving Gates was right, but two key elements suggest that Crowley might actually have racially colored the situation and strongly suggest that he was not being accurate in his police report.

The first element is that Crowley strongly mischaracterized the initial report by Gates’ neighbor, Lucia Whalen. Whalen has received a good deal of criticism because everyone accepted Crowley’s report, in which he claims Whalen describes the two men at Gates’ house as “two black males with backpacks.” In fact, in her 9/11 call (mp3, transcript), Whalen did not initially give the race of the two men, and when asked, said that one of them “looked kind of Hispanic but I’m not really sure,” and reported that she did not get a look at the other one at all. Whalen also specifically mentioned seeing luggage.

Now, this was what Whalen said on the 911 tape, and Crowley got his information directly from Whalen on the street, which was not recorded. But to imagine that “two men with suitcases who might live there and one seems Hispanic and I didn’t see the other one at all” would within a minute or so transform into “two black males with backpacks” is not credible. Clearly, either Crowley made up that part or he radically misunderstood what Crowley told him. And that suggests that there actually was racial bias on Crowley’s part, if he contributed both “black” and “backpacks” in place of “unsure” and “suitcases.” Considering Whalen’s 9/11 call, it seems unlikely that she would even mention race at all unless asked by Crowley, in which she would have given the same answer as the 9/11 call. So “black” seems to have been either assumed by Crowley, or else later inserted by him after he saw the men–either way, his police report was false.

The second element comes from Crowley’s transmissions (mp3, transcript), which seem to contradict what he wrote in his police report. In his report, Crowley wrote:

I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units.

This is belied by the radio transmission, in which Crowley had no transmissions which were made unclear by Gates’ alleged “yelling.” In the sections of the recordings of the police radio coming from Crowley, you can hear Gates a little in the background, but nothing more than would be expected of a normal conversation. Listen to this file (mp3) with only Crowley’s transmissions:

While Crowley could have been speaking of yelling that happened which prevented him from even trying to make the calls at all, that is certainly not supported; in the transmissions he makes, there is silence for most of the transmissions–not what would be the case if Gates were yelling so loudly and so often that Gates was forced to leave the house. Instead, it now seems far more likely that Crowley actually left the house in an attempt to draw Gates outside so that he could arrest him.

In this case, the media in general has given Crowley the complete benefit of the doubt and Gates almost none on the basis of believing police officers first and arrest subjects last. However, it now seems that this bias was not correct, and Crowley’s report is now seriously in doubt.

Categories: Law, Race, Social Issues Tags:

Was Crowley Racist? Probably Not. But That’s Not What Obama Was Talking About.

July 24th, 2009 5 comments

A lot of the controversy over the Gates arrest is now focused on racism. And the other day, when asked about the situation, Obama–clearly admitting that he was biased and did not have all the facts–suggested that the arrest was “stupid.” The problem is, conservatives–as well as a good chunk of the mainstream media–have now made this about Obama attacking the police for racism, when that is not even close to what was the case.

Here is Obama’s original statement:

My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there’s some exchange of words. But my understanding is — is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

Now, I’ve — I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That’s just a fact.

Note that while race is mentioned here, Obama (1) does not refer to the arrest as stupid in any way related to race, and (2) makes no claim that actual racism was involved–he actually says “separate and apart from this incident” there is a history of racism, referring to either why Gates reacted as he did, or that sensitivity must be practiced by all parties when race even might be an issue, or both.

The result? The narrative now is that Obama’s remark was somehow an accusation of racism, and an attack on an honest, hard-working cop. One example of how the story is being reported:

Crowley’s account came on a day of dizzying debate over his actions, a furor that was touched off by President Barack Obama’s remarks at a news conference Wednesday night, when he said the police had “acted stupidly” and linked Gates’ arrest to the nation’s long history of racial profiling.

“Linked” being the key word. In a very loose sense, it’s true, but the use of that word implies that Obama accused the officer in some sense of racism–when Obama went to great lengths to avoid saying exactly that. Can you honestly say that Obama “linked Gates’ arrest to … racial profiling” when Obama said “separate and apart from this incident” there is a history of racial profiling? And he was right in that there is a history of racial profiling.

It’s a shame, because the real issue of importance here is not Obama, and not even racial profiling, but rather “contempt of cop” arrests–the “stupid” act that Obama referred to. And Obama was 100% right–it was a stupid arrest, almost certainly a case of a cop getting annoyed at someone and abusing his power to slap that person down.

But what about racism? Was is in fact involved?

While I strongly disagree with the arrest, I don’t think that the facts much support the idea that Crowley himself was racist. It’s possible that he made racially biased assumptions, but far from certain, and Crowley deserves the benefit of the doubt on this.

The initial situation that Crowley was put into was unavoidable: he received a call reporting a break-in, so naturally he had to investigate. He could not just say to himself, “Hmm, there’s an older gentleman inside, he’s probably the owner, I’ll just go away.” He had to check and find out who Gates was. Nothing wrong there.

What Gates identifies as racism is less of a clear-cut situation: that Crowley asked Gates to step out onto the front porch. Apparently, it is much more difficult for an officer to make an arrest if the individual is indoors rather than out; a policeman asking someone to step outside could be a prelude to an arrest. And if Crowley was intending to arrest Gates with no questions asked, then that would have been far more likely a case of racism–it is perhaps not as likely that a police officer would arrest a 58-year-old white person using a cane, in that situation, in such a fashion.

But this is where benefit of the doubt comes in: perhaps Crowley was simply asking Gates to step outside just to be on the safe side, allowing himself more options should the situation take a bad turn. We can’t know what Crowley’s actual intent there was, and so cannot make the assumption that Crowley was being racist–especially since it appears that he did not do anything after that which appeared significantly out of order–until the actual arrest, that is.

Gates, however, made that assumption right off the bat, but there was a contributing factor: that the call had been made at all. This was not Crowley’s fault, of course; the neighbor may have over-reacted. She saw a man forcing open a door–but she also noticed two men. This is critical. To see two men, she had to either see Gates before he entered the house, in which case she would have seen him go around and enter the house easily before the forced front-door entry occurred, or she had to see Gates inside the house when the door was forced open. Neither make sense in the context of an unlawful break-in.

The fact that the neighbor reported men with “backpacks” casts further suspicion: neither man was wearing a backpack–instead, they were dressed in suits, carrying luggage. Where did she get backpacks from, and how did she miss the suitcases? Seeing two men dressed in suits with luggage is a far cry from two men with backpacks; one suggests a returning resident, the other suggests young thugs. It is easy to question whether the neighbor would have reported things differently had she seen two white men in suits, one with greying hair and a cane, in the same situation.

So Gates had returned home in a context that did not match any reasonable expectation of a break-in, and yet moments later police come and act like he may be an intruder. The real turning point was Crowley’s request that Gates step outside, which Gates recognized as a possible prelude to an arrest. With these two facts–an accusation of a black man in an upscale white neighborhood breaking into his own home, and the likelihood that the police officer would simply arrest him right off the bat–Gates forms a new context, and from that point on, everything he sees is colored by it.

Race may very well have played a part in setting up the situation–but it is less than perfectly clear. The neighbor could have just seen things wrong and maybe race had nothing to do with it; the officer could have just been following procedure and might not have treated Gates differently than anyone else. But in the overall context, Gates did have reason to believe that race was involved–though he certainly over-reacted, even if you don’t take the officer’s account at full face value.

What is likely the case is that the neighbor saw the forced entry, and as witnesses are wont to do, painted in details that weren’t there–not an act of overt racism, but more than likely unconscious bias, giving us backpacks instead of suits and luggage, and ignoring the overall context where Gates was already indoors. The policeman came and made what he considered a by-the-book encounter; though he may have intended to act inappropriately and would have arrested Gates right off, we have to assume that he just wanted Gates outside to make the situation easier to deal with. But by that point, Gates had received one too many signals that he was being treated in a racist manner, did not give benefit of the doubt, and started making accusations–accusations that Crowley probably was strongly offended by. The main business of identifying the owner done, Crowley then makes the next big mistake: by wildly overreacting to an angry man who believed he had good reason to be upset, and arresting Gates on trumped-up charges.

That’s the main issue in the end. While actual racism may have played a small, contributory role in setting this up, it was the early taking of offense by both gates and Crowley which escalated things, and eventually Crowley was most at fault, using his authority to satisfy his personal grievance.

And that was the only part of this which was way over the line: the contempt-of-cop arrest.

Obama’s comment did not accuse the cop of racism, but because the media is playing it that way, it’s now about the stuck-up Harvard elitist and his reverse-racist pal in the Oval Office dumping on an honest, hard working cop by labeling him as a racist. Right-wing sites are already ginning up conspiracy theories, like the Boston Globe removing the police report from their web site because it was too embarrassing for Gates, or because it contradicted the paper’s liberal-media agenda to make Gates look like a victim–as if the police report is gospel or something.

So much for any attention on the abusive practice of “contempt of cop” arrests.

By the way, a comment just filed in the previous post sheds new light on why Crowley worded his police report so oddly. From Massachusetts state law, two of the four identifying qualities of what constitutes “disorderly conduct”:

“with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm

“engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior”

Then, from Crowley’s report:

Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both the police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates’s outburst.

It seems pretty clear that Gates was very intentionally cribbing language from the state code so as to justify the arrest. These terms raised flags–note that my post pays special attention to these terms, as they stood out as rather unusual and unlikely. Now we know why: Crowley had to justify the arrest. Whether this is regular practice or not, it seems to cast doubt on the accuracy of what he claimed, as if it were tailor-made to fit the law, as opposed to being a true and objective account of what actually happened.

Categories: "Liberal" Media, Law, Race, Social Issues Tags: