Thursday, April 9, 2015

Underground Racism

It seems fair to say, despite the pontifications of Chief Justice John Roberts, that racism has not come to an end.  I wonder why nobody has asked him to share his wisdom regarding the shootings of black men by white police officers.  It must have something to do with that ginormous buffer zone the justices have protecting them from the actual real world.  Which also explains why we would never expect Clarence Thomas to have to worry about white cops.

It was inevitable that we in South Carolina would have our turn in the national spotlight over a police shooting.  In fact it happened too briefly a year ago, and other times before that.

I was surprised to hear an MSNBC reporter yesterday note that of over 200 police shootings in South Carolina, none were convicted of a crime.  I recalled the terrifying dashcam video of last summer's shooting of an unarmed black man who was reaching for his license and registration after being stopped for not having his seat belt on.  It turns out that the officer involved was fired and charged with assault and battery, but not yet tried.  It seems we need to keep a close eye on that case.

Because it should be obvious to anyone other than five members of the Supreme Court that racism is alive and well.  And not just in the south.  The stereotypes of dangerous black men and black women who live high off the welfare system haven't died; they had just gone underground.  It may be that it took a black president to bring the paranoia out in the open.  And it took authorities like the majority of the Supreme Court to give their blessing to racially motivated aggression.

Where was all that racism before it became legal to deny blacks the right to vote via the voter ID bandwagon and selectively limiting polling places, hours and locations?  And we hadn't had quite such a rage against people on welfare and food stamps since Ronald Reagan's bullshit about the welfare queen in the Cadillac.  While the media was enjoying the Obama birth certificate nonsense, the racists were beginning to crawl out from under their rocks.

As a white woman, I can testify to the fact that there has always been racism.  Because every now and then, someone would say to me something along the lines of "You know what they're like."  Wink, nudge.  I find it bizarre, and yet, if you're like me, when it's happened to you white folk who are reading this, you may not have said, "No, I don't," or, "Yeah, probably like me."  We don't confront the crazies because, well, they are crazy.  After all, they've made assumptions that all we white folk are like they are and believe what they know to be fact.  So, like me, you probably backed away from the conversation, maybe discretely shaking your head as you went.

We know the racists are out there.  We know the stereotypes.  The only way to change that nonsense is for white and blacks to live, work, go to school with each other.  We've known that for a long time.  And yet even when schools are integrated it is pretty likely that the social groups aren't.  And even a liberal democrat such as myself finds that I am in a social group with white women.

So we self-select.  But we still need to talk among each other.  We need to share space.  And most important, we need to stop the racists from perpetuating the racist myths.  We need our politicians to stop playing to our fears.  We need to insist that our judges don't hold ridiculous stereotypes.  We definitely need to screen those who hold racist beliefs out of our police forces and our schools.

My mother used to tell the story of a teacher in her elementary school (circa 1925) who hated Italians.  She thought they were dirty and stupid.  As my mother walked down the stairs, this teacher gave her a little kick to help her along.  We've mostly all been there.  These days it's the Hispanics who are called dirty and stupid.  Segregating ourselves from others who are different, stereotyping those we don't know well enough to understand, this may be the human condition.  But we are all in a position to step up and stop the nonsense when it happens.  The media needs to do it, the courts need to do it.

But I don't see that on the horizon.  Fox News, the right-wing politicians, and big corporate powers like the Kochs have too much to gain by fueling the hate.  Until our authorities step up, as Lyndon Johnson did when he said no to racism and put his full power behind the American law and a true belief in equality, we will have to whip out the cell phones and make the cops wear body cams.  It won't end racism, and the cameras won't be enough.  We've had blacks shot and strangled on camera, and the cops gotten off by not-so-grand juries and prosecutors who were on the side of the cops.  It will take vigilance, protests, media focus to stop the killing of innocent blacks that has gone on throughout the country's history.  It is good that the tragic killings of Trayvon Martin and of Michael Brown in Ferguson woke us up from our delusions.  But we need to understand that those talks that dads have with their black sons about the police have always gone on, and we need to know that the society that makes that necessary has got to change. 

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