Activist Monday: How Do We Prove Racism Today?
Posted August 25, 2014on:
Good Monday, all. I will not attempt to improve on Prolix’s and Chatblu’s excellent posts on the situation in Ferguson. I will, instead, build on something they both implied, and ask the question: How do we prove racism today?
I think the assumption we have, as a society, is that things are far better for African-Americans since we removed the laws that segregated them into “less than” white people, and put laws against institutionalized racism in their place. I also believe that, in many ways, this is true. Educational opportunities and income parity have certainly increased for AAs. However, the feelings and prejudices that caused American slavery, and then segregation, and then the events in Louisiana during Katrina, and then the Trayvon Martin shooting, and then the Michael Brown shooting, are much harder to eradicate.
How do you prove that a feeling caused people to commit murder? How do you prove that an attitude is the reason that the prisons are disproportionately full of young black men? These days, you cannot point to a law which explicitly states that African Americans have fewer rights than white people, and that makes it harder to identify those who are allowing their racial hatred to dictate their actions.
I think this is why there is always so much blowback when charges of racism are leveled. Racists have learned to hide their ignorance behind the screen of victimhood. “Those immigrants are taking our jobs!” is the war cry of those who long for the days when America was ruled by white, Christian males. (Of course, it still is, but you wouldn’t know it from the fearmongering and hysteria.) There’s also the ever-popular “welfare queen driving a Cadillac” trope, which was pioneered by the conservative hero Ronnie Raygun. The implied question there is, “Why should we law-abiding citizens pay for lazy black people to live it up and not contribute to the economy?”
While we can’t prove that these are racist tropes, there is a level of sameness to the people who embrace them, and the people to whom they appeal. These are the watchers of Fox News Channel; white, Christian males who think Bill O’Reilly is Fair and Balanced. And while we cannot prove that the almost all-white police department of Ferguson is racist, there is a sameness to their membership that makes drawing any other conclusion, quite a stretch of the imagination.
Also, this comment of the mayor’s doesn’t sound too good.
The mayor says it’s difficult to hire black officers.
“We hire everyone that we can get,” Knowles said. “There’s also the problem that a lot of young African American people don’t want to go into law enforcement. They already have this disconnect with law enforcement, so if we find people who want to go into law enforcement who are African American we’re all over it because we want them to help us bridge the gap. But these young people, they’re not interested in law enforcement. There’s already this frustration with law enforcement.”
Recent polling shows that white Americans and African-Americans have completely different perspectives on recent events in Ferguson, Mo., with just 37 percent of whites saying that the police shooting raises important issues about race, compared to 80 percent of African Americans.
In a way, this isn’t surprising, given how many more blacks have direct experience with the criminal justice system. In fact, roughly 24 percent of African-Americans in Missouri have been convicted of a felony, according to unpublished estimates by academic researchers.
“Almost a fourth of African American residents statewide have shared this experience that relatively few whites have shared,” said the University of Minnesota’s Christopher Uggen, one of the researchers. “It makes for a situation where you have great tensions, and a sense of us and them.”
I’m thinking that the attitudes and feelings in Ferguson, while they can’t be proven, are speaking loudly enough for most anyone to hear.
This is an open thread.
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