The Widdershins

Activist Monday: How Do We Prove Racism Today?

Posted on: August 25, 2014

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.”

Gosh, why do we think these young people in Ferguson are disconnected from 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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6 Responses to "Activist Monday: How Do We Prove Racism Today?"

How do you prove or disprove a feeling? Humans are tribal in nature. Look at religions – both mine and yours are not happy with religious intermarriage,. Ethnicities still actively discourage not “marrying your own kind”. In view of these feelings, I am amazed that any social progress and evolution have occurred.
I think, for the most part, that an air of resignation came over my generation as a whole, acceptance began with your generation, and my grandchildren are beginning to make progress with acceptance and actual interchange.
The next huge problem will be in solving the class divide. Probably the only good thing I can say about Nixon is that he took the “Black Power” chant and renamed it “Black Empowerment” rightly assuming that business owners were less likely to be rioting. Of course, there are innumerable poor whites and Latinos as well.
Insofar as Ferguson goes, I am not at all certain that there will be an indictment of this officer. If there is, he will have the trial moved to the whitest part of Missouri, where he will be acquitted. Rioting will promptly occur, and only then will some level of understanding be reached, however tenuous. We have had several episodes of this in Miami: indictments, acquiited by Panhandle juries, a week’s worth of riots, and we no longer bother to indict cops. Now the DOJ investigates our 5-6 episodes per year.

Insofar as Ferguson goes, I am not at all certain that there will be an indictment of this officer.

Due to my lack of legal expertise and Missouri’s laws I have to ask: did he do anything that was indictable? Did he use excessive force in the shooting of Michael Brown? I don’t understand all the technicalities of ballistics and if the cop shot him at close range could that be because Brown was trying to push back against the cop in a struggle at the car? Things like that, I would imagine, are what the grand jury is going to look at. I am willing to bet that the Justice Dept. will look at whether the cop violated Brown’s civil rights so federal indictment is possible.

Great comments, guys. Per Chat’s analysis, I sometimes feel a bit generationally unqualified to speak about racial matters. I missed the 60s.

I hoe that the feds do take over the case. If not, I agree that any action against the officer is unlikely.

The main problem that the officer has is the number of entry wounds on the volar (inside) surface of the forearms. This can only happen when the arms are either stretched out as if in supplication or up over the head while facing the shooter. That’s going to be tough to explain.

Good heavens. Did I bore everyone to death?
@3: Not at all. The struggles of the Sixties are well documented, indeed chronicled. As a generation, while we are still in there swinging, we must admit that we have pretty well done what we can do. The struggle – ALL of them – continues, and it’s up to y’all what will be written next.
The Miami riots took place from 1980-91.

@5: Nope, didn’t bore anyone. Probably folks were watching the Emmys show. 😉

I missed the 60s.

Well I didn’t miss them but let’s say I became cognizant of the issues of the times late in the 60s. In high school I was in a small town in southeast Kentucky that did not have a large AA population. There weren’t any demonstrations or anything like that and I mostly went to school and came home and practiced clarinet for like 3 hrs or so, just totally oblivious of the outside world. The high school was integrated and there were no problems between the whites and blacks that I was aware of.

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