Tags: African American History, African Americans, American History, black, Civil Rights, current-events, ethnicity, European Americans, Ferguson, Michael Gerson, politics, Prejudice, protest, race, slavery in america, the Black codes, The Oklahoman, white
We have seen and heard about the treatment of African Americans by the police establishment from the East coast to the West coast and many places in between. Sometimes the question “why does this pattern of aggression by the police against African Americans exist? Whether than trying to answer that question now, we must first take a look at why the attitude and behavior of the police establishment is in question in the first place. Then, we will understand what is going on in our society relative to the African American community and the police today.
When slavery was in its early years in America, race and color were insignificant because the objective was profit. Slavery was always a business and the only value slaves had to their owners was measured in dollars. However, the English brought over to the new world the concept of Africans as a lower order of humans and were not viewed as equal to the Europeans. Most slaves were treated equally bad except with respect to the European (white) slaves. Even as slaves, they were given special treatment as we learn from history:
In 1705, masters were forbidden to ‘whip a Christian white servant naked.’ Nakedness was for brutes, the uncivil, the non-Christian. That same year, all property—horses, cattle, and hogs’—was confiscated from slaves and sold by the church wardens for the benefit of poor whites. By means of such acts, social historian Edmond Morgan argues, the tobacco planters and ruling elite of Virginia raised the legal status of lower-class whites relative to that of Negroes and Indians, whether free, servant, or slave (The Making of the Negro in Early American Literature, p.35).
So, from the very beginning, people of color were discriminated against in favor of Europeans. The term “Christian” was used as pertaining to people from Europe who were considered civilized. The importance of this history is to note the lack of social value or respect given to people of color and especially Africans and African Americans.
When we move ahead one hundred and fifty years to the Civil War period, we find the same attitude and sentiment regarding the lack of social value and respect withheld from the African Americans by the majority society. The need to keep total control of the African Americans after the Civil War by the majority society can be seen in the laws that were created by the various states; those laws were known throughout the South as the Black Codes. These codes further established and endorsed the devaluing of the African American as we see in the reference to the Mississippi Black Code:
The status of the Negro was the focal problem of Reconstruction. Slavery had been abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, but the white people of the South were determined to keep the Negro in his place, socially, politically, and economically. This was done by means of the notorious “Black Codes,” passed by several of the state legislatures. Northerners regarded these codes as a revival of slavery in disguise. The first such body of statues, and probably the harshest, was passed in Mississippi in November 1865. (http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/122/recon/code.html)
The perception of respect and social value of the African Americans began to change after the Brown v Topeka Board of Education case in 1954, and continued on through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964-1968. America’s changes were starting to become more inclusive of African Americans regarding Constitutional and Civil Rights, much to the dismay of many did not like or want the changes. Throughout America’s early history the need to recognize and respect the presence and rights of the African American were so low that the phrase “A ‘n’ ain’t worth shit” pretty much summed-up the sense of value society had for the African Americans.
When we look at the relationships the police nation-wide have with communities of color, especially African Americans, we see reflected the same old attitudes and perceptions that have long been a staple of the European American mind-set. Regardless of the visible changes occurring in America today edging more towards an ethnically diverse society, many Americans refuse to accept the change. The police departments generally reflect the attitude of the majority society and therefore, see not a unified community, but two—one European American (white), and those who are not—generally people of color.
What the nation is experiencing in Ferguson, Missouri is not something totally unexpected, but an example of a changing society. As we morn the loss of the many African Americans to the bigotry and biases of the old mind-set expressed through law enforcement agencies, etc…, we can take heart in the fact that they do not die in vain, but in an effort to bring to the fore the problems that must be addressed in society to meet the changes that must take place. Ferguson, as well as the nation, will be a better place for all to live once the problems of representation and cooperation are addressed—problems that would have remained hidden without the tragedy of loss. As a society, we have yet to recognize and debunk the fallacy of race. No problems of equality, fairness, and justice will ever be resolved in America as long as people see themselves as black and white. No such races exist except as part of an illusion.
To underscore the lack of understanding of this problem, we turn to a comment made by Michael Gerson in a recent article, “The paradox of diversity,” where he noted concerning Ferguson, Missouri:
“But events in Ferguson demonstrate the paradox of American diversity: An increasing multicultural nation remains deeply divided by race and class. There are many more friendships and marriages between white and minority Americans (about one in 12 marriages is interracial)—but at the same time racially charged suspicions and anger persists among millions. And a broad perception of our own racial acceptance has created a different form of isolation—a self-satisfaction that obscures or masks deep social divisions. (The Oklahoman, 8/16/2014)
Gerson’s comments represent the problem and the solution in that the nation is divided, but changing to a less racial society. The changes will come as a result of the actions of the people who are adversely affected by the problems that are uncovered when the actions of the society, or a police force, raises their, as well as the rest of society’s consciousness. As a nation, we must continue to tear down the wall of races that separates us unnecessarily. The times are changing, and we cannot stop that.
Tags: African Americans, black, Confronting Myths, Congress, Democratic Party, Democrats, Erica Wemer, European Americans, group identity, Mo Brooks, politics, Prejudice, President Obama, race, racial group identity, Republicans, skin complexion, The Associated Press, white, word race
Race is a power-packed word in American society and has been for decades because it possesses the power to separate and divide human beings into groups. Regardless of the context in which the word race is used, if the suggested meaning involves a group identity, then it separates and divides people. As early as the 1800s, society was advised to avoid using race along with color as a social or cultural identity because it could not be defined and employed with any accuracy or certainty. Nonetheless, society ignored the warnings and proceeded to use the word race in a social context. One reason for the word’s longevity is due to the social rewards derived by some groups from the identity. And old saying that underscores the manipulation of race by color determining social value stated: “If you’re white, you’re right; if you’re yellow, you’re mellow; if you’re brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back.”The sentiments suggested in that old saying still has some currency in society today whether we want to believe it or not.
When the word race is used in conjunction with a so-called racial group identity, the mere mention of the group automatically creates separation and division. This separation and division occurs because of the social conditioning experienced in the society and the accepted views of society relative to different social groups. The nature of most groups is to defend and protect itself against any and all criticism that might cast negative views of it. Whether the claims are true or false makes no difference because with respect to race nothing can be validated unless and until race is defined. Nevertheless, some people will use race as a tool or tactic because it generates feeling of loyalty, protection, pride and unity by the people who identify with a race. For example, people who identify themselves as belonging to the white race automatically gives credence to a belief in many races biologically different from the so-called white race. Rather than recognizing the fact that all races are social creations and therefore bogus, some people hold on to the belief and adopt a defensive character relative to the group. Hence, we note the separation and division quality of the word.
The conception and accepting of the word race with the focus on it divisive powers were displayed recently in an article by Erica Wemer from The Associated Press, “Republican congressman says Democrats are engaged in ‘war on whites’” (8/5/14). The article noted that “Congressman Mo Brooks made his comment on conservative talk radio host Laura Ingram’s program Monday. He said the Democratic Party claims white people hate everyone else and that it’s part of President Barack Obama’s strategy of dividing people on the basis of race, sex and class.” Whether the claim is true or not, one of the obvious reactions is for the groups to unify. From a political perspective, this tactic could be used to gain support for an individual identified as belonging to that so-called white group because the suggestion is that the other group is ganging-up on him; which will seem unfair.
The article noted that Brooks stated that “Race should not be an issue in public policy debates, we should be colorblind, we should be the melting pot.” Every one of these phrases is a relic of the past and lacks logic or value in our society today. The fact is, is that race should not be an issue in any debate whether public or private since it has never been defined, just assumed. The fact that America is a diverse society and draws it strength from it diversity would make the suggestion of being a colorblind society hypocritical; our strength comes from accepting the individual regardless of color. The concept of the melting pot is a flawed one because the metaphor never reflected the reality of society. All those old, over-used sayings might sound fine, but in reality, they are meaningless.
The obvious intention of Brooks is underscored in his comments:”But so long as the Democrats have a political campaign strategy to divide Americans based on skin pigmentation then they are the ones who are fanning the fires and doing a disservice to our country, not those who try to hold the Democrats accountable for what is very counterproductive and sinister campaign tactic.” Brooks, in essence, is attempting to charge the Democrats with using many of the same tactics Republicans have used for years and ascribing things to the party that have long been a part of the general social perspective. The argument goes back to “us versus them,” or “good guy, bad guy,” with the one making the claim being the good guy.
Brooks have forgotten, evidently, the litany of incidents where many representatives of his party have shown disrespect to the President with no justification other than his skin complexion. For anyone to fall for Brooks’ argument would be to totally ignore that Senator Mitch O’Connell stated at the outset of President Obama’s first term the objective to prevent him having a second term. In addition, when we examine the lack of action of the Congress, we recognize that the President has been limited in what he could do as one individual.
In his statement, Brooks wants to create a division within society based on old prejudices and bigotry but make it seem that he is really trying to defend the cause of freedom and justice for all. He focused his attentions directly on the Democrats and said: “This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they are launching the war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else.” A phrase that fits Brooks’ contentions is “reverse psychology” or “projection” where the deeds or misdeeds of one party are associated with another party, and then is criticized as unacceptable.
Wemer ended the article with the following passage: “To a request for comment, the spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Emily Bittner, wrote in an email: ‘Wow. Congressman Brooks is living in his own world of paranoia, but sadly, this is precisely the kind of divisive rhetoric that has come to define House Republicans.’”
Although the word race is power-packed any attempt to use race by color as a tactic or ploy will enviably fail because any definition offered for it cannot withstand close scrutiny.
Tags: African Americans, black, current-events, Eric Garner, European Americans, Extreme force, fairness, Hispanics, justice, law enforcement, Luis Rodrigues, Luis Rodriguez, NYPD, Oklahoma, People of color, police actions, police custody, police relationships, white
Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, an African American man, was put in a chokehold, a procedure against NYPD policy, for allegedly selling single cigarettes. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (July 2014).
Luis Rodriguez of Moore, Oklahoma, a Hispanic American, was physically detained for questioning by the police outside a local theatre relative to a domestic matter involving only his wife and daughter. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (Feb.2014).
Often times when African Americans or Hispanic Americans complain about the unjust treatment of the police in relations to them, some Americans think that those claims are far-fetched. Usually, those not thinking the claims are unjust and false are European Americans whose relationship with the police is different—non violent and generally positive. The recent incident of New York Police’s actions involving an unharmed, African American man, Eric Garner, created a variety of questions about the police, their training relative to people of color, and society.
Because of past experiences involving the police (not just in New York) and people of color, we know the importance of eye-witness and video accounts of these incidents. One fact is certain involving the police actions is that without creditable eye-witness and video accounts of an incident, the police’s word is accepted above and beyond what any citizen has to say. Even with eye-witness and video accounts, most cases where police extreme force is alleged and death or injury to a citizen occurs, the police actions is usually found to be justified. Evidently, the only actions evaluated during these types of incidents are those of the policemen; the citizens are usually presumed to be at fault. Why is it the case that police use more force in encountering people of color?
The recent case of extreme force in New York involving an African American man shares a number of similar things with a recent case in the Oklahoma City area involving Luis Rodriguez, a Hispanic man. In both cases, numerous policemen were involved in the physical altercation. The first thing these two cases have in common involves the apparent haste by the police to physically subdue them. What seems out of reasonable thought is the lack of patience by the police to converse with the citizen when little or not threat of harm is imminent. Common decency would suggest that the police would want to get information relative the situation before initiating any physical action. That was not the case in the two incidents in question. Rather than trying to become informed about the situation, the police, as the videos show, simply order the men to submit to being arrested and placed in handcuffs without any stated cause for their actions.
In both cases, when the men try to speak to the police in an effort to understand the police orders to be handcuffed, the police apparently interpreted their actions as refusing to obey a command and begin immediately to physically subdue them. Why? Are the police taught during their training that physical restraints are necessary for all subjects regardless of what their offense might be? Why do the police not take more time to discern the situation before resorting to physical action against a subject? Is there a time limit involved in making an arrest? The actions of the police appear to be a rush-to-judgment rather than the use of rational judgment as in these two cases.
In addition, the lack of patience and communications demonstrated by the police in these two cases, the use of physical force as seen on the videos is appalling. We must keep in mind that the two victims did not have weapons nor were they attacking the police—they were trying to get information as to why they were being arrested. However, as soon as the order was given by the police, if the victim did not act immediately in compliance with that order, he was physically restrained. What seemed appalling during the physical restraint by the police was the lack of resistance from the victim. One notices that not two or three policemen are involved in the restraining but usually four or more. The actions of the police involved in the restraining resembled something like a scene from a National Geographic video where some lionesses have just made a kill, and the rest of the pride comes in to take part in the feast.
What was generally missing from the total incident was the rationale for treating the victim like a wild animal, rather than a human being. Once the victims are on the ground and under control why press their heads into the concrete; they have been subdued, and not fighting, why keep applying unnecessary pressure and pain? What seemed out of place to most objective viewers of these incidents were the inhuman and unjust actions of the police. Where does the mantra of to “Serve and Protect” enter the minds of the police? All the police seem to be in agreement when subduing a subject and applying unnecessary force, because not a single one finds the action not in keeping with proper conduct or try to prevent or discourage the others from their action. The actions of these officers are more a disservice to the police force than a service in that the impression one takes away from viewing these videos is one of callous disregards for the feelings of a human being.
In each incident, the victims told the police that they could not breathe. In each case, the words, and pleas of the victims were disregarded. Once they stopped breathing, no immediate medical assistance was offered. Both victims died. The irony of their deaths is that neither of these men had committed a crime that warranted arrest; at worse, had they been treated with respect and dignity as a human being, they probably would have been given a citation. In effect, the only crime, if we can call it a crime, these men are guilty of is not responding immediately to the policeman’s order to submit to being arrested.
The cases of Garner and Rodriguez, two men of color follow a long list of other victims of unjust and unfair treatment by some members of police forces across the country. Why is it that a herd mentality seems to take over when some police confront people of color? We suggest that in addition to honoring the mantra “To Serve and Protect” that police receive training in recognizing the challenges involved with treating human beings with respect and dignity regardless of how they look. The officers should be trained to think of themselves as being in the subject’s place. The phrases “We are Family,” and “Patience is a virtue, “if considered by police, would go a long way in helping police do a better job in closing the gap in their relationship with people of color.
Tags: African American, African Americans, biogtry, black, Chaney, Civil Rights, Civil Rights workers, Confronting Myths, ethnicity, European Americans, Freedom Summer, Goodman, Mississippi, Prejudice, President Obama, Schwerner, slavery, white
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a summer when thousands of young Americans of African and European decent descended on the South to help African American citizens register to vote. One of the painful reminders of that summer is the death of three young Americans—two of European ancestry, one of African ancestry. These three young civil rights workers, Michael Henry Schwerner, James Earl Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were killed by a group of Klansmen in Neshoba County Mississippi. They were killed because they recognized the gross injustice in America—preventing African Americans the right to vote—and wanted to help in rectifying that problem.
Many Americans understand and appreciate the ultimate sacrifice these three young men made for their country; however, one question continues to hang over the occasion of the deaths—why? The beast of hatred, fear, anger, and prejudice still lingers in society regarding the African American and his presence in society. What is it about African Americans that would cause other Americans to murder three young men who only wanted to help America live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all?
Whether we accepted it or not, the very beast that led to the murder of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman is still alive and well in America today. We must ask the question of those who would do harm to Americans who are working to correct injustices, what good does the violence and killing do to relieve the angry, hatred, and fear? The fear was so great in those Klansmen that they killed these three men before they were able to begin work. We must surmise that the threat of exercising their right to vote would give the African American an opportunity to participate in their government. For bigots, and others, any involvement in decision-making by African Americans would be too much. Why?
Before, during, and after the Civil War, the culture of the South was based on European Americans depending on African Americans for their livelihood. Without African American slaves, and subsequently, freed African Americans, the South would not have existed to any appreciable degree because the people of color represented the workforce. African Americans represented the life-blood of the southern economy, but more importantly, they represented the only thing that gave the European Americans social value. With the help of the governments, national and state, laws and practices were created and enforced to keep the African American in a position of servitude to European Americans.
In addition to the physical restrictions placed on the African Americans, social conditions based on myths were created that separated the African Americans from the European Americans. The concept of biological races was introduced into American society prior to slavery that led the European American to believe that he belonged to a superior biological race. In his book The Descent of Man, (1871), Charles Darwin expressed the belief that the human races, regardless of the obvious differences in appearance, were not different enough to be considered separate species. His comments on the human races were ignored. Later, others would concur with Darwin, but with more specificity noting that all human beings belong to the same species. UNESCO has continued to make that pronouncement since 1945, and the recent Human Genome study verified the fact that all human beings belong to the same species. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the power and prestige that accompanied the belief in white supremacy was too much to consider loosing or giving up.
More than anger and hatred is the element of fear that continues to feed the beast that fights against social, democratic progress. When the fear of loosing the belief of ethnic superiority is so great that people strike out violently against the threat of change in that direction, then we realize just how serious it is. Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were not killed for personal reasons; their killers did not know them. They were killed for what they represented—social change. For the bigot and others any change that brought the African American closer to 1st class citizenship represented a threat to the status of the European American. So, any effort towards social change in behalf of the African Americans wherever it occurred, north, east, west and south, had to be met with serious force and resistance.
The problem with the bigots is complex in that while they fear the change that social progress means for African Americans, they do not want to lose the physical presence of the African Americans. Without the African Americans to point to as being inferior, the bigots would have no reference on which to base their sense of superiority. If no African Americans were around the bigots, they would have little or no social value except that which comes from wealth, property, or position. Without African Americans, the bigots would have no need to feel proud of their skin complexion, because they would not have another color with which to compare; so, they need African Americans, but only want to accept them on a level that underscores the sense of supremacy, pride, and power they derive from seeing themselves as different.
Fifty years ago thousand of young Americans, African American and European American, joined forces to combat the injustice they saw in America. One wonders where those voices are today. We recognize the efforts of the beast to appear in plain sight as in the numerous cases involving President Obama and the many states trying to restrict voter’s rights. The President’s critics are not fighting against him personally, but what he represents. Yes, some of his critics attack him personally, but that action is just for them to try and underscore their illusion of their superiority and his supposed inferiority. Regardless of the bigots’ efforts, social progress continues. What the bigots and those fighting against social progress do not realize is that their bigotry and hatred is a self-made prison that keeps them from enjoying freedom. They are so obsessed with fighting against all signs of social progress that it keeps them from enjoying the freedoms and privileges they have.
Freedom summer was an effort by young Americans to try and create a society that would mirror the ideals that the society said it embraced. The beast of anger, hatred, fear, and bigotry that they encountered is still alive in America. What we Americans have confronting us can best be described by picturing two hungry elements inside of us that represent good and evil or a man and a beast, respectively. We must realize that the one we feed is the one that will grow..
Tags: Civil Rights Act, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, disability payments, Eberstadt, entitlements, food stamps, George Will, Great Society, heating assistance, Hedrick Smith, Johnson’s Great Society, LBJ, Medicaid, Medicare, Nicholas Eberstadt, President Johnson, welfare, Who Stole The American Dream
In a recent article entitled, “50 years later, LBJ’s mixed legacy,”(05/18/2014) George Will expressed his reasons for thinking that all of Johnson’s efforts regarding his concept of the Great Society while seemingly a good government effort, created the problems our society is experiencing today. He stated:”In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing ‘just about always or most of the time’; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so.”
In other words, according to Will, Johnson and his Great Society programs are the cause of the problems our society is experiencing today. Will referenced Nicholas Eberstadt and his work at the American Enterprise Institute for much of the statistics regarding this situation. For example, Will provide the following numbers: “Between 1959 and 1966—before the War on Poverty was implemented—the percentage of Americans living in poverty plunged by about one-third, from 22.4 to 14.7, slightly lower than in 2012.” Then he added: “But Eberstadt cautions, the poverty rate is ‘incorrigibly misleading’ because government transfer payments have made income levels and consumption levels significantly different.” More specifically, Will noted that :”’Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability payments, heating assistance and other entitlements have, Eberstadt says, made income ‘a poor predictor of spending power for lower-income groups.’”
What Will and Eberstadt did was to look at the statistics relative to what they call entitlements that were created as part of Johnson’s Great Society programs and made assessments as to the success or failure of those programs in achieving their objectives. We are told that anti-poverty policy has become institutionalized and created “a’ tangle of pathologies.’ Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined that phrase in his 1965 report calling attention to family disintegration among African Americans. The tangle, which now ensnares all races and ethnicities, includes welfare dependency and ‘flight from work.’”
Continuing his presentation of information regarding the problems created by Johnson’s Great Society programs, Will stated that “Twenty-nine percent of Americans live in households receiving means-tested benefits. And ‘the proportion of men 20 and older who are employed has dramatically and almost steadily dropped since the start of the War on Poverty, falling from 80.6 percent in January 1964 to 67.6 percent 50 years later.’” Will and Eberstadt presented this information as if this social phenomenon happened within a vacuum. No mention was made regarding the many government handouts made to the oil industry, banking industry, automobile industry and agricultural industry, to name a few. Nor did they mention the fact that the government provided opportunities for banking, corporations, and companies to reorganize and rid themselves of employees along with their retirement, healthcare and pensions. Also not mentioned was the disproportionate rate of incarceration of young African American men.
Will and Eberstadt took a very narrow view of Johnson’s Great Society programs with an emphasis on the negative aspects of them. The article continued with “For every adult man ages 20 to 64 who is between jobs and looking for work, more than three are neither working nor seeking work, a trend that began with the Great Society.” What Will and Eberstadt did not provide here were rational reasons for these adult men not being employed or finding employment. Their statement suggests that these men were not concerned with working or looking for work when other condition might have influenced their actions. For example, if some of these men were working for companies and the companies closed or relocated to another area or country, what were these men supposed to do? If the jobs were lost and replacement jobs were not available, the men and their communities found themselves in a quandary.
What appeared to be a direct attack on African Americans and a negative aspect of the Great Society programs was the following comment in the article:”And what Eberstadt calls ‘the earthquake that shook family structure in the era of expansive anti-poverty policies’ has seen out-of-wedlock births increase from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies.” Why the reference to “black babies”? Will and Eberstadt, evidently, wanted to point their fingers at African Americans as the villains who created this problem. But, not to divert too much attention away from the real cause of our social conditions, they returned their focus in the last portion of the article to LBJ.
After fifty years Will resolved that “LBJ’s starkly bifurcated [two-part] legacy includes the triumphant Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965—and the tragic aftermath of much of his other works.” So, rather than looking at the successful works, Will and Eberstadt take the other view:”Is It ‘simply a coincidence’ that male flight from work and family breakdown have coincided with Great Society policies, and that dependence on government is more widespread and perhaps more habitual than ever? Barry Goldwater’s insistent 1964 question is increasingly pertinent: ‘What’s happening to this country of ours?’”
The question is a very legitimate and valid one that deserves an answer. Will concentrated his attention of the policies from Johnson’s Great Society program and the people who relied on those programs now for support. What Will failed to focus on or even mention are the people and policies that created the need for the Great Society programs. We went to the book by Hedrick Smith, Who Stole The American Dream, (2013) for one explanation. He stated that:
In our New Economy, America’s super-rich have accumulated trillions in new wealth, far beyond anything in other nations, while the American middle-class has stagnated. What separates the Two Americans is far more than a wealth gap. It is a wealth chasm—“mind-boggling’ in its magnitude, says Princeton economist Alan Krueger. Wealth has flowed so massively to the top that during the nation’s growth spurt from 2002-2007, America’s super-rich, the top 1 percent (3 million people), reaped two-thirds of the nation’s entire economic gains. The other 99 percent were left with only one-third of the gains to divide among 310 million people. In 2010, the first full year of the economic recovery, the top 1 percent captured 93 percent of the nation’s gains.
Will never attempted to include the part that wealth and politics have played in bringing our society to the place it is today. He would rather blame it on Johnson’s policies meant to help the Americans in need. Regarding that matter, Smith continued:
Americans, more than people in other countries, accept some inequality as part of our life, as inevitable and even desirable—a reward for talent and hard work, an incentive to produce and excel. But wealth begets wealth, especially when reinforced through the influence of money in politics. Then the hyperconcentration of wealth aggravates the political cleavages in our society.
If LBJ’s policies and programs had been given an opportunity to work unencumbered and without other negative influences, our society would be a step closer to what he envisioned as a Great Society.
Tags: Affirmative Action, African Americans, black, Civil Rights, current-events, Democratic Party, Dixiecrats, European Americans, Fourteenth Amendment, George Will, Justice Harlan, Justice John M. Harlan, preferential treatment, President Obama, Tea Party, the Constitution, The Oklahoman, Univerity of Michigan, women's rights
Sometimes, when some people do not want to accept facts that contradict their believes, they discard the facts and hold on to the beliefs they created. When they hold on to these beliefs for a long period of time, the beliefs change from myths, Illusions, or fiction to facts to the people who hold on to them. For some people, the concept of race fits that bill. We know that race is not biological, but the created concept of it is real. That concept makes race a powerful social idea that gives some people special access to opportunities and resources. Over the years, our government has given social advantages disproportionately to white (European Americans) people. These advantages affect everyone whether they are aware of them or not.
In first recognizing the results of the social disadvantages heaped upon African Americans and other ethnic Americans, the government has tried to correct the injustices by creating programs that address the problems and work towards alleviating them, the process has been long and challenging. For some people, they pretend that race does not exist at all and so no social problems associated with race exist. Many of these people believe that others in society use race as a way of seeking social justice or advantages over other people. For example, George Will, in his article, “What a tangled web we can weave,” (The Oklahoman, 4/27/14) makes the following claim:
Anodyne euphemisms often indicate an uneasy conscience or a political anxiety. Or both, as when the 1976 Democratic platform chose ‘compensatory opportunity’ as a way of blurring the fact that the party favored racial discrimination in the form of preferences and quotas for certain government-favored minorities in such matters as government hiring, contracting and college admissions.
What Will suggests here is that the Democratic Party decided to address and try to correct some of the injustices American society had placed on the African Americans and other minorities through the program called “Affirmative Action.” Will believes that no person or group of people should receive preferential treatment because to do so would be unconstitutional in that it would have a negative affect on the other people. In the event of any disagreement between contesting parties, the state, not the Federal Government, should get the final word through a vote of the people. Will references a number of decisions from the Supreme Court and comments from a number of Justices concerning the question of preferential treatment based on race. His quote from Justice Harlan underscores Will’s contention:”Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.
The fact of the matter is that preferential treatment was written into the Constitution—Article 1, Section 2, paragraph 3. The paragraph begins with the following: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” So, contrary to the good Justice Harlan’s comments regarding the Constitution, we note that it does imply color and class.
Will seemingly avoids American history that deals directly with the status of African Americans as well as other minorities. His attitude suggests that the Constitution must stand alone as if an idealistic atmosphere where all people have shared the same experiences as Americans with everything being fair and equal. His notion relative to the majority of voters of a state having the final word would have been an injustice to African Americans as well as Indians after the Civil War, not to mention the condition of women. If as Justice Harlan and Will believe that the Constitution is colorblind and respects no social classes why do we have the Amendment XIII and Amendment XIV? America was built on ethnic and class prejudice from the Pilgrims and Puritans to the Dixiecrats and The Tea Party. Anyone who chooses to ignore that fact fails also to acknowledge today’s reality. Regardless of the fact that America created the two so-called races of black and white, and instituted laws that showed preference to the white one, some people still do not want to accept the existence of injustices that are constantly appearing and need addressing.
In his last paragraph, Will states: “The court’s continuing fissures regarding ‘race-sensitive’ policies—six justices used four opinions to reach the result—indicate Harlan’s principle remains too clear for the comfort of a court still too fond of euphemisms. That is shameful.” In reality, for the court to follow Harlan’s principle would be for it to mimic an ostrich by sticking its head in the sand—to avoid the real challenge of ethnic discrimination. One wonders how the treatment of President Obama by some Americans can be interpreted as something other than ethnic bigotry.
For the record, ethnic bias will continue as long a people reject the fact of a human family with no particular group in the family being superior to another, or acknowledge the truth of Americans History that is tied directly to ethnic and class bigotry. In order to correct the problem, we must first admit that a problem exists. Some Americans today still raise the questions of President Obama’s birth place or his ability to lead the country knowing full well that had there been any concerns prior to his first election, they would have been brought forward.
Social progress is being made daily in America by people challenging the negative stereotypes of a society that believed in white superiority and black inferiority. Because of these changes, some people who do not want the changes are fighting against them. They fight in vain because we cannot stop the progress from occurring. Most ethnicities have moved from a color reference to an identity that respects their culture and/or geography. We know that the Constitution is not colorblind or classless, but we continue working in that direction as a society. We will know that progress is being made when people like Will and others stop referring to themselves as white men.
Tags: African Americans, American protest and prejudice, black, Civil Rights, Civil Rights Act, Civil Rights Act of 1964, current-events, European Americans, Pledge of Allegiance, politics, Prejudice, President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson, white
The recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) gives us an opportunity to evaluate a number of concerns relative to that Act, and society in general. Although the process of acquiring the Civil Rights Act was started by President Kennedy, President Lyndon Baines Johnson was the man who championed it through Congress. He paid a large political price for doing so. Nonetheless, we are thankful for his efforts and success. Today, when we look at the Civil Rights Act, we can identify a number of things that are directly related to society then in 1964 and now.
The first thing we realize by the signing of the CRA is that a need was present for such action. After the Civil War, African Americans were literally kept in slavery via a lack of education, jobs, housing, and political representation. Although segregation, discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry were present and visible in everyday life of America, little was being done to recognize the problems. Americans, both African Americans and European Americans tried fighting the injustices on a variety of fronts, but the sentiment of the majority population was against social change. With continued pressure on the Federal Government and the presidents, the civil rights activists over the years since the Civil War were able to acquire an audience with people in power. So, for the first time in American history, Congress and the American people were able to see and accept the fact of injustices visited on African American and other ethnic Americans.
As a result to recognizing the un-American treatment of African Americans and other ethnic Americans, discussions took place relative to how to go about identifying these injustices. With regards to the individual’s rights, safeguards must not be placed in the hands of the states, because a lack of uniformity would exist. So, if efforts were to be made, they must come from the Federal Government. Under the status quo in society up to 1964, segregation was the law and it existed in every aspect of the African American’s life. The sit-ins and marches helped to call attention to the social injustices regarding public accommodations for African Americans. Some success had been achieved in a few areas of education, but the concept of separate but equal was still in effect. So, through the efforts of a number of Civil Rights leaders working directly with President Kennedy and some of his associates, the plan to create a Civil Rights Act that would address some of the injustices experienced by African Americans and other Americans was crafted.
Now that a plan of action was in place, the question was how to get it approved by a Congress that felt no need or urgency to enact a bill that would, in effect, take away some of their power. President Kennedy knew that he would be in for a long and hard fight with certain sections of the Congress in winning approval of this Act, but he was convinced it had to be done. Unfortunately, President Kennedy was killed before he had an opportunity to engage Congress relative to the Civil Rights Act. The task of bringing the CRA successfully through Congress fell to President Johnson. The undertaking for President Johnson would not be an easy one since he was viewed as a Southern politician from Texas and Southern politicians were not very keen on giving equal rights to the sons and daughters of former slaves. For many politicians, the rights and privileges enjoyed by the European Americans and Caucasians were not to be shared equally with African Americans and other ethnic groups. The concern for so-called white supremacy being negatively affected by passage of the CRA troubled many of the political group known as the Dixiecrats. President Johnson was well aware of this group and their concerns because he was consider part of them prior to becoming Vice President. However, Johnson also was aware of the importance of the CRA since its creation acknowledged the existence of injustices as reflected in the status quo, and the label of hypocrisy of America and its claim of democracy.
Nonetheless, Johnson showed political acumen and courage in getting the CRA through Congress. The passage of the CRA represented the success of the efforts of many civil rights activists who labored many years in this regard. With the passage of the CRA, the Federal Government assumed control of the protection of the individual American’s rights. Rather than representing the end of a struggle, the CRA actually was the beginning of a new sense of democracy where all Americans regardless of skin color, religion, gender, and ethnicity could challenge the previously biased conditions. The challenge came from the mindset of many European Americans who felt deceived by the Federal Government who gave the minorities the same rights as they enjoyed. Somehow, they saw this as wrong and an injustice to them as European Americans.
Today, as we look back on fifty years of American life with the CRA, we can recognize how that Act has benefited the society in progressing towards that democracy that gives each citizen the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can also recognize the struggles that come from making changes in a society based on bigotry. The struggle is still in progress and will be until we educate ourselves and each other of the commitment we made and make as Americans. In essence, what is the responsibility of each and every American? We find the answer in our pledge of allegiance to our country:”I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
In this pledge we recognize, accept, and embrace the United States of America as one. We underscore that understanding when we add to the pledge “and to the Republic for which it stands.” The remainder of the pledge states what we stand for as a nation. No where in the pledge is there a reference to a state as an independent entity? As a society, we need to confront those who would like to make American into a nation that caters to their wants based on skin color or ethnicity. The CRA was passed as a measure to confront the injustices of the past and present. As American citizens, we have the responsibility of protecting those rights and privileges. To witness injustice and not call attention to it is the same as accepting it. Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that “Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.” To that we add that acceptance of intolerance by Americans is hypocrisy
Tags: African American, African American History, African Americans and chicken, American History, Col. Sanders, comics, Conan, David Letterman, Don Rickles, General Tso, Jay Leno, Matt Soniak, Michelle Obama, Pope Francis, slavery in america, spicy chicken, talk-show hosts
Entertainers like stand-up comics and talk show host are given license to make remarks about people of prominence as long as the remarks are taken as entertainment. People like Don Rickles or Jay Leno can make statements about important people with the intent of getting a humorous response—a laugh or smile. Although the comments regarding these people might seem disparaging, they are spoken without negative or denigrating intent. For example, Conan O’Brien, host of his TV show “Conan,” stated in a recent Monologue that “In a speech, Pope Francis criticized the Mafia and urged its members to repent. Which is why now every morning the Pope makes his assistants start the popemobile.”
We all realize that Conan’s remarks were meant to get a laugh, and not to call any negative attention to the Pope. Sometimes, however, the remarks of some entertainers can cross the line of acceptability and in doing so result in negative reactions. A case in point concerns the remarks of David Letterman in a recent Monologue. He stated that “First lady Michelle Obama is in China. Today she was busy doing some official business. She placed a wreath on the grave of General Tso, the creator of spicy chicken.”For someone to find meaning in this statement, he or she would have to have knowledge of Michelle Obama, General Tso and his chicken, and the history associated with African Americans and chickens.
We are generally familiar with America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, and know her to be an intelligent, attractive, and graceful young lady. We also know that she is an African American and a very patriotic person. She has introduced the country to a number of her interests in programs that address people concerns such as obesity, especially in the youth of America. So, any reference to Michelle relative to her concern for obesity and food would be considered in order. However, the Letterman comment had no relations to Mrs. Obama’s program on obesity. Whether it was stated out of ignorance, disrespect, bias, we do not know. What is for certain, however, it was not meant as a compliment. As a representative of the United States of America, Mrs. Obama’s reason for visiting China was to promote education which she did while showing respect for the host country. One of her activities did not include laying a wreath at the grave of an honored Chinese leader, especially, General Tso.
The reference to General Tso is not necessarily a familiar to many people because it is not a nation-wide product. The Letterman comment seems to suggest a likeness of the General to the famous Col. Sanders of the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand. But who is General Tso?In an article by Matt Soniak, Who Was General Tso? in mentalfloss.com gives us some insight on the general:“Zuo Zongtang (sometimes written as Zu? Z?ngtáng or Tso Tsung-t’ang) was one of the greatest military leaders of China’s long and storied history. Zuo’s life as a military hero is well documented (there’s even a billboard on the road going into his hometown that features his likeness), but his connection to the chicken dish named after him is a different story.” Soniak continues, “ Food historians know this much for sure: the dish is a loose interpretation of an old Hunan dish called chung ton gai (“ancestor meeting place chicken” or “ancestral meeting hall chicken”). After that, it’s all a matter of whom you ask.” The spicy chicken associated with Letterman’s comment is popular in New York and Canada.
Most people who have studied American history learned about slavery in a general sense and recognize the negative effects of that system. Few really know about the unhealthy and unbalanced diet of many of the slaves. The phrase “Soul Food” is popularized today and brings to mind happy memories of family and loved ones gathered together for occasion. The fact of the matter concerning soul food is that it represented what the slaves were given to eat. Because of their work schedule, slaves did not have the time or necessities to prepare wholesome meals. Most of the food was fried in pig fat or lard.
The majority of the meats available to slaves were pork and beef. The exception was meat acquired from fishing and hunting; chicken was not a daily dietary item. Slaves had no time or place to raise chickens, except when permitted, in the yard, or as known today, free-range. So, for the slaves to have chicken was not a daily occurrence. To associate the eating of chicken with slaves and/or African Americans is to cast a discerning eye on the hardships and like of privileges granted to them in captivity. In essence, the reference is demeaning and denigrating in that it makes fun of a people held in bondage and deprived of basic necessities.
So, when Letterman made his comment about Mrs. Obama placing a wreath at the grave of General Tso, the creator of spicy chicken, he was, in effect, calling attention to a serious miscarriage of justice relative to human beings held in slavery and poverty. The complaint here is not the fact that Letterman chose Mrs. Obama as the subject of his comments, he has every right to do so, but his reference speaks to her personal history as an African American and a descendant of slaves. The reference to African Americans eating chicken is a reminder that they were once not considered human beings, but animals. After slavery, many African Americans became farmers and raised chickens as well as pigs and beef. But the reference to chickens still strikes a sour note about slavery and poverty. So, for Letterman to make a statement in that context shows ignorance or arrogance or bias or all three.
No one wants to deprive comics or talk-show hosts of their freedom of speech or the right to poke fun at people of note, but some consideration of the ramifications of some remarks should be taken to avoid feelings of insensitivity. The problem is in the context, not the chicken. Rather than poke fun at Mrs. Obama, Letterman’s remarks reflect directly on him and his lack of judgment and class for making the comments.
Tags: 12 Years A Slave, African American History, African Americans, black, black and white, ethnicity, European Americans, movie, Oscar, Prejudice, race, skin color, slave masters, slavery, Solomon Northup, white
The movie, 12 Years a Slave, won an Oscar award as this year’s the Best Picture, and well it should have because of the picture of slavery it presents. Many viewers based their evaluations of the movie on how the system of slavery dehumanized and denigrated the slave, showing the harshness of the punishment and pain endured by the slaves. In those cases, once the movie is over, the memories of the viewers rest with the experiences of the slaves. However, the movie’s most valuable and significant element rest in its intrinsic objective—to provided a gift to America of a valuable teaching tool.
The movie, followed by mature and informed discussions, should be a requirement for all Jr. High and High school students because of the way the movie presents the concept of slavery, and how it reflects American life. By doing so, we all can gain unique lessons from it. Let us take a look at twelve of the most obvious lessons we learn from slavery. These lessons are not arranged in an order of priority and most of them overlap, but relate to slavery as viewed from the movie.
First, the movie shows how the enslavers become dehumanized when they treated the slaves as animals. Watching a human being degraded through inhumane punishment and pain reflects on the ones inflicting the actions and the reasons for doing so. The power to whip a human being to death does not make one a human being for using that power, but more a brut for dropping to that level of behavior.
Second, the movie shows how the actions of the enslavers to dehumanize the slaves represent a form of insanity. Although the slaves were human beings, they were viewed and made to view themselves as animals; most people treat their animals with a degree of respect for the service they render. So, when the action of an enslaver goes against common sense, and what is considered normal thoughts, the result is a form of insanity.
Third, the movie shows that all African Americans were not slaves; many were free, educated, business and property owners. For example, Paul Cuffee owned several sailing ship, made and sold sails. In Louisiana, Cyprian Ricard owned almost a hundred slaves (Yes, even some African Americans owned slaves, but not all African slaves); a cabinetmaker from North Carolina, Thomas Day, employed a number of European Americans; and in New York City in 1924, seven African Free Schools were supported by the public. The schools were called African Free Schools, not Negro or black or colored because those terms lacked specificity. So, Solomon being a free man was not an isolated case; not all African Americans were slaves.
Fourth, the movie shows how all European Americans were not supporters of slavery. Had it not been for the characters played by Brad Pitt, and Mr. Parker, both European Americans, Solomon would not have regained his freedom. We also note the behavior of Solomon’s first young master how Solomon was treated with a small degree of respect for his knowledge and skills. All enslavers did not treat their slaves the same.
Fifth, the movie shows how slavery created guilt-feelings in some of the European Americans who knew that slavery was a false concept and that the Africans and African Americans were human being, just like themselves. The guilt came from the fact that they knew slavery was wrong, and in contradiction to the Declaration of Independence and the Bible. Yet, the suspension of truth and reality was substituted for the make-believe concept of viewing human beings as animals and property. The fact that any form of formal education was denied the slaves to promote the idea that they could not learn. This action was a deliberate effort to hide the truth and protect their guilt.
Sixth, the movie shows how laws regarding the ownership of property were generally respected. The laws of property rights reflect the world of finance and business. These laws seemingly took precedent over laws regarding human concerns. A man’s worth was indicated not only in his money, but also in his property including land and slaves. The laws were created and enforced by the wealthy property owners.
Seventh, the movie shows how the insanity of slavery helps us to understand many of the attitudes and actions of some people today, especially the concepts of ethnic bigotry based on skin complexion. European Americans firmly believed that the color of their skin was a biological fact of superiority. The reference to their color as a sign of power was used constantly, especially the European Americans who were hired hands.
Eighth, the movie shows how the belief in slavery promoted a false sense of power, privilege, arrogance, and prestige. For all intent and purpose, the movie shows how some slave masters viewed themselves as gods, controlling the total lives of their slaves. In addition, other European Americans believed that they were created to be masters over other ethnic Americans, so they behaved as though it was a fact.
Ninth, the movie shows how slavery used Christianity in a hypocritical way, for generating fear, intimidation, and discipline. In essence, if the slaves did not practice being good slaves, then God would punish them through the slave masters. Church service for the slaves was a mockery of Christianity since the preachers always quoted scripture that encouraged the slaves to obey the masters and be good slaves.
Tenth, the movie shows how some European Americans believed that the Declaration of Independence was for all people, and some European Americans believed it applied only to them. The European American property owners believed they were entitled to more power, privilege, and prestige than the average European Americans. The country, in essence, belonged to them.
Eleventh, the movie shows how the secular and Christian standards and values did not apply to the enslavers. If a master wanted to procreate with his female slaves, he did so without impunity. His neighbors and fellow citizens gave little thought to what he did to his slaves regarding morals and values.
Twelfth, the movie shows that wedding vows were simply a matter of convenience, not law, with regards to who the master slept or with whom he fathered children. The wives of slave masters knew their place generally, but none-the-less, witnessed daily the handiwork of their husbands in and around the plantation.
The movie, as an invaluable gift, should be used because it tells us who we were, how we got to where we are, and what we need to do to move forward.