Anti-Racism Index

Anti-Racism Index

Friends,

I have been writing blogs two or three times a week for five years now.  I began with the realization that I knew very little about racism.  Over those past five years, I discovered my ignorance exceeded my expectations.  There was so much I did not know or understand.

Today, I am adding a subject index to my blog website.  I’ve taken some of my biggest epiphanies and arranged them in the following categories…

  1. A PRIMER FOR WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACISM.
  2. THINGS MOST WHITE PEOPLE DON’T KNOW
  3. EXPERIENCE OF RACISM AS A TRANS-RACIAL FAMILY
  4. UNDERSTANDING SYSTEMIC RACISM
  5. HISTORY LESSONS ON RACISM
  6. REPARATIONS
  7. BECOMING ANTI-RACIST

Each segment includes about a dozen blogs around that subject area with links to the blog posts and a short description of the content.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to browse the index.

More importantly, I hope you’ll consider this as a resource as you and others navigate life in our racially-challenged society.

The Terrible Weight of Not Knowing

The Terrible Weight of Not Knowing

Several years ago, I asked my friend Stephen, who is Black, how he felt about hearing a white person use the N-word.  He replied, “When a white person uses the N-word, they are telling me exactly who they are.  It’s the white person who tells me I didn’t get the job that worries me.  I never know if that was because I was less qualified or because I am Black.”  While I thought Stephen’s response profound, I didn’t fully understand this dimension of racism until this past month.

I didn’t understand the terrible weight of not knowing.

This past month, I changed our homeowner’s insurance from one carrier to another.  It is something I’ve done a dozen times over the years without incident.  This time, three weeks after switching companies, the new company sent us a cancellation notice – something I’d never experienced or heard of others experiencing.  The cancellation notice gave no rationale for this decision and a phone number to call for more information.

When I called that phone number, a representative of the insurance company informed me that during the drive by inspection of our home, the underwriter had determined our roof was old and in disrepair and recommended cancellation.  This seemed rather odd since our roof is less than 15 years old.  When I asked if we could dispute the cancellation, the representative agreed to review our case.

When the representative called me back, she admitted to considerable confusion on her part.  She said, “I review a lot of these cases and your house does not fit our criteria for cancellation.  I don’t understand why the underwriter made this decision.  Your roof looks fine in the photos.”  After a couple of days of back and forth with the underwriter, the company restored our coverage.

I’ve thought a lot about what happened.  Why, after years of companies driving by our house to confirm our description of our house, did this drive by inspection result in a cancellation?  What was different?  Same house.  Same neighborhood.  Same answers on the insurance questions.  The only difference I can think of is that we now have a “Black Lives Matter” sign on our front door.

Is it possible that the underwriter saw the “Black Lives Matter” sign and assumed we were a Black family?  Is it possible that the company had a policy – unwritten – to look for any reason to deny coverage to Black families?  Was racism the reason our policy was cancelled?

We’ll never know, but I wonder.

This is the point where many white people will shake their heads and think, “He always makes everything about race.  There are a dozen other explanations for his insurance being cancelled.”  That is certainly possible.  This is also the response my friend, Stephen, has learned to expect from white people when he wonders if he didn’t get the job because he is Black.  White people love to consider anything, but racism.  We ignore the possibility that we live a world where people and companies might deny insurance coverage to someone simply because of the color of their skin.  We do this even when we know such things happen.

In April of 2000, Nationwide Insurance settled a racial discrimination lawsuit that proved the following:

  • Nationwide racially profiled neighborhoods.
  • Nationwide actively discouraged agents from selling insurance in black neighborhoods.
  • Nationwide used unsound underwriting to exclude Black families.
  • Nationwide denied coverage and cancelled insurance for Black homeowners.

A jury in Virginia found Nationwide guilty of all these racial discriminations and rewarded $100 million in damages.  After an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, Nationwide eventually agreed to pay $18 million in damages.  In the settlement, Nationwide did not admit guilt or commit to changing its coverage or underwriting policies.

What this company was doing was not unique.  There is continuing evidence of significant and discriminatory differences in appraisals, mortgage rates, loan conditions, inspections, insurance and sale prices for homes owned by Black homeowners.  Just this year in Indianapolis, Carletta, a Black friend of mine, had her home appraised for $110,000 when the actual value was about $260,000.  She is suing the appraiser.

The family of Erica and Aaron Parker who had their house appraised at $465,000.  The couple decided to replace all their family pictures with pictures of a white family and had their appraisal come in at $557,000.  Freddie Mac, the federal organization monitoring home loans, analyzed their voluminous data of national appraisals and found huge disparities between appraisals of Black and white owned homes in the same neighborhoods.

This is where some of my white friends will argue that appraisals from two different appraisers are bound to differ.  How do we really know if race was the primary factor? 

We’ll never know for sure.

This is one of the dimensions of racism I never understood until this past month.

I never understood the terrible weight of not knowing.

As a white person, until this past month, I’ve always known. 

Nothing negative ever happened to me because of the color of my skin.  Indeed, many positive things – most of which I am unaware – happen to me.  When something negative does happen, I can be fairly certain the explanation given to me is true, or at least it has nothing to do with my race.

This is one of the subtle advantages of being white in America.

We get to know.

To Be White and Conservative Is To Be Racist

To Be White and Conservative Is To Be Racist

I still have a few white, conservative friends.

They are people who deeply dislike Donald Trump and much of the direction of the Republican Party, but also have serious reservations about the Democrats and many progressive causes.  They remind me that it is possible to be white and conservative and not be fascist and racist.  I think they are right about fascism.  Liz Cheney is a good example.  I disagree with most of her political positions, but I respect her commitment to the democratic process.

I am not so sure about the racism claim.

Is it possible to be white, conservative, and not be racist?

I am always curious about what white conservatives are trying to conserve.  Some seem to long for a past age in America when “life was good.”  Others suggest they seek to conserve American values they see as threatened or even lost.  Still others hope to conserve – or perhaps reclaim – a politics with less rancor and vitriol.  While their pronouncements sound noble, they all build upon the idea that America’s best days were in its past.  These people may despise Trump, but they seem quite comfortable with “Making America Great Again.”

I often ask them when they think America was great.  When asked this question in 2017, Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Alabama Senate race, replied, “America was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery.”  In other words, America was great when six million Black men, woman and children were treated as property.

Most of my conservative friends were as appalled by Moore’s claim as I was, but their response to that question isn’t really all that different.  They often mention some time in their childhood or early adulthood.  A Pew survey of Republicans found that when asked “when was America great,” many chose the 1950s and early 1960s as the last years when America was great.  In other words, America was great before the Civil Rights Movement challenged Jim Crow and restored civil rights to people of color.

This is the problem with any nostalgic desire to return to an American past – it is inherently racist.  To do so is to ennoble and glorify a time when people of color had far fewer right than white people.  It is to conserve a status quo that was white supremacist in tone and practice.  Frankly, unless you are a white male, there is no better time to live in the United States than right now. This is true if you are woman, a person of color, physically or mentally challenged, homosexual, bi-sexual, transgender, gender neutral or any other minority or marginalized group.

When I point this out to my white conservative friends, they never ague.  They know this is true.  They usually shift to arguing for conserving certain American values – a belief in God, a defined moral order, slow and careful change, valuing past precedent, and social order.  For example, they often lament the loss of the nuclear family as the bedrock of American greatness.  Divorce is too easy.  Children are raised without fathers.  They yearn for a day when the family is once more honored and advantaged.

They seem completely unaware of how racist policies caused much of what they lament.  Historically, public policy intentionally and consistently undermined the families of people of color by creating economic and legal obstacles to their success.  Policies were designed to promote white families at the expense of black families.  In the 1950’s, public policy brought millions of dollars to white veterans through the GI Bill and largely ignored black veterans.  Social Security was originally designed to exclude many occupations that employed people of color.  Welfare laws required poor families to be led by single mothers, disrupting many minority families.  After the 1960s, many of these policies – designed to impact families of color – began to also impact white families negatively.

Here is a painful truth for white conservatives – the nuclear family with a mother at home was a result of policies which gave white families financial advantages at the expense of families of color.  Women of color rarely had the option of staying home with their children.  They were often working for those white nuclear families.  Nostalgia for this kind of family inherently devalues a multitude of other types of family configurations that developed as alternatives to a kind of family primarily reserved for white people.

Too often, whether white conservatives acknowledge it or not – what they seek to conserve is a culture of whiteness.  It is a belief in the God of a white Jesus.  It is a defined moral order which values and defends a status quo where whites are vastly richer than people of color.  It values past precedent without acknowledging the racist motives and prejudices of past figures, pronouncements, laws, and legal opinions.  White conservatives love to talk of the founding fathers without any embarrassment that all of them were white men – most of them slave owners.

When I bring all of this into the conversation, often white conservatives admit these truths, but argue that they miss the days when such conversations didn’t have to be so rancorous, when we could talk about racism and justice without animosity.

To which I say that day never existed.

What existed was a culture where the opinions of white people were the only opinions given opportunity, value, and voice.  There was little rancor around issues of race and justice because white people generally agreed that people of color – as minorities – did not deserve a voice in American democracy.  And, since white people were the majority of the electorate, they were in a position to defend their privileges.

The animosity white conservatives are experiencing now is the built-up frustrations of voices long ignored or silenced.  They are often aimed at those who would conserve this racist past.  Are they loud?  Yes.  Are they insistent?  Yes.  Are they invalid?  No.  When white conservatives yearn for a day when political discourse was more tranquil and less partisan, they yearn for a day with all political parties and social institutions generally supported white supremacy.

This is my problem with my white conservative friends.

They yearn for a past that no one else misses.

It is a racist past.

Their desire to conserve that is racist.

The Myth of Black Violence

The Myth of Black Violence

In any conversation with a white person about race – be they conservative, moderate or even progressive – I have learned to expect the subject of black on black crime to come up within the first fifteen minutes.  The white person bringing up Black on Black crime will usually say something like this…

Maybe our country still has some work to do about racism, but I wish someone could explain why there is so much Black on Black crime.  Why is it that Blacks are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit a crime and usually against another Black person?  Maybe black people should stop committing crimes and celebrating those who do in their rap music.

While the white person implies some confusion, they obviously don’t need anyone to explain Black on Black crime to them.  Though the statistics for white on white crime are nearly identical to that of Black and Black crime, they have concluded Black on Black crime is evidence of a Black propensity – genetically and/or culturally – to violence. 

This is not a new argument.  It is a well-worn white supremacist trope developed during enslavement to justify rigid control and brutal punishment of enslaved Black men and women.  According to this prejudice, Blacks were little more than animals and could be expected to be more violent.  This argument was often supported with pseudo-science about brain size, body type and other arguments for Black inferiority.  Ironically, these arguments were being made during a period of American enslavement replete with examples of white brutality toward Black people.  During enslavement, Black on white violence were rare and quickly and ruthlessly suppressed.

Usually, when I explain these things to another white person, they respond with something like this…

Well, I agree that slavery was horrible, but that was nearly 200 years ago.  How does any of that explain Black and Black violence today?  If they really want to improve their lives, robbing and killing each other isn’t going to help their cause.

This is, of course, another white supremacist trope.  Many white people imply – whether they realize it or not – that when enslavement ended that Black people were immediately treated with justice and equity and had the opportunities to create lives of promise and prosperity.  This could not be further from the truth. 

Indeed, with the end of legal enslavement, many Blacks experienced even more violence than during enslavement.  During enslavement, they legally belonged to another white person and there were consequences for damaging another white person’s property.  From 1863 until 1963, every white person they encountered could do violence toward them with little fear of consequence.  White on Black crimes were seldom prosecuted, but even the suspicion of violence on the part of a Black person was swiftly and brutally addressed by lynching, mutilations, and murder.

When I explain the long history of white mob violence toward Black individuals and communities, the stories of Rosewood, of Tulsa and of East St. Louis, the lack of convictions for the rape of Black women for nearly 80 years, and the countless examples of unjustified violence toward Black people, white people often ask…

So are you arguing that white people are the reason for Black on Black crime?

 Exactly.

Through generations of experience, Black people have learned violence toward white people is not an option.  Black people know that white and white crime will usually be investigated, adjudicated and punished equitably.  They know that even the suspicion of Black on white crime will be brutally addressed, often without any due process.  They know Black on Black crime will largely be ignored, except as evidence that Blacks are violent and inferior.

Black people are not stupid.

While they are not more violent than white people, they know – if they are driven to violence because of poverty, resentment, humiliation, or hopelessness – they will only make things much worse if they commit that violence on a white person. In a white supremacist society, Black on Black crime is the safest crime for a black person to commit.  They have watched police kill Black people for the mere threat of violence.  In America, a Black man can be shot multiple times in the back when refusing to obey a police officer while Dylann Roof can walk into a Black church, kill nine people, be peacefully detained by police and taken to Burger King for a burger.

When I carefully lay out this explanation for Black on Black violence, white people often remain adamant that Black on Black violence – and NOT systemic racism – is a problem requiring action. They often end our conversation with something like this…

Well, I just think Black people need to clean up their own house first.

White people refuse to see the obvious.

Black people don’t own a house.

They all live in a house owned, controlled, and monitored by white people where even a hint of violence toward their white housemates is cause for a quick and harsh response.

The greatest threat of violence for Black people in America is not Black on Black crime.  The greatest threat of violence for Black people in America is as it has always been – white people.  Even more discouraging, they know that much of this violence will not even be considered a crime.  It will be the government and society sanctioned violence of police, prosecutors, and judges.

If we are really interested in reducing Black on Black crime, there is a simple solution.  We must create a fair and equitable society where Black people can feel safe in police encounters, jails, and courts as well as in the streets. We must reduce the many ways our society continues to do violence to people of color.

Who Invented Affirmative Action?

Who Invented Affirmative Action?

If you query Google with “Who invented affirmative action?,” you’ll discover the pervasiveness of white supremacist propaganda in our society.  The primary source in Google declares, “the term affirmative action was coined during the administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy by Hobart Taylor, Jr., a Black attorney. Taylor attended the 1961 inaugural ball hoping to meet Kennedy’s vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, who would later ask him to rewrite what became Executive Order 10925.”  All the other sources on the first page offer similar answers.

Unfortunately, Google and its sources are misleading, if not outright deceptive.  They claim that “affirmative action” is a relatively recent invention.  They also go out of their way to make sure the reader knows that a “Black” lawyer invented the idea.  I suspect Hobart Taylor would have argued with both of these assertions.  Any knowledgeable Black person knows “affirmative action” has been around since at least the 1860s.  They also know it was invented by white men.

One of the early examples of affirmative action is the Cotton Mill Campaign of the 1880s.  This campaign was designed to increase the industrial strength of the Southern United States.  In a region where agriculture was king, the industrial jobs provided by the cotton mills were both lucrative and sought after.  Between 1880 and 1900, the number of jobs in the cotton mill industry increased from 16,000 to nearly 100,000.

Prior to the 1880s, these cotton mills had utilized both Black and white laborers, but with the Cotton Mill Campaign, that abruptly changed.  In “The Invention of the White Race,” Theodore Allen documents how white cotton mill owners – worried about solidarity between Black and white laborers – made a strategic decision.  Allen writes…

“The mill owners as a class had recognized the fact that mill life was the only avenue open to poor whites and decided to limit this avenue to white people alone.  The aim, said D. A. Tompkins, prominent cotton mill owner, was “to reestablish as quickly as possible respectability for white labor.”  Cotton mill investors were urged to rise above “mercenary considerations” and think about all the jobs they would be supplying to white men and women.  At the conclusion of its investigation of the cotton mill industry, the United States Industrial Commission noted uncritically, “white mill workers ought to be protected from negro competition and this field ought to be reserved for white labor.”

While the Cotton Mill Campaign was never called affirmative action, it fits nearly every definition white supremacists oppose so vehemently.  It did the following:

  • It was an intentional effort to improve the employment opportunities of a specific racial group.
  • It consisted of policies, programs, and procedures by business and government entities that gave preferences in employment to a specific racial group.
  • It was discrimination in favor of one racial group over another.
  • It set quotas for how many people of a specific race might be employed.

In actuality, the Cotton Mill Campaign was affirmative action to an extreme.  It went beyond preference for a specific racial group – white people – and completely prohibited people of another racial group – Blacks – from employment.

The Cotton Mill Campaign is just one example of a myriad of ways in which white people either received preference or sole opportunity for employment, education, financial resources, etc.  Many of the occupations – doctor, lawyer, teacher, manager – where Blacks are underrepresented today were once occupations in which Blacks were either prohibited or intentionally limited.  In some instances, this was done by governmental decree.  More often, it was done by societal agreement.  The cotton mill owners – all white – joined in excluding Blacks, even when there was an economic incentive to hire Blacks.  Racism always trumps capitalism.

Affirmative action was invented by white people.  It was an intentional strategy for excluding Blacks from the benefits of employment, education, and finances.  It was widely accepted and uncritically practiced by white people for over 100 years.  Indeed, it only become objectionable to white people when Black people like Hobart Taylor, Jr. turned these policies on their head and tried to apply them to Black people as a remedy for past discrimination.

White nationalists love to accuse affirmative action of being “reverse racism.”  In so doing, they acknowledge affirmative action “reverses” policies built on the white oppression of black people.  They admit – whether they realize it or not – that white people were both the originators of affirmative action and its chief beneficiaries for over 100 years.  They have been so successful in this campaign against affirmative action than even many Blacks oppose it.

They are successful because – like Google and its sources – affirmative action has been defined as a recent innovation by Black people intended to give them an unfair advantage in society.  All these assumptions are false.

Affirmative action is an age-old strategy.

Affirmative action is a white invention.

When applied to Black people, it addresses an unfair advantage given to white people rather than giving an unfair advantage to Black people.

That Google, the Supreme Court, the Republican Party and white supremacists are united in opposition to affirmative action is evidence the racism that inspired the Cotton Mill Campaign in 1880 is alive and well in the United States. It is hypocritical pretense to present yourself as a defender of justice and fairness when you, your parents and your grandparents have all benefited from injustice and inequality.

The white person opposed to affirmative action is no different than a white person pulling up the ladder they used to scale a wall and then acting offended and injured when a black person coming behind them builds their own ladder.

How Many White Supremacists Are There?

How Many White Supremacists Are There?

If you’re concerned about the recent attack of a white supremacist on Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York, I have good news.

When recently asked if systemic racism was an issue in the United States, former Vice President Mike Pence said, “Systemic racism is a left-wing myth.”

Senator Tim Scott, one of the most prominent Republican Black men in America, said, “America is not a racist country.”

Former President Donald Trump, when asked if white supremacist groups were a danger, replied, “I think it a very small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

If anyone should know if white supremacy is an issue in the United States, these men should know.  These men have had access to the best investigative powers in the nation through the Department of Justice and FBI.  Unlike you and I, they’ve read – well, at least Scott and Pence have read – the 2019 FBI report on the threat of white supremacist groups in America.   They’ve seen the statistics.  They’ve heard the analysis. Unless they are lying, we can be assured that white supremacy is a minor issue caused by very fringe groups.  Attacks like the one in Buffalo are tragic, but hardly indicative of any real problem in American culture.

Be comforted.

White supremacists a very small group of people with very, very serious problems.

I mean, even the Southern Poverty Law Center counts only about 155 white supremacist groups.  Most of these groups are made up of less than 100 people.  A generous count of white supremacists in the United States would be about 20,000.  With 232 million white people in the United States, this would suggest white supremacists are only .00009% of the white population.  That is about one in every 10,000 white Americans.

I think we can all relax.

Of course, the white supremacist shooter in Buffalo – Payton Grendon – was not actually a member of a white supremacist group.  This suggests there might be some “lone wolf” white supremacists out there. Grendon admitted to being heavily influenced by white supremacist webpages.  The Anti-Defamation League reports that white supremacist propaganda hit an all-time high in 2020 with nearly 6,000 recorded incidents.  Let’s say there are 100 closet white supremacists for everyone in an organized group.  That is still only 2,000,000.  With 232 million white people in the United States, this suggests white supremacists are only .09% of the white population.  That is about one in every 100 white Americans.

Why are we worried?

Of course, there are probably more people supportive or tolerant of white supremacy than actual card and gun carrying white supremacists.  A 2017 ABS News/ Washington Post article found that 9% of white Americans thought it “strongly or somewhat acceptable” to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views.  That is only about 21,000,000 white people.  That is about one in every 10 white Americans. These are people who are sympathetic to Payton Grendon’s grievances, but who would never shoot a black person themselves.

Ninety percent of Americans aren’t hostile to black people.

Of course, there are a larger number of people who actually hold – whether they know it or not – white supremacist viewpoints.  Patrick Grendon was a proponent of the Great Replacement Theory in which elites are trying to replace white Americans with people of color, thereby diluting the superior gene pool of white people and taking political power. A recent poll by The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 33% of white Americans believed some version of the Great Replacement theory – 36% with Republicans and 27% with Democrats.  That is 77,000,000 white people.  That is one in every three white Americans.

O-kay, that is a little troubling.

Seventy-seven million white Americans, who would argue they are not white supremacist, believe in the Great Replacement Theory – one of the most prominent white supremacist principles.  Does that make these seventy-seven million people white supremacists?  Does that make them a danger?  I mean, millions of Americans say they believe in God without their lives reflecting any commitment to goodness. Wouldn’t they also have to hold other white supremacist beliefs?

What else do they believe?  The annual Gallup poll on race relations suggests many of these 77,000,000 white Americans also believe the following white supremacist ideas…

  • Whites are more oppressed than Blacks
  • Affirmative action is discrimination against white people
  • Civil rights laws to reduce discrimination are not needed
  • Reparations should not be paid to Black People
  • Blacks are in prison more than whites because they commit more crimes
  • It is perfectly acceptable to use the N-word to describe Black people

Wow, this is disturbing.  Seventy-seven million white Americans look, sound and act like white supremacists.

Maybe Pence, Scott and Trump were lying.

Maybe white supremacy isn’t a fringe belief held by a small number of people.

Maybe this explains why the Congress wouldn’t allow US citizens to read the full contents of the FBI’s investigation of white supremacy in America.

Maybe they don’t want us to know how bad it really is.

The Second Reconstruction

The Second Reconstruction

The killing by a white supremacist of ten black people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York has me thinking about the many parallels between what is happening in our country today and what happened nearly 150 years ago.  I’ve begun to wonder if this period of time will someday be identified as the Second Reconstruction.

The First Reconstruction occurred in the years (1865-1875) following the American Civil War.  While historians have described this period as the reconstruction of a devastated South and the reunification of the United States, it was also the reconstruction of a system of racial oppression destroyed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.  In the early 1870s, when it looked as if “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” might become a reality for Black people, white supremacist forces in both the North and South worked to return America to its pre-Civil War “greatness.” 

Sadly, by the early 1880s, white supremacist forces had once again taken the Congress hostage, re-exerted control of the Supreme Court, legislated laws that relegated Blacks to second class citizenship at best and a return to slavery at worst.  The KKK emerged as a major political force.  Black office holders disappeared.  Black voting became non-existent.   Violence by whites toward Blacks was common.  While the Reconstruction may seem irrelevant today, it offers one very important lesson for our present situation.

Progress in racial equality can go backwards.

As much as I respect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I find his assumption – often quoted by progressives – that “the arc of the moral universe is long but bends toward justice” to be rather naïve.  I am not certain there is a moral universe.  Change happened in the 60s because young Black men and women faced off against police batons, dogs and fire hoses and refused to quit.  It was they and not the universe that bent our society toward greater justice. 

The election of Barack Obama was a time when King’s quote was especially popular, with even Obama quoting it repeatedly.  Many progressives saw his election as the inevitable result of the Civil Rights Movement and evidence that racial inequality and oppression were finally coming to an end.  This inevitability was so widely accepted that many – including myself – thought the election of Donald Trump to the presidency was impossible.  We were sadly wrong.

As I’ve thought about the past six years, I’ve realized the laziness of the progressive movement.  This laziness allowed many to quibble about Clinton’s imperfections and the Democratic party’s corruptions and completely miss the existential threat of Trumpism.  Our lack of urgency allowed Trump to appoint three conservative justices who will make it extremely difficult for us to make any racial progress in the next decade. 

Justice is not inevitable. Those who wait on the arc of justice to bend will never see the change they hope for.  And those who bend the arc of justice toward justice should understand that there are always forces prepared to bend the arc of justice backwards.  The First Reconstruction was an example of justice given and then removed.

Sadly, in this Second Reconstruction, we are seeing history repeat itself.  White supremacy has once again taken our Congress hostage, re-exerted control of the Supreme Court, and legislated laws relegating Blacks to secondhand citizenship.  Consider these recent events…

  • The Supreme Court has negated some of the key elements of the Voter Rights Legislation of the 1960s and made it much easier for many states to create barriers to voting for people of color.
  • State legislatures are passing multiple laws making it more difficult for schools to teach and address both past and present racial injustice.
  • The Supreme Court has chipped away at affirmative action for people of color, which is essentially an affirmation of preferential treatment for white people.
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center reports white supremacist group membership has grown by 55% since 2016.
  • Instances like this past weekend in Buffalo, of white supremacists using violence to kill and terrorize people of color, are becoming more commonplace.
  • The Anti-Defamation League reports that white supremacist propaganda hit an all time high in 2020 with nearly 6,000 recorded incidents.
  • Tucker Carlson, one of the most watched opinion makers in America, warns nearly every night of the “great replacement,” a popular white supremacist theory, and incites white people to see Blacks, immigrants and non-whites as an existential threat. 

While the appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to the Supreme Court may seem like progress, we have simply given a Black woman the dubious honor of a front row seat for the dismantling of much of what made her rise to prominence a little less daunting.  As a minority voice on the Court, she will play the role Black woman have played for the last century – speaking truth to a white supremacy that does not give a damn.

If I sound discouraged and cynical, I am.

When I complain of laziness, I am being self-critical.

As a member of the 60s generation, I am embarrassed by how my generation has turned out.  We’ve traded our youthful idealism for 401 Ks, electric cars and retirement homes.  We’ve allowed the affluence of our few Black friends to obscure how many people of color never saw the fruits of the Civil Rights Movement.

This brings me to the other parallel between the first Reconstruction and our present situation.  During the First Reconstruction, white allies got tired, lost interest and returned to their own concerns.  A recession in the mid-1870s led white folk to turn their eyes away from racial and economic injustice and see people of color as competitors rather than fellow citizens.  Many white people became convinced that the successes of people of color were a threat to their way of life.

Frederick Douglass spoke these words at the 1876 commemoration of a statue to Abraham Lincoln…

It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.

First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his stepchildren; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.

These were startling words for the preeminent Black leader of his time to speak to an audience of white people at a commemoration of a Lincoln memorial.  They represent Douglas’s growing disappointment and cynicism about what he saw in the Reconstruction.  It was his admission that even Lincoln had to be drug by circumstances into fighting for the rights of people of color.  Douglas was watching how quickly and easily the gains of people of color, paid for by the blood of thousands, were being destroyed and discarded to placate white supremacists.  How sad he would have been if he could have seen how little progress Black people would make in the next 80 years.

History has a way of repeating itself.

I worry we are once again watching the gains of people of color, paid for by the sweat and blood of people like Martin Luther King, John Lewis and so many other warriors of the 60s, be destroyed and discarded to placate white supremacists.

I am worried we are in the midst of the Second Reconstruction.

Were The Irish Enslaved?

Were The Irish Enslaved?

If you debate with white supremacists and nationalists very long, you will encounter the argument that Blacks need to “get over” slavery and move on.  Often, those making this argument will claim that the first slaves in America were Irish and that you don’t hear Irish people complaining about their treatment three hundred years ago.  Indeed, many will argue that the success of the Irish in America is one more proof of Black inferiority.

Irish

Of course, this is all racist bullshit.

This past fall, my family saw the musical “Paradise Alley’ in Chicago.  This musical is loosely based on the events before, during and after the New York race riots in 1863.  In the plot of the musical, Blacks and Irish are living in the slums of New York together, intermarrying and happily coexisting until outside agitators and politicians manipulate the Irish into blaming the Blacks for their economic struggles and rioting against them.  In this telling, paradise was when Blacks and whites (represented by the Irish) lived happily together.

All of this – white supremacist rants and a Broadway bound musical – made me wonder more about my Irish roots.  What is the history of the Irish?  How were they treated in Ireland?  What was their status when they arrived in America?  Were they ever slaves?  Was there ever an idyllic period when the Irish and Blacks saw each other as equally oppressed and therefore as friends?

If you are curious about such things, there is probably no better place to go than “The Invention of the White Race: The Origin of Racial Oppression” by Theodore Allen.  Allen’s first volume is essentially a well-documented examination of the similarities and difference between how the Irish were treated by the English and how Blacks were treated in America.  Like Africans, the Irish…

  • …were often taken forcefully from their homes and sent to America.
  • …were treated as inferior both in Ireland and in the United States by Anglo-Saxons.
  • …had governmental policy used to oppress them.
  • …were used to do hard, back breaking labor.

The Irish were treated horribly by the English.  Allen gives a vivid account of the lengths the English went to steal Irish land, starve Irish peasants, and turn Ireland into a colony.  Before this reading, I had no idea the famous potato famine of 1845 was rooted in both environmental and political factors.  Many Irish families would have survived the famine if English policy had not required them to turn over as much as 60% of their harvest to English overlords.  The Great Potato Famine was merely the last of many English attempts to commit genocide on the Irish.  After reading Allen’s history, I have new sympathy for why the Irish so hated Protestant Northern Ireland, which was repopulated by English and Scottish immigrants in the 1600s.

However, while the treatment of the Irish in Europe and later in the United States, is heinous, there is little evidence the Irish were systematically enslaved.  While they certainly experienced continued oppression in the United States as a source of cheap labor, the Irish who came to America were fleeing an even worse oppression.  While some came as indentured servants or bondsmen, they came looking for and expecting a better life.  They came as families.  They came with hope.  This is a far cry from the expectations of the Blacks who came to America stacked in the holds of slave ships.

Allen’s history does suggest the Irish, more than perhaps any other group, should have been sympathetic to the plight of the Africans coming to America.  They had experienced horrible treatment simply because of their “racial” heritage as Irish.  They understood the injustice of such treatment.  Sadly, as much as I’d like to believe many Irish harbored sympathies for the Black people of America, the plot of the musical “Paradise Alley” is more myth than reality.

To understand what happened with the Irish in America, Noel Ignatiev’s book, “How The Irish Became White” is a much better source than Broadway.  Ignatiev demonstrates the many ways in which Irish people earned better treatment in American society by treating Blacks more brutally and viscously than their Anglo-Saxon neighbors.  They quickly understood that interacting and intermarrying with Black people was NOT the route to success in the United States.  They did not need agitators and politicians to manipulate them.  They simply needed to look around.

While there were certainly Irish men and women who were abolitionists, you would be hard pressed to find many Irish willing to give up the idea of their own superiority over Black people.  The white supremacists claiming Irish oppression seldom acknowledge how much of Irish success in cities like New York City came at the expense of Black people.  In early American history, nearly all dockworkers were free Black men.  By the end of the Civil War, only white people were allowed to work the docks.

In both “Paradise Alley” and in racist retellings, the exodus of Blacks from the docks was not so much racist but economic.  According to these stories, Blacks and Irish were competing for the same bottom of the barrel jobs and became economic competitors.  The conflicts between the Irish and Blacks were not racially motivated.

The problem with such arguments is that in the 1860s, when the Irish eliminated Blacks from the docks, only a few hundred Blacks migrated to New York City while thousands of Europeans arrived in New York City looking for work.  The Irish who murdered hundreds of Blacks during the Race Riots of 1863 identified Blacks and not other Europeans as “taking their jobs.”  They did so out of racial animosity and not economics.  This claim that “black people are taking our jobs” would be a reoccurring justification for countless other white rampages including the race riots in East St. Louis in 1917.  Economic grievances have long been camouflage for violent racism.

What Allen and Ignatiev make obvious in their writings is how successfully the American white supremacist elite used the idea of the “white race” as a means of keeping poor pale-skinned people and poor dark-skinned people from seeing their common plight and enemy.  Is it any wonder that white supremacists want us to believe the Irish were slaves?  In so doing, they perpetuate both the myth of white superiority and the trope of Black ineptitude.

Were other people enslaved during the 1600, 1700 and 1800s in America?  Of course, but these people were the exception rather than the rule.  Finding an occasional instance of brutality and injustice toward Irish people does not lessen the realities of racial oppression in America.

The Black experience in America has no parallels.  Native Americans were treated horribly but were not broadly enslaved.  Many immigrant groups were oppressed and abused, but they were also offered the American dream.  Only Black people were both racially oppressed and enslaved.  This legacy makes a governmental and societal reckoning and reparation vital.

There is no need to pit the oppression of one group against another.  Those you do so are not concerned about oppression.  They are hoping to distract the oppressed from the obvious – that the “white race” has oppressed all of them.  In ending all justifications for and manifestations of Black racial oppression, we dismantle the mechanisms that oppress and abuse all non-white populations.

Only the death of the idea of a “white race” will finally end racism.

Which Came First: Slavery or Racism?

Which Came First: Slavery or Racism?

(Thank you to those of you who reached out in concern over my recent hiatus from blog writing.  I am fine.  A combination of work responsibilities, family vacation and need for some reflection resulted in this temporary break.  It was also an opportunity for me to catch up on a lot of reading.  In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my new discoveries.  Today’s blog is the first of those.)

Which came first – slavery or racism?

Until I read Theodore Allen’s “The Invention of the White Race: The Origin of Racial Oppression,” I hadn’t really considered that question.  I suppose if you’d asked me, I would have answered that racism toward black people preceded the establishment of slavery in America. I would have done so without evidence or study.  It would have been a hunch based on an unconscious assumption that Africans must have been judged deficient in some way to become targets and victims of enslavement.

Of course – unconscious or not – that assumption is racist.

It is no more defensible than the assumption that rape victims must have done something wrong to have been raped.  This deflection of attention protects men – the perpetrators – from the obvious blame for this crime.  In the same way, suggesting that some deficiency on the part of Africans justified their enslavement is equally abhorrent.  It, too, deflects attention from the people – mostly white – who kidnapped, bought, transported, and sold black human beings into enslavement.

Theodore Allen offers an eye opening and detailed survey of historic racial oppression and concludes that the enslavement of Africans in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s was unique in both its origins and its justifications.  He argues the assumption that deficiencies in Black intelligence, character, culture, etc. resulted in Black enslavement is an idea created by “white” people to justify enslavement.  Indeed, the invention of the “white race” was necessary to justify enslaving and brutalizing the “black race.”

Allen points out how important the question of which came first – slavery or racism – is to our present struggle with systemic racism.  If we assume deficiencies in Black people explained or justified their enslavement in the 1600s, it is much easier to assume present societal disparities are also the result of Black genetic or cultural deficiencies.  On the other hand, if the enslavement of Black people and their denigration was a systemic and intentional strategy of people who began to define themselves as white, then these systems of racism can and should be deconstructed.

Too often, white people suggest the enslavement of black people in America was not unique or unusual in a historic context.  They say things like, “There has always been slavery of some kind” or “White people have been slaves in history as well” or “Africans owned and sold slaves, too.”  While all these statements are true, when used to diminish the unique ugliness of enslavement in the United States, they are misrepresentations of the past.

Allen spends two volumes with hundreds of detailed footnotes to dispel this mythology.  While slavery has always existed, historically, enslavement was largely a consequence of war.  Men and women were not enslaved because of the color of their skin, but because of their tribal or national affiliations.  This was true in both European and African contexts.  People were enslaved because their tribe or nation lost a conflict of some kind.  In addition, the enslaved were not seen as less intelligent or less human.  Indeed, they were coveted as a resource.  Identifying a specific group of people – based on the color of their skins – as “deserving” of enslavement was largely an invention of the late 1600s.

Prior to 1613, there are no recorded references to the concept of white people as a race or group.  Robert Baird writes…

“If you asked an Englishman in the early part of the 17th century what colour skin he had, he might very well have called it white. But the whiteness of his skin would have suggested no more suitable basis for a collective identity than the roundness of his nose or the baldness of his head. If you asked him to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.”

Whiteness was a concept that became increasingly necessary to differentiate European descended people from those they were brutally enslaving.  Black people were targeted for enslavement – not because of any genetic or cultural deficiencies – but because they were an attractive population for enslavement during a period when food production was being industrialized.

The enslavement of Black people, according to the well-documented work of Theodore Allen, was driven by five major factors in the 1600s…

  • The development of large plantations in the Western Hemisphere that required cheap labor to produce products desired by a growing middle class in Europe and then the United States.
  • The elimination of 90% of the native population of the Western Hemisphere – who were the original workers on these plantations – as a result of pandemics brought on by Europeans.
  • The lack of Europeans who could be enslaved because of population decreases brought on by plagues and war. European peasants were too valuable to European countries as farmers and soldiers.
  • The previous exposure of Africans to European diseases, which gave them considerable immunity to the diseases that had decimated native populations.
  • A sudden disparity between the military capabilities of European nations vs. African nations.  In other words, Africans were relatively defenseless.

These, rather than the deficiencies of Black people, were the factors that led Europeans to target Africans for enslavement and to justify this behavior by the denigration of Black people.  The denigration of Black people was accompanied by a glorification of white people.

This denigration became more and more necessary as the number of enslaved Black people increased in areas of the Western Hemisphere.  The elite in these locales were far outnumbered by poor, enslaved, and bonded laborers from both Africa and Europe.  The 1676 armed rebellion – Bacon’s Rebellion – of a coalition of Black and white laborers led the Virginia Legislature to begin to codify the distinctions between Black and white persons, offering white people privileges that set them apart from poor and enslaved Blacks.  This was the beginning of white privilege.

Allen makes a compelling argument that American racial oppression was a result of slavery and not the other way around.  Whiteness was a tool by which elite Americans offered lower class Americans certain privileges denied to Black people to gain their support in the continued enslavement and denigration of Black people.  The concept of “Black” people as sub-human or deficient was a creation used to justify enslavement.

While Allen makes many compelling and well documents arguments for his assertions, perhaps the most interesting was his discussion of the Shakespeare play “Othello”, which was written and produced in 1604.  This play, based on an earlier short story by the Italian writer Cinthio, tells the story of a dark-skinned Moorish nobleman with a pale skinned wife who is betrayed into believing her an adulteress and subsequently killing her.

What is remarkable about this play is that it portrayed a dark-skinned man as intelligent and noble, as a general leading soldiers of pale skin and married to a woman of pale skin.  The villain in the play is Iago, a man of pale skin.  In 1604, this portrayal of a Black person in this light and relationship was not yet considered offensive.  Why?  Because the racial distinctions between Black and white people had not been invented.  Othello was a Moor.  Iago was a Venetian.  Indeed, the only person who expresses any disdain for the color of Othello’s skin is the villain.

Sadly, the production of Othello may mark the last positive representation of a dark-skinned person in European and American culture until the rise of the Abolitionists.   It is unimaginable that Othello could have been penned by the late 17th century in England or the United States.  The plot would have been mocked as absurd and the play never produced.

Ironically, Othello was an especially popular play in the antebellum South.  However, in these productions, Iago was not the villain – Othello was.  Words that Shakespeare had written to vilify Iago were now heard as legitimate accusations toward Othello.  With the gradual denigration of Black people and elevation of white people, the ideas of Black nobility and of interracial marriage had become scandalous to white ears by the late 17th century.

This was not the result of any deficiency on the part of Black people.

It was consequence of European and American elites needing to justify the enslavement, brutality, and death of black skinned people to produce sugar, tobacco, and cotton.  What changed was not dark-skinned people, but the narratives that white skinned people told about them.

Sadly, even after slavery ended, these narratives continued to thrive, pitting poor whites against their Black compatriots for the crumbs of the elite.  For nearly a hundred years, this was the strategy of the Democratic Party, upholding Black Codes and Jim Crow laws.  Today, we see that strategy in the Republican Party.

Regardless of the purveyors of this injustice, racial oppression in the United States has always been an invention to justify the unjustifiable – the denigration, mistreatment and abuse of human beings whose only significant difference from that of pale skinned people is their darker skin.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be ridiculous.

White Truck Driver’s Lives Matter

White Truck Driver’s Lives Matter

In 2014, when Blacks and their allies protested the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the protests were met with armored vehicles, riot police, dogs, tear gas, bean bag projectiles, and sound weapons.  Protesters who did not immediately move after “keep moving” orders were arrested.  Those who stepped off sidewalks and into streets were immediately arrested.  A Black undercover policeman was so brutally beaten by police that he required multiple surgeries. Over the course of a couple weeks of protests, hundreds were arrested, and dozens injured. 

In 2016, when Native Americans protested at Standing Rock over the construction of the Keystone pipeline and its environmental impact on their tribal lands and water resources, the protests were met with tear gas, attack dogs, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and the use of water cannons in sub-zero weather.  The North Dakota governor called out 500 National Guard soldiers.  In a leaked strategic memo between the pipeline construction company and police officials, they stated that “the protest would be ended by any means necessary.”  Over 300 protesters were injured and 26 hospitalized.  Over six hundred protesters were arrested.

In 2020, when Blacks and their allies protested the murder of George Floyd across the United States, protesters were often met with overwhelming police response. Police used SWAT teams, tear gas, pepper spray, “non-lethal” projectiles, dogs, and mass arrests.  Nationally, nine protesters were blinded by police projectiles.  Thousands were arrested.  Hundreds were injured and six protester deaths were reported. 

This past week in Ottawa, Canada and the Ambassador Bridge crossing between Canada and the United States, police responded to demonstrations by predominantly white truck drivers protesting vaccine and mask mandates.  The protesters parked semi-trucks on streets and the bridge for more than a week. Blasting truck horns, they threatened police and harassed local residents.  Both Nazi and Confederate flags were flown by protesters.  In response, the police politely asked them to move.

No riot police.

No tear gas.

No attack dogs.

No rubber bullets, projectiles, concussion grenades or water cannons.

Few arrests.

No reports of protester injuries.

There is one report of the use of a sound weapon.  In Ottawa, police played the song Baby Shark at high volume toward protesters.

When the Ottawa police were asked why they had not been more forceful, they replied, “Safety concerns – arising from aggressive, illegal behavior by many demonstrators – limited police enforcement capabilities.”  In other words, the police were intimidated by the white protesters.  Another police official explained that their goal was to not respond violently to the protesters.

Some will argue these differences in police response represent a different style of policing in Canada.  There is probably some justification for this argument.  After incident reports in Ferguson, Standing Rock and in multiple cities after the George Floyd demonstrations found that police action actually “caused protesters to be violent.”  The police in the United States instigated the violence.  If the Canadian police’s strategy was to deescalate the demonstrations peacefully, they should be applauded and their response replicated.

However, one must ask the obvious question. 

How much does the race of the protester change law enforcement strategy and the behavior of police officers?

There is considerable evidence of inequality in police response in the United States.  On January 6th, 2021, police at the Capitol were clearly unprepared for the violence of white protesters.  Police were not dressed in riot gear.  There were no armored vehicles, water cannons or sound weapons at the ready.  Tear gas was not used until late into the day.  Non-lethal projectiles were not deployed.  There were no dogs.  Far more police were injured than protesters.  And, perhaps most damning, very few protesters were arrested on that day.

Many have rightly suggested that a protest by people of color would have been met with far more violence, police force, injuries, and arrests.  Indeed, many think white police officers with sympathies for the white protesters contributed to the quick access of protesters into the Capitol.  In other words, white police officers FOUND IT DIFFICULT TO OPPOSE white protesters.  On the other hand, when white police officers face Native American, Black or other non-white protesters, they perceive them as “inherently violent and dangerous.”

Most disturbing, the violent police response to non-white protesters is a self-fulfilling prophecy that allows both politicians and media to sustain the false narrative that non-white people are more violent and dangerous. They intentionally obscure the differences in how police respond to different groups of protesters.  They argue non-white protesters burn down their neighborhoods and attack the police while white demonstrators politely obey the police. 

Or at least they argued that until January 6th.

No wonder there has been such a concerted effort by some conservatives to claim that the January 6th attacks on the Capitol were a false flag operation by ANTIFA, or the FBI, or some other nefarious far left organization.

No wonder the Republican Party recently passed a resolution characterizing the events of January 6th as “legitimate pollical discourse.” Constitutionally protected protesting by white citizens must be carefully guarded and guaranteed, but non-white protest must be “ended by any means necessary.” In essence, they are arguing that when white people use violence in a protest, this is legitimate.  When people of color protest, it is a race riot. 

Violent white protesters don’t fit their narrative.

But they should.

Indeed, for most of American history, race riots were events where white people gathered in mobs to murder black, Native American and non-white people, steal their possessions, burn down their houses and businesses, arrest and imprison their leaders and – then- blame the violence on the few non-white people who resisted these atrocities.  This is the story of Rosewood, Florida, of Elaine, Arkansas, of Tulsa and East Saint Louis and hundreds of other instances in US history.  In most of these situations, the white police and National Guard joined in on the atrocities rather than defend innocent non-white families.

Does the race of the protester change law enforcement strategy and the behavior of police officers?

Undoubtedly.

And white truck drivers know it.