Sunday, August 24, 2014

#Ferguson and focusing new attention on the structures of white racism in the US

"Racism is not an opinion. It is a dominant fact in American life, culture, and politics. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are one more data point in support of that truth."

-Chauncey DeVega, The Profits of Racism: The Coward Darren Wilson Who Killed Michael Brown Has Now Raised 170,000 Dollars WARN 08/21/2014)

One aspect of American Exceptionalism that no decent person can be proud of is the depth and breadth of white racism in our society.

It has never gone away, to put it mildly, though whites have more options to pretend that it has gone away or somehow moderated that African-Americans or other non-white minorities do.

The Roberts Supreme Court striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the Trayvon Martin's murder by the white thug George Zimmerman, and now the chain of events known as "Ferguson" touched off by the shooting to death of Michael Brown by the white cop Darren Wilson have been major moments that has increased general awareness of - and justified anger about - numerous aspects of the structures of white racism as it exists in the US today.

Carol Leonnig et al have a revealing description of the training in white racism the killer cop Darren Wilson experienced even before he joined the force in Ferguson: Darren Wilson’s first job was on a troubled police force disbanded by authorities Washington Post 08/23/2014.

Charlie Pierce posted on an aspect of the Ferguson events that has particular resonance for me, The Body in the Street Esquire Politics Blog 08/22/2014. There may be some disagreement as to how long the Brown's dead body was left uncovered. But the body was left in the street for an unconscionable number of hours. And that was a major factor in the events that unfolded.

A police officer shot Michael Brown to death. And they left his body in the street. For four hours. Bodies do not lie in the street for four hours. Not in an advanced society. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in small countries where they have perpetual civil war. Bodies lie in the street for four hours on back roads where people fight over the bare necessities of simple living, where they fight over food and water and small, useless parcels of land. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in places in which poor people fight as proxies for rich people in distant places, where they fight as proxies for the men who dig out the diamonds, or who drill out the oil, or who set ancient tribal grudges aflame for modern imperial purposes that are as far from the original grudges as bullets are from bows. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street, as object lessons, or to make a point, or because there isn't the money to take the bodies away and bury them, or because nobody gives a damn whether they are there or not. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street. [my emphasis]
The small town in which I grew up, Shubuta MS, has the dubious distinction of being the scene of the lynch murder of two 14-year-old African-American boys in 1942. They were killed, presumably after being brutalized in ways typical of lynchings, by being hung from a bridge in the nighttime. The following day, someone brought their bodies on a truck and displayed them to the kids at the white school, including elementary school kids. They were also displayed in the middle of town on the main street. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders. Although this happened years before I was born, the aftermath of that event is still felt in that small community to this day.

Displaying a body as the trophy of a human kill definitely evokes the aura of a lynch murder.

Now, unlike Michael Brown, the white cop Darren Wilson who acted as his judge, jury and execution will get due process, if he's charged at all.

But the event known as "Ferguson" is not solely about Wilson's fatally shooting Brown, pumping six bullets into his body in the process. It is about the effectively all-white police force and its bad relations with a majority-black town; it is about leaving the kill displayed as a trophy in the street for hours; it is about the militarized and extremely hostile response to the demonstrations and looting that followed; it is about the secrecy and arrogance of the police and city officials in the aftermath; it is about the outpouring of white racism in defense of what even the most obtuse white folks can surely see is a highly dubious shooting to death of a young black man by a white cop who apparently had experienced policing nearly if not completely exclusively in distinctly racist environments; it is about the African-American communities response including the justified anger and frustration and the constructive protests along with the more destructive manifestations.

Supporters of white police exercising police-state powers against black citizens will continue to focus only on the alleged irresponsibility of the black community in Ferguson. For segregationists, black people are always to blame.

Chauncey DeVega gives a good description of the differing collective tendencies in viewing an event like Wilson shooting Brown to death among African-Americans and whites:

The killing of Michael Brown is not a surprise or a shock to most black Americans. We have either personally experienced racially motivated harassment by police authorities, have a relative or friend who has, or live in a community where such norms govern our day-to-day lives and limit our full citizenship. Police abuse is part of the collective memory of black Americans. Understanding how to navigate that maze and mine field is a necessary skill which is taught to us early in life. ...

For many white Americans, the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer is an anomaly; in their cognitive framework, there must be some reasonable explanation for why a police officer would kill an unarmed person. The collective experience of White America is one where its members are not routinely abused, violated, killed, and harassed by the police. Of course, individual white people may have negative encounters with a given police officer. However, those interactions are not reflections of an institutionally biased set of power relationships where that negative treatment is legitimated and encouraged as both a normal and expected type of public policy. [my emphasis]
Whether the institutional white racism of the criminal justice system and the Republicans' push for more-and-more segregationist laws like voter-suppression and Stand Your Ground/Kill at Will (whose main practical effect has been to increase the number of whites who kill black people and get away with it) depends on our collective political process.

Which in turn depends in no small part on how many white people can get their heads out of their rear ends on the issue and make their own demands for more responsible, non-racist policing felt.

But, as DeVega observes, that process has some ways to go:

White people are the most economically and politically dominant racial group in the United States. Yet, many white folks are delusional: they believe that they are actually victims of "racism", and that "discrimination" against white people is one of the United States’ biggest social problems. Their anger is also misdirected. Instead of raging at the plutocrats, robber barons, and their assorted enablers in the Republican Party, white racial resentment points their ire towards black and brown folks, the poor, and the working classes.

Darren Wilson is not a victim. He has been protected by a militarized police force that ran amok in Ferguson, Missouri, terrorizing tens of thousands of black people, all for his sake.

Like the white welfare king Cliven Bundy, Darren Wilson is a beneficiary of one of the most gross and obscene demonstrations of white privilege in recent memory.
This has to end.

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