Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Four Myths White People Want to Believe about Race Part One:The George Wallace Gambit

The next few blogs posts will deal with the four myths that white people want to believe about race.

MYTH NUMBER ONE. We will call this the George Wallace Gambit. That is when you try to pretend that a movement only exists because irresponsible leaders are agitating the otherwise good and peaceful Negros. George Wallace once famously said “We have never had a problem here in the south, except in a very few isolated instances and those have been the result of outside agitators.”

     Whenever there has been oppression there have been oppressors decrying “outside agitators” It seems that this is the first step in the playbook to discredit a movement. Right now in 2014 we seem to love and admire Martin Luther King Jr. (well we love the toned down Coke zero version of King that the media has pushed on us for the past 15 years or so but that’s a different blog post) but in 60’s King was reviled and hated. Harry Truman had called him a troublemaker and a “publicity seeker”.  These are the same charges that have been leveled against Al Sharpton, or anyone else who attempts to talk about race and oppression in America.

     There is a section of America that seems to believe that if black leaders would just stop talking about race and oppression, it would go away. Recently police officials, actors, politicians and pundits have all tried to place blame on Al Sharpton for the murder of 2 NYPD police officers.  Al Sharpton has been called a race hustler, a race pimp, a demagogue. They have said, that if Sharpton would just be quiet none of these protests would be going on. They have said, that without Sharpton there would be no looting, or violence, or anger. They have said, that without Sharpton there would be no “die ins,” no shutting down of highways or malls. The critics have more or less insinuated that Al Sharpton is a pied piper leading the poor unsuspecting black folks to their doom.

     It’s times like these that painfully remind me of how little the general White community knows about Black folks. Contrary to popular belief Al Sharpton's legacy and leadership is a highly contested topic in the black community. There was no secret vote in Larry's Barbershop to elect Al Sharpton the undisputed leader of black folk. There are some of us who like, love and hate him.  There have been vast critiques of Sharpton and his methods from the youth activists of Ferguson to the Ivy League intellectuals like Cornell West. Al Sharpton has a place in the movement but he is NOT the movement. Blaming Al Sharpton for the protests is na├»ve and shortsighted. Blaming him for the murder of two police officers is libelous and sickening.

     You think that if Al Sharpton took a leave of absence that Black folks would suddenly no longer be angry about police brutality? You think if Al Sharpton went to a desert island people would stop shutting down streets and malls? You think if Al Sharpton was shot into space Black folk would suddenly have group amnesia and fail to remember that we are living in an oppressive system that doesn't value black life?

     But I understand, Al Sharpton is an easy target. America has always hated loud, confident Black men. They have always wanted us to be less arrogant and uppity. Less Ali and more Cassius. You don’t have to like Al Sharpton. You don’t even have to respect him. His job is not to earn your love, or your respect; his job as an activist is to bring attention to issues. The fact that you hate him so much that your willing to ascribe him mystical powers of mass persuasion, shows that he is doing his job, regardless of how you feel about him. I am absolutely sure that Al Sharpton doesn't lie awake at night wondering why right wing tea partiers and Fox News pundits don't like him.
     But let me be clear, this is bigger than Sharpton. He is just the current embodiment of the black boogieman that scares White right-wing America right now. This is about a system that uses the same language, reasoning, and actions to discredit anyone that dares to shove a mirror in it's face. White America doesn't like what it sees, so it constructs mythologies to hide behind, it constructs stories to make itself feel better, it whispers sweet lies in it's own ears so it can sleep at night. But it's not about Sharpton, it's about the bigger picture. 

     It's about the first myth. The idea that if they discredit and destroy our leadership, the rest of us will go away like lemmings. They killed King, Malcolm, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers and many others; they imprisoned and tried to disgrace Huey Newton, Marcus Garvey, Geronimo Pratt and countless others. Yet the movement lives on, because you can’t kill an idea, you can't trick people into not wanting equal rights. You can't kill unarmed black man after unarmed black man for the better part of a year and tell folks "Move along, nothing to see here".

     It is a myth that discrediting and blaming Sharpton will cause black folk to abandon the fight to end oppression and police brutality. It is a myth that Fox News or Bill O’Reily or the NYPD police union president will be able to tell black folks who our leaders should be. We will have those debates without you. You keep thinking that it’s outside agitators riling up Black folk and you are going to miss your chance to be on the right side of history. You are going to miss your chance to make effective change. Black folks will stop talking about oppression when oppression stops; we will stop marching against police brutality when the brutality stops, when the harassment stops, when the racism stops. But go ahead, keep using the George Wallace Gambit, keep talking about outside agitators and racial hustlers or race pimps, or race magicians, or whatever colorful language Rush tells you to use this week. There are two things you should remember : the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice, and the history books are rarely kind to oppressors and those who support them. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson Part One: On Rioting.

On Rioting.

So, before I dive into this let’s stipulate that white people riot all the time, for almost any reason: pumpkins, football, basketball, almost any sporting event.
Riot in NH over a pumpkin fest
A few years back a large group of white students in Pennsylvania rioted because a football coach, who had turned a blind eye to child molestation, was fired. I live near East Lansing, there is a annual riot called Cedar Fest that goes on like clockwork. There is an unofficial motto among the students during football season “if we lose we riot, if we win, we riot”. The rioting here is so normal that local furniture outlets have sales on couches and mattresses because they know students are going to burn their own… (true story). But google that on your own time, and then re-think about how we view the “rioters” in Ferguson (who aren't angry over a sporting event, or produce, but over the loss of life)

Ok, with that preamble out of the way let’s dive into this idea that the riots are counterproductive and that violence is not the answer.  So first for something to be counter-productive there has to first be some productive activity going on. By all reports the people of Ferguson have had long standing issues with their police department and its treatment of black citizens, but those problems were never addressed, rather they were ignored and allowed to fester like an open wound.
It wasn't until after the first riots occurred that state, local and federal agencies got involved with the community. It wasn't until the community,  fed up with years of police malfeasance coupled with inaction from their local and state representatives rose up in rebellion, it wasn't until the smoke began to rise and buildings began to burn that they started to see the government scramble to hear their cries and offer them relief. And even then it took gross multiple violations of the fourth estate by the police, to really bring the spotlight on Ferguson.

So when you sit smugly behind your television set and ask “why they are rioting”, I have a better question. Why aren't we all rioting? If years of begging and pleading led to no action, and one week of riots lead to DOJ investigations, 40 FBI agents scouring the area & renewed efforts from the mayor and governor to look at racial profiling why aren't we all using the template that Ferguson provided? It is abundantly clear that when minorities engage in peaceful protest after police malfeasance, when minorities march and sing and link hands, that those actions by themselves are ignored. The system has no impetus to act. The system can ignore hand holding and marching; those actions are: non-threatening, quaint and dated and thus provide no incentive to the system to act. It is not in the interest of the system to disturb the status quo.

There have been (at least) five high profile cases in the last 5 months where unarmed black men were killed by police officers. Most of us only know about Ferguson and Mike Brown, the names of the others are already starting to fade into Sean Bell like obscurity. They are quietly being added to the list of the slain and forgotten. Ferguson however, has refused to go quietly into the night, in part because the people, through their direct action in the form of an uprising FORCED the system to engage, they made it so that it was in the best interest of the local, state and federal governments to do so. The lesson learned, it’s hard to ignore your downtown being razed. 

But still, some will gnash their teeth, rend their garments and say "violence isn't the answer". The idea that "violence isn't the answer" seems more like a tired cliche, than an actual argument backed up by facts and examples. If violence isn't the answer why does Cliven Bundy still have his ranch? If violence isn't the answer why is every NeoCon everywhere always itching to go to war, if violence isn't the answer why are we in: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc?  If violence isn't the answer then why are police departments equipped better than some infantry units?

So while we may argue about the morality of rioting, it is quite hard to argue about the results of rioting. The fact that Michael Brown’s name is known from Portland to Palestine, while Darren Hunt’s name rarely rings a bell is part of the problem. When you back a community into a corner, ignore their cries but then move quickly once the destruction begins you are telling that community that you only respect force, that you only respect flame, that you only respect fire. So don’t be surprised when you see the torches being lit. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Philosophizing with Fred Phelps.

One of the biggest problems I have with my faith, is the knowledge that this man too is eligible for grace..at least in my limited understanding....it bothers me knowing that racists, and homophobes, and supremacists, and maybe even people who have instigated, violence against people I care about may find themselves in the grace of god... (whatever that means to each individual)

This guy, I really don't like this guy, as a Christian, when I look at him I feel a anger about how he represents my faith,  how he distorted that faiths teachings and potentially helped to lead  hundreds of thousands away from Christ because... lets face it, if I weren't a Christian, and he was what I saw as Christian"eske"..why would I want to be a part of that? I feel anger because of the harm he has placed my friends and loved ones with his cherry picked bastardized version of Christianity and God's Holy word.

It's a very introspective place I find myself in on what could be the eve of this mans death, part of me wants to celebrate as he leaves this earth because he will no longer be here to cause harm. Another part of me feels bad about feeling joy in the death of another, even one so vile as Phelps.

I have much internal conflict going on because I find it disheartening at the level of satisfaction that I am feeling, I can only describe it as schadenfreude on steroids. That almost pleasurable experience one gets whenever someone who has caused immense harm to people we love dies. It's a weird place to be in....I am trying to find the proper stance between relief, joy, smug satisfaction, revenge, and anger. All while trying to desperately remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

 Dr. Dre had a great line.. "I ain't thug, how much Tupac in you, you got?" So I ask my fellow Christians, during these final days of Fred Phelps. How much Phelps in you, you got? I wonder how many good people have intellectualized themselves away from Phelps actions, but yet share his same beliefs. How many people have we driven away from a faith and a God we claim to love because of our actions, thoughts and deeds. If God is love and our duty as Christians is to show, share and reflect God's love to the world in an effort to bring more people to HIM. Then I fear there are a lot of Fred Phelps out there masquerading  as compassionate Christians.

 Maybe that's something we as Christians can take from this moment, an internal systems check. While we sit back and convince ourselves that we are better than Phelps because we didn't hold signs, or picket funerals, or scream GOD HATES FAGS, were we really? Even if we don't do those things have we been silent accomplices, have we provided an atmosphere where vile types of laws could be passed, are we silently complicit in the imprisonment of homosexuals in Uganda, are we silently gleeful when states pass laws that amount to an LGBTQ version of Jim Crow? Are we really better than Fred Phelps? We (Christians) love to point to as him as the "bad guy" because if nothing else his brand of hate and almost comical bigotry makes our own intolerance look so cuddly and acceptable.

 Fred Phelps makes a most convenient villain, because if nothing else it's so easy to see his hate and it make ours look so much more palatable. What is it the Good Book says about eyes, specks and beams? Maybe this is part of where my conflict comes in, a conflict with the church and the knowledge how its adherents have treated those outside it's walls.