The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

Racism vs. Racialism

Since I’ve been throwing the terms around a bit lately, I thought I’d make the distinction.

Racism is:

A belief or doctrine that inherent hierarchical differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race  is superior.

Racialism is:

A belief in the existence and significance of racial differences, but not necessarily that any hierarchy between the races exists. Racialists typically reject claims of racial superiority.

Another way to put it is to say that a racist believes that interracial relationships are fundamentally wrong.  A racialist, however, may simply prefer to date people within his or her own race because they believe other races will be incompatible.

The reason I make this distinction is that I believe racism is currently on the fringes of social thought, while racialism remains prevalent in the mainstream.  What we call institutionalized racism would more accurately be described as institutionalized racialism.

At any rate, both are dangerous–to varying degrees–and must be combated with information, temperance, and understanding. 🙂

Afro-Saxon Life In A Semi Post-Racialist World

Actor portrayals of post-racialists

Forgive me, this is gonna ramble a bit.

What do you call a black person who likes Mos Def as much as Coldplay and Loreena McKinnett as much as Metallica?

Okay, tone deaf.  Good one, but wrong answer.

Well, then what do you call a black person who has as many white friends as black friends (more, in fact)?  Who is heterosexual, but pro-gay rights?  Who uses words like avuncular and knows what an interdental fricative is, thoroughly?  What about a black person who has been called both a nigger by white people and a sellout by black people?

The answer is an Afro-Saxon–which is an innocuous way of calling someone an Oreo cookie.  Still, among the litany of  terminological mash-ups, Afro-Saxon is an all time great.  It just rolls off the tongue.  It’s meaning is clear and free from judgement.

It also best describes me, as I fit every last one of the above descriptors.

In these post-racialist times (which began–officially–Novermber 4, 2008) such cultural crossover is becoming the norm.  The walls of the old ways are coming down to reveal unimaginable spectacles before expanding horizons.

An avowed post-racialist

It’s a bold new world my friends, filled with wiggers, tweecanos, 1.5Gs,and Cablanasians.  It’s a world of N.R.A. Buddhists and preachers in flip flops, where a Mexican family goes out for sushi rolls, and Indian women wear green saris for St. Patrick’s Day.

It is a world well on its way to Dr. King’s Utopia.

I’m just not sure I’m ready for it.

Dealing with my own otherness is easy.

I’m a spiritual atheist (whatever that is).  I don’t get Tyler Perry.

I think Spike Lee is waaaay overrated.  I’m not a huge proponent of affirmative action.

World's Best MC, Black Thought of The Roots

If I could be anywhere in the world right now it would be Strommness, Orkney (until I went stark raving from all the nothing to do).

I think the best MC on the planet is Black Thought from The Roots.   I also love Brit rock (c’mon, The Servant?  Bloc Party?  Placebo??).  I prefer Zofia Kilanowicz’ rendition of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 to the more popular version by Dawn Upshaw.

I want a political revolution.  I want equality for everyone.  I demand social justice.  I don’t think white people are any more or less racialist than any other ethnic group.

This is life as an Afro-Saxon.

It might not seem like much, but remember, I’ve been called a a sellout because of the way that I talk, the places I’ve lived, the music I listen to, and the friends I keep.  It’s easy to dismiss now, but as a grade-schooler transplanted from halfway across the country (twice–from new York to Nebraska then from Nebraska to California) it can be devastating to your sense of identity.

I’m not what people expect when they see a 6’4″ black guy on approach.  People who’ve heard about me before meeting me invariably respond with an oh! or wow! upon address.  I think I do ultimately make a good impression judging by what people say to my face–of course that’s to my face.  But I’ve also seen people shrink when I gesture with my hands while talking. I’ve seen old ladies clutch their purses when I stand next to them.  Audacity.  I wish I had the stones to snatch even one of those purses, so I could see the look on the old bat’s face like , “Goddamnit! I knew it!”

Inevitably though, people get comfortable with me; I’m not the aggressive type.  I’m jovial, slow to anger, rational and reasonable.  Unless you’re a bred to the bone hatemonger, the guard eventually goes down.

Sadly, that’s when the racialist comes out.

“Can I touch your hair?” This hasn’t been a problem lately, but believe me, I’ve been asked that dozens of times.

More often, I either get asked some racially insensitive question about black people or get unwillingly subjected to an uninformed opinion about the short comings of my race, present company always excepted of course.  All are replete with racist stereotypes and gross generalizations.

Not quite beyond the throes of racialism.

People love to get that okay to be racialist.  I tend to find it comedic, though.  Racism is a funny thing; it’s an odd mix of anger, fear, and ignorance.

And that’s the problem when dealing with other people.  If you’re free to fit in anywhere, it’s hard to know where to fit in.

H.P. Lovecraft said, essentially, that he basest human emotion is fear and the basest fear is fear of the unknown.  Racism is a bastardization of that fear.  So, in essence, what keeps the deer alive in the wild keeps human beings from coming together to make a better world.  It echoes the line from Dylan Thomas poem:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower is my destroyer.

I’m not any better. I haven’t gotten past the prejudices in my heart either.  Of course, we’re all bigots if you dig deep enough; some of us simply have more control over showing it.  Just because a black person doesn’t jump up in the middle of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and proclaim it all “a bunch of pointless white bullshit,” doesn’t actually mean they weren’t thinking it.  Likewise, a white person who refrains from condemning each news story featuring Lil’ Wayne as “yet another display of rampant coonery,” isn’t necessarily above such a mindset.

It would be an uglier world if we spoke those thoughts.  But it would also be more honest.  Sure, they’re touchy subjects and they cut deep.  But I don’t consider any words or thoughts taboo.

Sometimes I wish we really could have a serious and frank airing of racial grievances.  Maybe if we just laid all our cards out on the table we could finally get to actual understanding.  But with the ignorance being actively fostered here in the United States, the only realistic outcome is a fistfight.  Best case scenario.

Alicia Keys is proof of the good that comes from post-racialism.

So, instead of navigating these long unsailed waters terrified because we can’t tell protruding rocks from shark fins, we tamp down our own natures and christen ourselves post-racialists–the very avant garde of open-mindedness–without ever actually confronting our demons.  It’s unearned enlightenment, which really means we’re just imagining things in the dark.  But boy, does it feel good!

It’s not hard to achieve.  In fact, there are 5 simple and surprisingly easy-to-follow rules to become a true post-racialist citizen of the world:

Michelle Branch provides further proof.
  • Rule #1: Don’t admit anyone is racist no matter how obviously racist that person might be.
  • Rule #2: Don’t admit anything racist no matter how obviously racist that thing might be.
  • Rule #3:  Proclaim yourself above racism no matter how obviously racist you might be.
  • Rule #4: Attack anyone who brings up racism as a shameless race-baiter.
  • Rule # 5: Act like everything else is okay.

Okay, so it’s not exactly inspiring.  It’s the old hates with new names and new veneers.  But maybe the Afro-Saxon and the wigger are driving the new cultural norms.  The resolution of racism won’t come from a race war or scholastic philosophy.  It’ll come from YouTube and the blogosphere.  We can “olive out” the black and white.  America could be the new Mediterranean.

At the very least, it’ll do until something better comes along.

Or until Coldplay comes out with a bad album.

The key to the world's future!

What I Hate About Republicans: Bigotry

GOP-style nonsense.

The Solid South was a voting block comprised of the repatriated Confederate states.  From the reconstruction era until the late 1960’s the Solid South voted largely democratic, as the Democratic Party has been pro-slavery prior to the Civil War.  For over 100 years, the Solid South allowed the Democratic party to enjoy a considerable political dominance, especially in the Congress.

The Solid South in Blue

In 1968, in an effort to break up the Solid South, Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign employed a tactic known as the Southern Strategy.  It was a blatant appeal to racism.  Republicans played on southern whites’ anger over the Civil Rights Movement.  They joined the opposition to Civil Rights legislation, polarized racial divisions, and worked to discourage black voters from going to the polls.

It was a largely successful strategy.  The GOP had finally broken the Solid South.  It also popularized the euphemising of bigoted rhetoric.

Throughout our nation’s history, both parties have run on a variety of hate-based platforms.  Of course, prior to the Civil Rights Movement, you could just come out and say who you wanted to discriminate against; we don’t want women in the workplace; we don’t like Jews, Irish, Chinese, etc.  The Civil Rights Movement helped marginalize that archaic way of thinking.  Hate-mongers were forced to find new ways of conveying their message. The Southern Strategy proved effective.

Reagan/Bush-I political Strategist Lee Atwater

In a 1981 interview, political consultant, and former Republican National Committee Chairman, Lee Atwater, gives a compelling description of the strategy’s evolution:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites…because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

Republicans didn’t care that it was a slap in the face of the black voters who had supported the party for over a century.  The Southern Strategy helped sweep them into power.  And they’ve never looked back.

Now, in every election, Republicans rail against the potential threat of the other.  Rick Santorum compared gay marriage rights to the legalization of incest and bestiality.  Santorum and and fellow presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich both immediately referenced black people when discussing welfare.  Gingrich has generated additional buzz by referring to Barack Obama as the “Food Stamp President.”  Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump led a Republican movement demanding that Barack Obama produce his original, long-form birth certificate to prove his citizenship.  If not these, then it’s illegal immigration, women serving in combat, or Sharia Law.

Hate-mongers can always find a reason to hate other Americans–even if they have to invent the reason out of whole cloth.  And there is good cause to continue the practice so long as bigoted anger gets results at the voting booth.

Yet somehow Republicans dispute this obvious through-line of hate politics.  According to them, they’re merely arguing the issues.  Apparently it’s just pure happenstance that minority groups ALWAYS end up on the other side.  That’s the danger of this coded language developed by the Southern Strategy.  Everyone knows what it actually means, yet it allows Republicans to play the big innocent.  It’s not about race, or gender, or religious beliefs; it’s about balancing the budget.  What’s so wrong with that?

To be fair, there are a few minorities in the Republican party–whom the GOP  loves to trot out before the media to chastise their own minority groups and blame them for being abused and discriminated against.  What you don’t see from these minority Republicans is any effort to get the party to tone the rhetoric down (I’m sure they’d be thrown out on their asses if they did).  I guess it is always better to have a whip in your hand than a plow.

So okay, we know racism is out there.  We know that homophobes and Islamophobes exist.  And we know misogyny and chauvinism are pandemic.  Political opportunists and true believers alike will always try to leverage prejudice to their advantage.  Its just politics, qué no? 

But real people’s lives are being affected by this bigotry.   The GOP works to deny minority groups those unalienable rights endowed upon all human beings by their Creator, and are currently enjoyed by many Americans, based on the antiquated idea that white heterosexual Christians are the real America and any expansion of that definition will lead directly to our nation’s demise.  Those rights are not negotiable.

This is not some extreme, fringe element of the Grand Old Party. This is mainstream Republicanism.  It’s accepted on both sides of the aisle.

Meanwhile, it’s nothing more than old school hate in latex gloves.

And it’s unmitigated bullshit.

It’s also the number 1 reason I hate Republicans.

Next up: How they make this whole shameful approach even worse in how they employ that bigotry.  They use it to divide and disenfranchise the lower economic 99% of the population and line their benefactors’ pockets with billions.

Stay tuned.

(Solid South image from: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2008/06/party-like-its-1928/45225/. Civics lesson image from: http://www.seattlegayscene.com/2012/01/republican-senator-hops-on-the-same-sex-marriage-bandwagon.html.  Forced integration image: http://www.ordoesitexplode.com/me/hope_from_history/.  Lee Atwater image from: http://www.pensitoreview.com/2011/08/17/roves-brain-lee-atwater-in-1981-gop-push-for-budget-cuts-is-stealth-racism/)

What I Hate About Republicans – Intro

Due to constructive-feedback from friends, I changed the title of this series of posts.

I have to begin with a caveat–not to soften my stance, but to make a distinction.

I do not hate conservatives.

In the many debates I’ve had with my conservative friends we could usually get to a point where finding some middle-ground at least seemed possible–if we didn’t reach it outright.  There are, of course, plenty of instances where we’ve agreed to disagree but it’s clear enough that our core principles aren’t so far apart.  I guess I’m saying that most of the conservatives that I’ve met have been pretty decent people.  They love America and they want what’s best for it.  That’s the reason I make the distinction.

The Republican party does not represent conservatives. Conservatives believe in fiscal responsibility, limited government, low taxes, a minimal (or nonexistent) welfare state, and strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  However:

  • No Republican president has overseen a balanced budget in over 30 years.  (Anyone arguing that it was the Newt Gingrich-led congress that balanced the budget during Bill Clinton’s presidency would then have to explain why there wasn’t even an attempt to balance the budget under George W. Bush even though the GOP continued to control both houses of congress for his first 6 years in office).   Don’t buy into the attacks on Clinton or Obama, the GOP’s premise is that Republicans are fiscally responsible so the burden is on them to show that responsibility.

    The chart clearly shows that neither party can consider themselves deficit hawks.
  • Republicans don’t want limited government.  They want to stick their noses into our bedrooms, books, movies, music, schools, women’s wombs (figuratively), and hammer us over the head with their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible–which flies in the face of the 1st (FIRST!) Amendment. President George W. Bush and his Republican-led congress actually increased the size of the federal government and attached ineffective, wasteful spending programs to Medicare and the Department of Education among others.
  • Republicans don’t want lower taxes; they do want to lower taxes for the rich, as evidenced by their intransigence on such things as corporate subsidies and the Bush Era tax cuts.  But their attempts to repeal the home mortgage interest deduction and shift the payroll tax credit away from employees, both of which primarily benefit the middle-class, show their true colors.  How can taxes affecting the middle-class not count?
  • Damn, Grandpa should'a been an oil tycoon.

    Republicans don’t want to end welfare.  Well, they want to end it for the poor and unemployed (or at least humiliate them by requiring them to take drug tests and other such folderol).  But they will fight tooth and nail to make sure the oil industry keeps every penny of their subsidies, even though big oil companies are among the most profitable businesses in the world. As a side note, many of the oil subsidies began as incentives to spur investment in oil production–which we can all agree is probably not necessary anymore.  Yet those same Republicans fighting to keep oil subsidies chafe against providing similar subsidies to clean and renewable energy.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point.  Republicans do not represent conservatives.  To be fair, Democrats are even worse at representing progressives, and disregard of the population is a common practice among politicians.  It’s the reason I have disdain for the Democrats as well (I’ll get to that later). The only real difference between the two parties is that Democrats still believe the government has a role in assisting the disabled and disadvantaged.  Republicans could care less.

Republicans see America from one perspective: the white heterosexual Christian male.  Obviously, a WASPy straight guy is a perfectly fine thing to be.  The problem is, the further you identify away from that, the more you find the Republicans pissing in your eye.  If you’re black, LGBT, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American, or a woman, they have no interest in helping you get to equal footing.  They admit there is discrimination, but do nothing to combat it…unless the they feel the discrimination goes against whites.

Thus we come to the first reason I hate the GOP: Bigotry.

Believe me, it’s the bread and butter of Republican politics.  Stay tuned for for part 1 to see why.

(Republican money machine image from: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-the-gop-became-the-party-of-the-rich-20111109.  Most profitable businesses image from: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/12/most-profitable-global-companies/. Federal debt chart from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Federal_Debt_1901-2010_.jpg)