The Toppling of America: the War of Race and Poverty

In America, we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor (Keith Ellison). 

I saw the video of the Texas officer who pulled guns on teens during a pool party raid and thrust his body weight on to the back of an unarmed 14 year old girl in a bathing suit. The imagery is nothing short of violent and hateful. Granted, there were many people and possibly too few police officers, a common story of police officers going into impossibly overcrowded underemployed neighborhoods of the disenfranchised from society. However, the dehumanizing behavior of the officer appeared deeply ingrained, rote, and unthinking.

The systematic dismissal and disposal of the poor, disproportionately black, in this country bespeaks a sick nation.

We created our ghettos from slavery through Jim Crow laws to decades of de-funding programs to help create jobs in poor neighborhoods, and then turned away from the aftermath.  The destruction continues to grow like weeds that strangle the manicured lawn. The “problem” only gets addressed when enough people turn out in the streets (in numbers and with cameras/phones), on the internet and in the voting booths–or when important white people are affected.

Nearly 1.5m African American men are in prison and missing from society due, in large part, to a criminal justice system that locks them up and limits their options upon release (Keith Ellison).

And then the overwhelming outcry of handwringing lamenters begins when the videos of violence appear, “Where are black fathers for the proper raising of their children? Aren’t they partly to blame for the perpetuation of generations of poverty, gangs and crime?” society asks when weighing  in on the current war between black men and cops that sent hordes of the outraged in the streets, in riots and throughout the media.

Leaders in Washington and around the country should have responded to the growing crisis in African American neighborhoods by creating jobs, repairing infrastructure, avoiding bad trade deals that offshored good-paying jobs in many urban areas and investing in our kids. Instead Congress and state legislatures built prisons, passed trade agreements that sent jobs overseas, gave police weapons designed for warzones and passed laws that increased de facto segregation (Keith Ellison).

Instead, leaders in Wasingon give tax breaks to the wealthy to repay their candidacy debts, enter into trade agreements that send jobs overseas, build prisons that are big business money makers on the backs of the poor and arm police with wartime weaponry.

Race is myth. When we stop talking about race, stop believing in race, it will disappear. Except for its career historically and in people’s memories as the antithesis of human freedom, the embodiment of inequality and injustice that remained far too long a toxic, unresolved paradox in nations proclaiming themselves free. In a raceless society color wouldn’t disappear. Difference wouldn’t disappear. Africa wouldn’t disappear. In post-race America “white” people would disappear. That is, no group could assume as birth-right and identity a privileged, supernaturally ordained superiority at the top of a hierarchy of other groups, a supremacy that bestows upon their particular kind the right perpetually to rule and regulate the lives of all other kinds. This idea, this belief in “whiteness,” whether the belief is expressed in terms of color, ethnicity, nationality, gender, tribe, etc., constitutes the founding principle of race, its appeal and its discontents (John Edgar Wideman–“Fatheralong”).

Slavery no longer exists–not in the grossly overt economic commonplace. But the toxic residue appears far more insidious. Wide scale racial prejudice and disdain for the poor incorporated into policy and procedures that permeate every governing institution, every manner of economic operation and opportunity, and every social organizing principle will topple a nation from its bloated top down.

A country is only as strong as its weakest members. Investment starts from the ground up–in people not dollars. The news of cops killing the disporportionately poor and weak will disappear when the majority vote for those who are willing to pay for alleviating the agony of a neglected segment of the population, deciding #Black Lives Matter.

 

 

“What’s Wrong with ‘All Lives Matter?'”

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George Yancy, Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University, interviews Judith Butler, Professor of Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and asks “What’s Wrong with ‘All Lives Matter?'”, also the title of the article. He opens the discussion of race in light of recent demonstrations in the wake of black deaths and police brutality where slogans of ‘Black Lives Matter’ were extended by non-Blacks to “All Lives Matter.”

The article is a keen exposé of Butler’s views about how bodies–black, white, gendered, or monied, all kinds of bodies–matter, though some bodies do not matter. Specifically, black bodies do not matter by reason of the continued exposure to behaviors and preconceptions about their bodies– the black body as threat, and not only to police. She says we make assumptions about people, and those assumptions affect how we act toward others, whether we avoid interaction or find them a threat.

Sometimes a mode of address is quite simply a way of speaking to or about someone. But a mode of address may also describe a general way of approaching another such that one presumes who the other is, even the meaning and value of their existence. We address each other with gesture, signs and movement, but also through media and technology. We make such assumptions all the time about who that other is when we hail someone on the street (or we do not hail them). That is someone I greet; the other is someone I avoid. That other may well be someone whose very existence makes me cross to the other side of the road.

And not only is the black body as threat assumption institutionalized and reiterated through the disproportionate incarceration numbers of blacks to whites, arrests, relegation to poverty, etc., but concomitantly, whiteness, which is not a color so much as a predisposition of privilege, is normalized.

Whiteness is not an abstraction; its claim to dominance is fortified through daily acts which may not seem racist at all precisely because they are considered “normal.” But just as certain kinds of violence and inequality get established as “normal” through the proceedings that exonerate police of the lethal use of force against unarmed black people, so whiteness, or rather its claim to privilege, can be disestablished over time. This is why there must be a collective reflection on, and opposition to, the way whiteness takes hold of our ideas about whose lives matter. The norm of whiteness that supports both violence and inequality insinuates itself into the normal and the obvious. Understood as the sometimes tacit and sometimes explicit power to define the boundaries of kinship, community and nation, whiteness inflects all those frameworks within which certain lives are made to matter less than others.

The challenge to whiteness normativity is to saturate the culture (and thus reformulate preconceptions about race) with other conceptions of what is normal: Black Lives Matter. By insisting on that concept through persistent public demonstrations and exploitation of media, black lives can be seen first in the very insistence–that they have not mattered. To say that all lives matter, though true, is to ignore this first recognition–that certain lives do not.

She is right. We cannot just sweep up the protests in good feeling and treat everyone the same–because that is not how all people are in fact treated. The article is well worth reading for mapping the deliberate process of her thinking, how she moves through her thoughts to conclusion.