Archive for the ‘Race and Racism’ Category

Abraham Lincoln on trial for racism

May 31, 2021

Standing Lincoln sculpture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

I was brought up to revere Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  But in recent years, I’ve read more and more claims that, in fact, he was just a white racist.

Last year some of the Black Lives Matter protestors toppled statues of people they considered symbols of American’s racist past.

They didn’t stop with Confederate generals, but went on to destroy statues of iconic American statesmen, up to and including Abraham Lincoln himself.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed a Monuments Project advisory committee to evaluate the city’s public statues, and the committee produced a list of 41 as possible candidates for removal.

The list includes five statues of Abraham Lincoln, as well as two of George Washington, one each of Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant, and various French explorers, Civil War generals, generic Indians and other notables, plus plaques commemorating the first white settlers of the region.

The committee did not list Chicago’s statue of Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s great opponent on the issue of slavery, but it said it might recommend other statues for removal later on.

The Indictment

The case against Abraham Lincoln is as follows.

During his whole political career, he never was an abolitionist.  In fact, he went out of his way to assure white Southerners that he had no intention of abolishing slavery where it was.

Instead he was a supporter of the Free Soil movement, which opposed adding new slave states to the Union.  The Republican Party was founded to support Free Soil

Some Free Soilers were abolitionists, but others were outright white racists and many didn’t care one way or the other about slavery in the South.  Their objection was to free workers having to compete with slave labor.

Lincoln in many of his public statements despaired of white people and black people living together peaceably with equal rights.

Like many others of his day, he hoped that black Americans could emigrate to Liberia, a quasi-independent African nation established by the USA for that purpose.

Once elected President, his priority was to save the Union, not to abolish slavery.

He only issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 when the Confederacy seemed about to win recognition from Britain and France, as a means of rallying progressive world opinion to the Union side.

Even then, the proclamation only applied to areas under control of the Confederacy.  It freed not one slave in Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri or any other area under Union control.

The defense

Opposition to the spread of slavery was a big deal.  Both opponents and defenders of slavery believed that, without new territory for slave-worked plantation agriculture, slavery would die out in the USA.

That’s why, after Lincoln’s election, seven Southern states declared their independence before he was even inaugurated.

He did not try to entice these states back into the Union through compromise.  Instead he asserted federal authority by ordering the resupply of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

His priority was to save the Union.  If the Union had not been preserved, there would have been no possibility of abolishing slavery.

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Court rules against SBA minority preferences

May 28, 2021

The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled that a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, designed to grant preferences to minority-owned small-restaurant owners for COVID relief, are unconstitutional

The specific provision struck down was part of the law’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program for small, privately owned restaurants struggling to meet payroll and rent due to the COVID crisis.

The law grants priority status in filing for aid to restaurants that have 51 percent ownership or more by women, veterans and specific racial and ethnic groups. 

The court ruled that the COVID relief program violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, because it effectively requires struggling businesses owned by white males or certain other ethnicities and nationalities to go to the back of the line.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee. 

The bar is co-owned by Antonio Vitolo, who is white, and his wife, who is Hispanic.  If the wife’s ownership had been 51 percent instead of 50 percent, they would have qualified for preference. 

The decision by the three-judge panel was 2 to 1.  Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who’s African-American, filed a dissenting opinion.  She said the record shows that minority groups have lagged behind in getting access to SBA loans and the law is a reasonable remedy.

“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” she wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination.”

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, who is the son of an Asian Indian immigrant, said there are race-neutral remedies for racial disparities.  If minorities had trouble getting access to capital or credit during the pandemic, then give preferences to all who have been denied capital or credit, he wrote.  Or simply give priority to all who have not yet received coronavirus relief funds.

Judge Donald said this would be cumbersome to administer, and would delay getting needed funds to small businesses who need it most.

Judge Thapar also criticized the definition of which minority groups are eligible and which aren’t. 

As Glenn Greenwald noted, every minority group in the chart below is eligible for preferences under SBA rules, even though many are doing better than the average American or average white American.  Among those excluded are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who most certainly have a lot of problems.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald. Click to enlarge.

I think Judge Thapar’s ruling is right and just, and has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.  If it is, conservative judges will have done President Biden a political favor by taking this divisive issue off the table for the 2022 elections.

LINKS

Appellate Court Strikes Down Racial and Gender Preferences in Biden’s COVID Relief Law by Glenn Greenwald.

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Antonia Vitolo and Jake’s Bar & Grill vs. Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

A critique of critical race theory

April 23, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: an introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Strafancic (2017) is a college textbook about an idea that is transforming the USA.

Supporters of CRT—Crits for short—claim that the only thing holding back black citizens of the United States is the racism of white people, including unconscious racism and the legacy of past racism.

Their goal is to make us aware of how racism works so we whites will yield our privileged place in society to blacks. 

CRT rejects the old liberal ideal of civil rights, which is to guarantee all individuals equal rights under impartial laws. 

The claim is that this ideal only deals with obvious forms of racism and prevents rooting out racism in its deeper and more subtle forms.

In some parts of American life, CRT has become a creed to which you must swear allegiance if you care about your reputation or career.

Being an old-fashioned liberal myself, I am taken aback by how quickly CRT theory has taken hold in academia, journalism, the liberal churches, and government and corporate administration. 

I read this book because I wanted to understand CRT from an authoritative source and engage with its arguments.

According to the textbook, there are two main schools of CRT.

“Idealists” hold that racism arises from “thinking, mental categorization, attitude and discourse.”  The way to fight racism is to change “the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous and American than others.” (p.11)

“Materialists” hold that what matters is that race—for whatever reason—determines who gets “tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools and invitations to parties in people’s homes.” (p.11)  The way to fight racism is to eliminate racial disparities in access to jobs, education, credit and the other good things of life.

By analogy, the same ideas apply to other oppressed groups (Hispanics, native Americans, women, LGBTQ people, the disabled and so on) in regard to their defined oppressors.

Obviously there is truth to all of this.  Obviously racial prejudice—past and present, conscious and unconscious—has a big impact on American life.  Obviously it is a valid topic of research and debate.

As a specialized social science research agenda, CRT could make a good contribution to human knowledge, in dialogue with other research agendas—for example, sociological and anthropological research into group differences, and how they contribute to success or failure.

The shape of society has multiple causes, and if you insist limiting yourself to one, you risk becoming a dangerous fanatic.  This would be true whether your single explanation is economic self-interest, class struggle, religious heritage or something else.  CRT is no exception.

I’m opposed to treating CRT as unquestioned dogma because I’m opposed to treating anything as unquestioned dogma.  But I also have problems with CRT specifically, not so much because the theory is wrong as because of what it leaves out.

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Race, ancestry and nationality

April 13, 2021

Ethnographic map of the world. Click to enlarge.

So-called scientific racism is nonsense.  On the other hand, the idea of identity based on common ancestry is powerful, unifying and non-falsifiable.  It is the most common basis of nationalism.

The question is whether peace is possible in a world of nationalisms based on ancestry.

When nationalism is based on ancestry, a nation’s people are taught that they are like members of an extended family (usually a patriarchal family, headed by a father-figure) and that there is a bright line between members of the national family and all others.

Japan and Korea are two nations in which this idea is strong.  Japanese mythology tells how the Japanese islands were created by the gods and their Emperor is the descendant of the sun goddess; Korean mythology tells how the Korean people were specifically created by the gods.

President Kennedy called the United States a nation of immigrants.  Nobody would ever say that of Japan or the two Koreas.  Nobody would ever call these nations multi-cultural. 

The Han Chinese, probably the world’s most successful ethnic group, also have a strong sense of national unity.  Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, they have a history of being able to absorb foreigners, including conquerors such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.

The assimilation process is now going on, in a brutal way, with Tibetans and Uighurs.  I think the reason the Vietnamese fear the Chinese more than they ever feared the French or us Americans is because of the real possibility that assimilation by the Chinese could end their existence as a nation.

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Which matters most? Race or class?

March 31, 2021

On almost any level of American society, you’re better off being white than being black.

Even if you’re President of the United States.

Barack Obama could never have gotten away with the sordid personal behavior of Bill Clinton or the manifest ignorance of George W. Bush. (I leave out Donald Trump because he’s in a category all his own.)

Source: Demos.

Clinton, Bush and Obama all were targets of vituperative attacks, but the attacks on Obama were on a different level than the other two.

On a lower level of society, there is a great deal of racial discrimination in the restaurant industry.  Black employees are most commonly found in the kitchen; white employees are the ones who serve the public.

So does that mean Barack Obama and black dishwashers are in one category, and Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and white waiters and waitresses are in another?

Barack Obama is a rich celebrity.  He lives in an $11.75 million house in Martha’s Vineyard.  He has nothing in common with a dishwasher.

The Obamas are good friends with the Bushes, who are good friends of the Clintons, who used to be good friends of the Trumps. 

They all have more in common with each other and with other rich celebrities than any of them does with an hourly worker of any race.

∞∞

Click to enlarge.

So which matters most?  The vertical lines that separate Americans of different races or the horizontal lines that separate Americans of different economic classes?

If you look at different jobs, you see that a disproportionate amount of the dirty, low-wage work of American society is done by the descendants of enslaved black people and conquered Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.  It is not a coincidence that the descendants of enslaved and conquered people are at the bottom of the economic ladder.

The lines are diagonal lines.  Race and social class can’t be separated.  You find people of every race on every level of American society—but not equally.

∞∞

Racism and prejudice are almost always factors in racial inequality.  Nowadays, they are seldom the only factors.

• The Republican Party in many states has been illegally purging black citizens from voter registration rolls and making it more difficult for them to vote.  But I don’t think that is because they think blacks are an inferior race.  It is because the vast majority of them vote Democratic.

Click to enlarge.

These same Republicans are perfectly happy with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

• Police killings of black people are proportionately greater than police killings of white people.  One reason is that some police are racist and many are racially prejudiced.  But it’s also a fact that police in general treat poor people worse than they do rich people and middle-class people.

And there are also big differences in police departments across the country based on training and policies.  And the inconvenient fact is that a disproportionate number of violent crimes are committed by black people.

Click to enlarge.

But I don’t think these other factors explain away racial prejudice.  Like a lot of things, the issue is complex.

Black people were targeted for the sale of subprime mortgages in the run-up to the 2008 recession.  But I don’t think this was because the financial speculators had an implicit against them because of their race.

Rather it was because they were more financially vulnerable than equivalent white people, for historical reasons that are rooted in racism.

If you look at reasons for inequality in the USA, there is very often a racial angle, but there also is almost always a money angle.

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Book note: Ida B. Wells’ autobiography

March 30, 2021

Last year Ida B. Wells, a black woman who died in 1931, received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for her investigative reporting about lynching.

She lived in a time when white people could not only kill black people with impunity, but commonly turned the killing into a public spectacle.  She was a pioneer and one of the few who reported on this.

Black people deemed guilty of crimes, rather than being put on trial, were hanged, mutilated, burned alive or tortured to death while crowds looked on.  Lynchings were sometimes written up in local newspapers.  Public schools were let out at least once so that children could witness the spectacle.

Wells fearlessly went to the scenes of lynchings and riots in order to get an accurate picture of what really occurred, and her work brought the crime of lynching to the attention of the wider world.

Click to enlarge.

To learn more, I read her autobiography, which recently has been reissued.  She said she wrote it in order to provide a factual record of black struggles, and so there is little in it of her personal reflctions or feelings. She led an interesting life, but wrote about it in very prosaic way. 

Ida B. Wells was born in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the daughter of slaves and technically a slave herself.  

Her father, James Wells, was the son of a white slave owner and an enslaved black woman. The owner’s wife had no children and, when the owner died, his widow had Wells’ mother stripped naked and whipped. 

Her mother, Elizabeth, was born on a plantation in VIrginia and “sold South.”  She never was able to reconnect with her parents and siblings. Such were the realities of slavery.

Ida B. Wells’ parents were strict and loving, with high standards of personal behavior and a strong sense of independence.  They saw to it that their children got every educational opportunity offered by Reconstruction..

They died in a yellow fever epidemic, along with many of Wells’ siblings, when she was 16.  She went to work as a school teacher, supporting four younger siblings.

Over time she wrote for church publications, realized she had a talent for writing and became a  journalist.  This became a full-time job after she was fired from her teaching job for criticizing conditions in segregated black schools.

While in her 20s, she challenged segregation in a lawsuit, a decade before the Plessy vs. Ferguson legalizing “separate but equal” segregation.  She was traveling on a first-class train ticket, and a train conductor tried to force her to leave the first-class car and go to the smoking car.

She refused and resisted, and it took three men to eject her from the car.  She sued on the grounds she was denied what she paid for, was successful in a lower court and was offered a generous settlement if she would not contest an appeal.  Even though she could really have used the money, she refused, and lost the appeal.

The year 1892 found her in Memphis, Tennessee, the editor and part-owner of a newspaper called the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight in Memphis, Tennessee.  It had a wide readership among African-Americans.  Illiterate black people bought it and had it read to them, and it was printed on special pink paper so they could read it.

Three black friends of hers, the owner of the People’s Grocery Store and two employees, were lynched by a mob.  She wrote many articles in protest, supported a boycott of white-owned businesses and advocated that black people leave Memphis for the new territory of Oklahoma, which many did.

She said she had been led to believe that lynching was a response to rape and other violent crime, but she began an investigation into lynchings and found that, as with her friends, they were often provoked by black people competing successfully with white people.

She also found that alleged rape cases were actually consensual relationships between black men and white women.  When she published this in her newspaper, an enraged mob destroyed the newspaper offices and press.  She was out of town at a A.M.E. Church conference at the time, and was warned she would be killed if she tried to come back.

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Where ‘woke’ and ‘racist’ agree

March 28, 2021

‘Anti-racism’ as an unfair labor practice

March 15, 2021

On July 31, 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a black student and teaching assistant at Smith College was eating lunch at a dorm and was approached by a campus police officer and asked what she was doing there.

My account of what happened next is based on an article in the New York Times.

Deeply offended for being harassed for “eating while black,” she posted a denunciation on social media of a janitor and a cafeteria worker that she thought had reported her.

Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College, immediately apologized to her and put the janitor on paid leave.  She also hired a law firm to make an impartial investigation of the incident.

She also ordered anti-bias training for all staff, revamped the campus police force and created segregated dormitories for non-white students.

In October, the law firm submitted its report.  The dormitory in question had been reserved for high school students taking part in a summer program.  Smith had asked college staff to report unauthorized persons in the dorm.  The campus police officer had spoken to her politely and left without taking any action.

The janitor she denounced, Mark Patenaude, was not the janitor who notified police.  The cafeteria worker had mentioned to her that the dorm was off limits, but had not notified anybody.

In other words, nobody had done anything wrong.

McCartney made the report public, but commented, “I suspect you will conclude, as did I, it is impossible to rule out the potential of implicit racial bias.”

My interpretation of that comment is: (1) Employees accused of racial bias are guilty until proven innocent.  (2) It is impossible to prove you are innocent of racial bias.

Jodi Blair, the cafeteria worker, earned $40,000 a year at Smith.  Tuition, including room and board, is $78,000 a year.

Blair said she got notes in her mailboxes and taped to her car, and phone calls at home, accusing her of racism.  She heard students whisper as she went by, “There goes the racist.”

The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the student commented, “It’s troubling that people were more offended by being called racist that by actual racism in our society.  Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailboxes, is not on a par with the consequences of actual racism.”

Blair suffers from lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes.  She checked into a hospital last year.  Then she, along with other workers, was furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She applied for a job in a restaurant, and, she said, the first thing she was asked was whether she was the notorious racist.

The janitor who called campus security is still working at Smith and didn’t want to be interviewed.  Mark Patenaude, the other janitor, quit not long after his name was posed on Facebook.

Campus staff, but not faculty, are required to attend anti-bias training.  Blair and Patenaude both disliked being interrogated about their inner feelings and childhood experiences regarding race. 

Another employee, Jodi Shaw, said being subjected to such training should not be a condition of employment.  She resigned and is suing the college.

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US political polarization, past and present

February 23, 2021

Thomas Nast cartoons from the 1870s

Polarization in American public life is based on identity politics. That is, we Americans are more divided over who we think we are than over what we think needs to be done.

This isn’t anything new. We’ve always been more divided over race, religion, ethnic culture and region than over econom.

Or rather, clashes over economic interests have taken the form of clashes over race, religion and regionalism.  For example, the antagonism between native-born Yankee Protestants and immigrant Irish Catholics was not over questions of theology.

During the Gilded Age period lasting from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal, the Democratic Party got the votes of Southern white people, Catholics and Jews, and the Republican Party the votes of Northern white Protestants, plus African-Americans in the parts of the country where they were allowed to vote.

Even when I was growing up in the 1940s, Jews and Catholics were barred from many elite clubs and college fraternities.  Most universities had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

It was taken for granted that no Catholic, no Jew and no white Southerner could be elected President, let alone a woman, an African American or an atheist.

During the Gilded Age, leaders of both political parties were committed to support of corporate business and suppression of organized labor. 

Bribery and corruption were common and out in the open.  So was election fraud.

Class warfare during that era was actual warfare.  The most extreme example was the Battle of Blair Mountain in West Virginia in 1921, where coal company supporters bombed militant coal miners from the air.

But none of this produced a realignment between Democrats and Republicans.  Opposition to corporate domination, such as it was, took place within the two political parties or, more rarely, through short-lived independent parties.

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Identity politics is what polarizes America

February 12, 2021

The great mystery of American politics is why American voters are so polarized when there is so little difference in the policies of the two major political parties?

Democrats and Republicans, when in power, both support the unending U.S. foreign wars.  In economic crises, they both prioritize bailing out Wall Street financiers over helping ordinary Americans.  They both balk at universal health care or free higher education.

As President Barack Obama once said, U.S. political conflicts take place “within the 40-yard line.”

So why is it that so many Democrats and Republicans hate, fear and despise each so intensely that there is serious talk of a possible civil war?

The answer is identity politics. I found a good explanation of how this works in a post by Scott Siskind about a new book by Ezra Klein.

Klein’s idea is that Republicans define themselves as the party of “modal Americans.”  There are more whites than non-whites, more Christians than non-Christians, more native-born than immigrants and more heterosexuals (so we think) than LGBTQ people.  So Republicans are the party of straight native-born Christian white people.

I would add that there are more voters without college degrees than with college degrees, and Republicans are also the party of the high school graduate.

Democrats define themselves as the party of everybody else—the African Americans, the Hispanics, the Muslims, the Jews, the atheists, the immigrants and the sexual minorities, but also the highly educated.

Unlike Republicans, they are diverse. “Modal” Americans have many values in common, but all that the Democratic groups have in common is not being Republicans. 

The basis of Democratic unity as a political coalition is to define “modal Americans” as the enemy.  This is what unites the Ivy League intellectual with the African-American school drop-out.  They both see the Republican coalition as a mob that’s out to get them. 

Many Democrats genuinely fear the a MAGA Republican mob will take away all their hard-won rights.  Many MAGA Republicans honestly fear that a Woke Democratic elite will force their “politically correct” values on them and their children.

Democrats say Republicans promote fear of minority groups—not just blacks, but minorities of all kinds—in order keep their straight white native-born Christian high school graduate coalition together.

Republicans say Democrats make false or exaggerated accusations of prejudice in order to hold their diverse coalition together.  There doesn’t seem to be any obvious end to this process.

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A split within the Black Lives Matter movement?

December 8, 2020

BLM Chapters Demand Accountability from Trio That Cashed in on the Movement by Glen Ford for the Black Agenda Report.

Snapshots of the pandemic recession

November 30, 2020

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Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

An alternative to call-out culture

November 19, 2020

What if, Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In? by Jessica Bennett for The New York Times. A report on how Professor Loretta J. Ross is combating call-out culture with a popular course at Smith College.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

Teaching racial justice isn’t racial justice

November 19, 2020

Teaching Racial Justice Isn’t Racial Justice by Benjamin Y. Fong for The New York Times. There is a place for education in the fight against racism, Fong wrote, but we shouldn’t confuse it with the fight itself. [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

The rise of a multi-racial extreme right

November 17, 2020

Culture and Belonging in the USA: Multiracial Organizing on the Contemporary Far Right by Cloee Cooper and Daryle Lamont Jenkins for The Public Eye.

The case against race reductionism

November 12, 2020

Why is there still such a big gap in income, wealth and status between white and black Americans?T

There are two prevailing schools of thought.  One holds that this is because whites are the way they are.  Another holds that this is because blacks are the way they are.

The first says that nothing will change until whites get rid of their prejudices.  The other holds that nothing will change until blacks get rid of their self-destructive behavior.

Historian Touré F. Reed, in his new book, TOWARD FREEDOM: The Case Against Race Reductionism, said this kind of thinking is guaranteed to keep things the way they are.

He said we Americans as a nation need to look at other reasons black Americans are lagging behind.  They include:

  • De-industrialization, financialization and offshoring of manufacturing jobs.
  • Factory automation.
  • The decline of labor unions.
  • Cutbacks in public service employment.

These things hurt a majority of Americans, but, for historical reasons, they hurt black Americans the most, Reed wrote.

None of this is changed by scolding liberal white people for their alleged racism or unemployed young black men for their alleged laziness, Reed said.

But why would anybody think differently?  That  is the topic of his book.  It is structured around the thinking of notable activists and thinkers, much like my friend Michael Brown’s new book on intellectuals.  It would make a good companion volume to Brown’s Hope & Scorn.  Whatever you think about the status of intellectuals, ideas do have consequences.

A. Phllip Randolph

Reed begins with A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and his protege, Bayard Rustin, a pacifist and civil rights activist affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

These two black men are a bridge between the 1930s and the 1960s.  They advocated civil rights for African-Americans and economic justice for the multi-racial working class for many decades.

They were supporters of the New Deal, even though many members of the Roosevelt administration were racists, and black Americans did not receive the full benefits to which they were entitled, especially in housing.                                             .

So did a substantial majority of African-American voters, because large numbers did benefit from the Wagner Act, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Social Security Act, the GI Bill and so on.

And the New Deal cleared the way for the civil rights revolution that was yet to come.

Bayard Rustin

The Committee for Industrial Organization – later the Congress of Industrial Organizations – organized low-wage workers, both black and white.  Many of its tactics, such as the sit-down strike and mass demonstrations, were later adopted by the civil rights movement.

Randolph, by the threat of a mass march on Washington, pressured President Roosevelt into adopting a Fair Employment Practices Code for war industry.  Although the federal FEPC was not enforced, many state governments adopted their own versions after the war and carried out its intent.

If there had not been a National Labor Relations Act, which set a precedent for regulating employer-employee relations, an FEPC might have been dismissed as unconstitutional, Reed noted.

Randolph and Rustin lived long enough to become mentors and supporters of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  Like them, Rev. King regarded civil rights and labor rights as inseparable.  He spoke in union halls almost as often as he did in churches.   When Dr. King was imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, the United Auto Workers bailed him out.

The 1963 March on Washington was a march for both “jobs and justice.”  When King was murdered, he was in Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike of sanitation workers.  He was working on another protest demonstration, a Poor People’s Campaign—a “poor people’s,” not “black people’s,” campaign.

Reed thinks Randolph and Rustin got things right, and so do I.

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Second thoughts about race and police killings

July 23, 2020

Click to enlarge

Polls as of July 3 estimate that between 15 million and 26 million Americans had participated in the George Floyd protests, making it the largest protest movement in American history.

Ending abuse of power by American police would be a great accomplish.  But if the protestors define the problem as racial prejudice and nothing else, and if they limit their demands to defunding or cutting budgets of police departments, they may wind up accomplishing very little.

“Race reductionism” means reducing everything to a question of race.  In the USA, almost every social problem has a racial angle.  But very few things are about race exclusively.  Almost every social problem also has a money angel.

No reasonable person would shut their eyes to racial prejudice.  But racial prejudice alone does not explain why white Americans are more likely to be killed by police than Europeans of any race.  Or why American states with the smallest black populations have some of the highest rates of police killings.

The first chart shows the annual rate of police killings per million people for young and older black and white Americans.  It demonstrates that progress is possible.

The second chart shows the rate of police killings in different American cities.  It demonstrates that race cannot be the whole story, unless you assume that people in Albuquerque are more than 13 times as racist as people in New York City, or people in Memphis, Tennessee are nearly three times as racist as people in Nashville, Tennessee.

Police killings correlate more closely with poverty than with race.  Black Americans represent 24 percent of the victims of police killings, and 23 percent of the poor.  White Americans comprise 46 percent of the victims of police killings, and 41 percent of the poor.

Click to enlarge.

There are those who would like to drastically cut budgets for police departments and use the money to improve public education, housing and social services.  Not a bad idea.  The problem is that there isn’t enough spare money in police department budgets to make much of an improvement.

There are those who say it doesn’t make sense that someone with a gun and Mace is the one you call on to defuse domestic violence or deal with a mentally ill person who is acting out. Good point.  The problem is that having an array of highly-trained specialists on hand will not come cheap.

The best outcome would be for Black Lives Matter to broaden its demands to include (1) adequate funding of municipal social services, (2) enactment of Bayard Rustin’s Freedom Budget to create full employment and living wages and (3) reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.  Hopefully, this would result in less crime, fewer police killings and a better world for both white and black people.

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More of Adolph Reed Jr.’s greatest hits

July 2, 2020

Adolph Reed, Jr. in the classroom [Credit: Publicbooks.org]

Adolph Reed Jr. is a political scientist who, as much as or more than anybody I know of, cuts through BS and tells things as they are.  I put up some links to his writings and interviews in the previous post.  Here are some more.

I recommend bookmarking both pages and reading his writings whenever you have the time and interest.  I won’t say I completely agree with everything he says even now, but he saw through a number of things that I was fooled by at the time—starting with Barack Obama.

Here’s what he wrote in the Village Voice in 1996, when Obama was just getting started in politics.  I wasn’t able to find a link to the full article.

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. 

His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.  So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.

Source: Wikipedia

I think Reed’s analysis is correct.  The thing he does not explain is why his ideas have gotten so little traction.  Reed didn’t think Obama would be elected.  He didn’t foresee that Black Lives Matter activism would sweep the nation (nor did I).

If he is right, then a broad-based coalition, such as the one led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II. would be the key to constructive social change.  Maybe it will.  But, at least for now, it is the race-specific Black Lives Matter than has captured the public’s imagination.

LINKS

Liberals, I Do Despise by Adolph Reed Jr. in The Village Voice (1996)

The Case Against Reparations by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2000).

Undone by Neoliberalism, by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2006)  About New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.

Obama, No by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Progressive (2008)

Race and the New Deal Coalition by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Nation (2009)

Adolph Reed Jr. on Sanders, Coates and Reparations, an interview segment from Doug Henwood’s Behind the News (2016)

How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Splendors and Miseries of the Antiracist “Left” by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org. (2016)

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org (2018)

The Myth of Class Reductionism by Adolph Reed Jr. for The New Republic (2019)

Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

Why does big business back Black Lives Matter?

June 29, 2020

JP Morgan Chase in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. (Via The Saker)

Why are big corporations so solidly behind the George Floyd protests?

Apple replaced all of the radio stations on its music app with a single stream playing “Fuck the Police” on #BlackOutTuesday to show support for the protests.  Lego pulled advertising for its police-related toys.  Executives of JP Morgan Chase were photographed “taking a knee” to show support for the George Floyd protests.

Amazon, General Motors, McDonald’s, Target and other big corporations all issued statements supporting the protests.  The companies that held back are in the minority, and have been called on to explain themselves.

The two big Black Lives Matter organizations – the Black Lives Matter Global Network (not to be confused with the Black Lives Matter Foundation) and the Movement for Black Lives – have been pulling in millions of dollars in foundation grants for years.

In 2015, Borealis Philanthropy, established the Black-led Movement Fund to attract gifts from major philanthropists, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. In 2016, the Ford Foundation, announced a $40 million donation to the Movement for Black Lives for “capacity strengthening.

Last summer Ford and Borealis announced “a six-year  pooled donor campaign aimed at raising $100 million for the Movement for Black Lives coalition,” to which BLM is a central part, to support organizing efforts.f

I wasn’t able to find out exactly how much money Black Lives Matter groups have received from foundations and corporate donors, nor how much they received from grass-roots small donors.  Whatever the exact amounts, the two top groups seem to be well-funded.  The Movement for Black Lives itself announced $6.5 million in grants to local BLM organizers.

Again: Why do big corporations and wealthy philanthropists give such support for this particular cause?

The most obvious answer is: Because it is right and just.  Abuse of poor and black people by police is real, it has been going on for a long time, and it is time to end it.

Another answer is: Because it is popular.  Public opinion polls show this.  Support for the protests improves their reputations.

But there is more to it than that.  Another reason is that the Black Lives Matter movement, unlike, say, the labor movement, is no threat to cooperate revenues, profits or dividends nor to CEO salaries and bonuses.

The current anti-racism movement is not an attack on what used to be called the power structure.  Its representatives see think the source of evil is the racism of white people in general.  Its solution is to change the attitudes of white people, and to silence those it can’t change.

The movement seeks to suppress not only actively racist white people, but white people who are unwilling to be affirmatively anti-racist or who inadvertently say or do things that are perceived as racist.

This attitude is, in my opinion, a threat to basic freedoms, and also counter-productive.  If you can’t frankly discuss issues, how can you address them? It also distracts attention from the real racists.  But it is not a threat to corporate power and profit.

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The old radicalism and the cultural revolution

June 24, 2020

The old-time left-wing radicalism, which sought economic change, is being replaced by a new radicalism, which seeks cultural change.

The old radicals thought the basic problem is that a tiny elite monopolizes wealth and power.  The new radicals think the basic problem is that dominant groups, such as whites and males, oppress marginalized groups, such as blacks and women.

The George Floyd protests show how the new radicalism has taken hold.  They are bigger and involve more people than anything in my adult lifetime, including the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A real and great evil, the abuse of black people by police, is opposed not only by black people, but by middle-class white people and, nominally at least, by corporate America as well.

Ross Douthat wrote a great column in the New York Times about Bernie Sanders as the last representative of the old-time radicalism and his eclipse by the new radicalism.

Here are some highlights:

[It was argued that a] left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win.  The 2016 Sanders primary campaign, which won white, working-class voters who had been drifting from the Democrats, seemed to vindicate this argument.

The 2020 Sanders campaign, however, made it look more dubious, by illustrating the core challenge facing a socialist revolution: Its most passionate supporters — highly educated, economically disappointed urbanites — aren’t natural coalition partners for a Rust Belt populism, and the more they tugged Sanders toward the cultural left, the easier it was for Joe Biden to win blue-collar votes, leaving Sanders leading an ideological faction rather than a broader working-class insurgency.

Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders.  Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police.  Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.

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Police reforms that won’t change much

June 18, 2020

In size and scope, the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings are like nothing else in my adult lifetime.

Unjustified police killings are just an extreme example of the routine abuse experienced by poor and black people at the hands of police, which in turn is just of the ways in which poor and black Americans are abused.  Protesting police killings is just a start, but it’s a good place to start.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans of all races are fed up with the way police treat poor and black people.  Yet, at the same time, only a minority want to get rid of policing all together.  The majority, including a majority of black people, just wants police to do their jobs.  But is this even possible?

Click to enlarge.  Source: 8can’twait

Click to enlarge. Source: Campaign Zero.

Very few people in any occupation want activities to be scrutinized by outsiders.  Physicians and lawyers hardly ever report malpractice by other physicians and lawyers.  We newspaper reporters do not react well to ombudsmen scrutinizing our writings.

We feel that nobody understands what we do except each other.  When we see one of our own kind make a big mistake, our reaction is, “There but for the grace of God go I!”  But the police are a special case.

The sociologist Max Weber defined the state as the institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.  Two institutions are given the legal power to use deadly force—the military externally, the police internally.

Power corrupts.  The power to order people around, and the authorization to use deadly force, are a temptation that a lot of people cannot resist.  It stands to reason that police work will attract the wrong kind of person.

Statistics indicate that the rate of spousal abuse is four times as high among police officers as among the general public.  Maybe potential abusers are attracted to police work; maybe the strain of police work leads men to become abusers.  But it stands to reason that someone who is abusive at home will be abusive on the street.

Police typically consider themselves a warrior brotherhood.  They think they are misunderstood and abused by the voting public and their elected representatives, and do not feel compelled to obey.  In local politics, they are the nearest equivalent to the military-industrial complex and secret intelligence agencies—the so-called “deep state”—on the national scene.

The issue is not rules they should follow.  The issue is how to get them to follow rules.

This is not just a problem of African-Americans and other minorities.  Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.  But a non-Hispanic white American is 26 times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than a German is in Germany.  Police killings are numerous in Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, where victims are almost always white.  The Black Lives Matter protest movement may be saving white lives as well as black lives.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about police.  I don’t have either the personal experience or the research work to do that.  I am sure there are many police officers who quietly do their jobs without abusing anybody.  But the response of police departments to high-profile abuse cases, past and present, shows the strength of resistance to change.

In other words, changing the rules is not enough.

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Is there an alternative to defunding the police?

June 13, 2020

Source: Gallup Poll via Freethink.

Note that the figures in the last line of the HuffPost/YouGov poll are reversed.  The correct figure is that 57 percent oppose defunding the police and 27 percent favor it.  Among black people, the figure is 49 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor; among whites, 60 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor.

HuffPost also found that most people take “defund the police” to mean drastic reductions in police budgets rather than complete abolition.

Law-abiding people who live in poor, majority-black neighborhoods complain about being harassed by police.  At the same time, they complain about getting less police protection than people in affluent, majority-white neighborhoods.  They don’t want the police to stay away.  They just want them to stop behaving like an occupying army.

My question is whether the worst police departments are reformable.  There are those who think they can’t be.

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This time it really is different

June 12, 2020

I didn’t see this coming.

I never expected the George Floyd protests to be so large and to have such an impact.

They haven’t won yet.  The tide could yet recede.  Rogue police departments are strongly entrenched.

But they’re closer to changing policing in the USA than I would have thought possible just a couple of months ago.

They demonstrate that positive change is possible, even when the two major U.S. political parties offer only a choice of evils.

The protests are remarkable for their size and scope, for the fact that they continue day after day and for the fact that the powers that be are afraid of them.

The protests are remarkable for the interracial character in all aspects, good and bad.  The first person arrested for setting fire to a Minneapolis police station was white.

I think that police abuse of power is a great evil, and I applaud those who are doing something about it.

Still, when you consider that the USA is failing to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic recession and to catastrophic storms, floods and fires caused by climate change, it is surprising that police killings are the issue that sparked protests.  I write this as an observation, not a criticism.

I think the reason is the great change in white Americans’ attitude toward race and racism that has taken place in just the past five or ten years.  The writer Matthew Yglesias calls this The Great Awokening.

This change did not come out of nowhere.  Anti-racism activists in colleges, liberal churches and the major newspapers and broadcasters have been working to change the attitudes of white people toward race, and they have succeeded.

A majority of white Americans recognize that racism is a problem, and a majority of liberal white Democrats are more hard-line on racial issues than average black people are.

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Is the word ‘thug’ a racial slur?

June 11, 2020

In a group discussion the other night, I was surprised to be told that the word “thug” is a racial slur.

To me, “thug” meant a brutal, violent person, regardless of race.  I think of police who beat handcuffed prisoners as thugs.

My dictionary backs me up.  Its definition of thug is: (a) a violent person, usually a criminal; (b) a member of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India.

The rapper Young Thug

But when I did a Google Image search on the world “thug,” nine out of the first 10 hits were images of black people, including a rapper known as Young Thug.

The linguist John McWhorter also said that “thug” is a racially-charged word.  It once was a race-neutral term, he said, but its meaning has changed.

I see I need to be careful about how I use the word.  I don’t think I am bowing to “political correctness.”  I just want to be sure to avoid language that causes people to misunderstand my meaning.

Sometime back, I had conversations with teachers who loved the book, “Little Black Sambo,” as children and felt put upon because they could not teach it.

They had good intentions.  But students and teachers who heard the word “Sambo” would not have understood their good intentions..

I worked for 40 years on newspapers, and one thing I learned was that it is the responsibility of writers to make themselves understood, not the reader’s to guess my meaning.

If a reader misunderstood what I wrote, that showed that I failed to make myself clear.  Saying the reader should have understood was not an option.

What I need now is a substitute race-neutral term that means brutal, violent person.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, liberals and progressives said the words “law and order” were code words for racism.  No doubt many white people who complained about crime were prejudiced against black people.

But violent crime and property crime in that era were increasing rapidly.  In this case, the policing of language shut down conversation about a serious problem.

I understand the argument that street crime, if it is committed by a poor black person, is a lesser crime than financial crime typically committed by a rich white person.

I agree that a looter who steals the stock of a small business does less harm than a financial speculator who destroys a thousand small businesses.

If you think that this is an excuse for the looter, go ahead and make that argument.  But don’t shut down discussion by objecting to my language.

It is one thing to object to the assumption that young black men as a group are brutal and violent.  It is another to excuse brutality and violence by forbidding language that refers to it.

George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four wrote about a world in which language was manipulated in such a way that certain ideas could not be expressed.

I worry about this.  But I will no longer use of the word “thug.”