Sunday, July 27, 2008

Turn The Tables Of The American Racial Order By Properly Naming The Main Problem: Racism

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Oakland in the wee hours of the morning (coming from the east coast to the west coast has me wide awake at 4:00 am) as I write this post to my blog.

Riding to my hotel from the airport, I got an opportunity to get a small glimpse of the urban landscape of the city. I was struck by just how similar Oakland is to my hometown, Detroit, and any other post-industrial city I’ve visited across the country – a decayed (or decaying) infrastructure and a whole bunch of disadvantaged people.

Concerned as I am with promoting racial justice, I tend to be preoccupied with thoughts about how to lift up the mass of people of color I see in these once great American cities.

To turn the tables of the American racial order, it is important that we properly name the main problem: racism.

Although it is less malicious and intense than it was in the pre-civil rights era, racism – in all its variations, including silent racism, everyday racism, color-blind racism, and institutional racism – is alive and well in America.

In order to fully understand, for example, the condition of the black poor and working class, their plight must be situated in the context of the long history of racial oppression and contemporary patterns of silent, everyday, color-blind and institutional racism.

Unfortunately, a clear-headed discussion about the impact of racism is practically impossible to do because of the deeply-rooted contempt most Americans have for the black (and brown) lower classes and our persistent refusal to confront mythological thinking, such as, the notion of rugged individualism (and its modern enunciation, personal responsibility).

The popular, and virulently racist, images of the black (and brown) poor held by a majority of Americans, that they are lazy and shiftless, drug addicted, looking for a government handout, unwilling to work, and sexually irresponsible, are also major obstacles to clear-headed thinking about race.

Because of their racist assumptions, most whites reject programs and policies that they perceive will advantage blacks and other people of color – ranging from affirmative action to a national urban policy – and uncritically embrace outcomes that perpetuate their racial advantages, such as, the school to prison pipeline that I wrote about in a previous post for this blog.

In particular, crude and demeaning racial stereotypes about black people – such as, the depiction of black women as “crack hoes” and “welfare queens” and black men as “drug-peddling hoodlums” and “dead-beat dads” – saturate American media, undermining efforts by government to fashion social policies that would adequately address deeply-rooted social problems afflicting the black community.

“As a result,” writes Jerry G. Watts, Professor of English at the Graduate Center of CUNY, “the black poor continue to be excluded from the implicit American social contract. Their suffering tends to lie outside the realm of white American empathy and moral concern.”

It is equally troubling that many self-consciously elitist, establishment-status-seeking middle and upper-class blacks share a similar disdain for some of America’s most marginalized and vulnerable victims.

Those of us (people of color and whites) who have the courage and vision to struggle against the racial order must never cease to draw attention to the causes and realities of racial inequality in our nation – the continuing burden that people of color endure in the form of lower rates of life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, lower rates of high school completion, college enrollment and graduation, and higher rates of incarceration – no matter how unfashionable and unpalatable our arguments may be to most Americans.

2 comments:

George M said...

Indeed, the "electronic liar", a.k.a. television set, is probably the greatest propaganda tool to ever smear us. It hasn't called us Niggers as much as humans, but it's PAINTED "Nigger imagery" into minds eager to believe in such.

This fight isn't for the meek. Thanks for being strong.......it comes through in your writing.

George M

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. A little known fact is that the term "welfare queen" was coined by the future author of Bell's Curve, the racist book that supposedly proved black intellectual inferiority (shown to me a Princeton graduate who actually believed the crap).

Sky Keyes