Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Sobering Truth About White's Racial Attitudes

"A people which oppresses another people cannot itself be free."
                  - Karl Marx to the English working class on the Irish question -

Let me begin with a very simple premise: most white people know little or nothing about the history of racism or the root causes of racial inequality in American society, have little or no interaction with nonwhites, and believe that people of color, especially black people, have no one to blame but themselves for why they linger behind whites on practically every indicator of social and economic well-being in American society.

Part of the reason for this is rooted in the failures of our nation’s educational system. Most white students I encounter in the classroom – the future leaders of this country – have either no understanding or have just a cursory understanding of the history of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, or the civil rights struggles of the past or those that continue today. And, most do not entertain any notion of the possibility of the lingering effects of the institutionalization of white supremacy that took place for most of the country’s history.

But, the most important reason white Americans know so little about the racial history of our nation is willful ignorance. Countless books, articles, and reports that detail this nation’s sordid history of racial oppression and its lingering consequences sit on bookshelves in libraries and bookstores in every state of the nation. If someone doesn’t know this history, it’s because they haven’t taken the time to try to learn because they, perhaps, aren’t interested in encountering anything that may challenge what they think they already know.

Rather than learn information that may clash with some of their core dogmas about race, most whites cling to beliefs that are based on self-serving myths and fantasies that portray the behavior of their ancestors and themselves in the most heroic of terms and paint a picture of black pathology not white racism or structural inequality, as the key reason for racial disparities in American society.

A mountain of social science research shows that a majority of white people believe that any privileges they experience are justified because they, unlike most nonwhite Americans, have worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. They talk often about how their ancestors came over to this country penniless and uncultured in the ways of American society, but through hard work, character, a deep faith in God, rugged individualism, and sacrifice, pulled themselves up from poverty, built a future for them and their children, and in the process transformed America into the greatest nation in the history of the world. Racial privileges, of course, played no part in this wonderful journey.

In contrast, people of color have relied primarily on racial preferences emanating from white guilt, and other illegitimate means to advance, and are today, mostly a drain on the nation’s resources and undermine its future prosperity. The opposition many whites have to affirmative action programs and many social programs designed to redistribute wealth such as Obamacare, reflect a deeply rooted concern that they pay for but do not benefit directly from efforts to address racial and economic inequality.

The support over the years most white people have given for the militarization of the nation’s police forces, the over-policing of black communities, and the explosion of the prison-industrial complex and the unprecedented levels of mass incarceration that result from it, along with the knee-jerk support of law-enforcement even in the most egregious cases of police brutality or excessive uses of force that result in the death of unarmed black teens stems from a pathological fear of the black criminal predator that populates their imagination.

In spite of the partisan divide that grips our nation today, when it comes to race, most whites believe that the key institutions that govern our society are for the most part, objective, neutral, and rational. Even the most abominable decisions white political leaders have made during the nation’s history, such as the acceptance of the institutionalization of chattel slavery, is viewed by most whites as a necessary evil and was done for the greater good. However, when government does harm, the belief is that it is usually directed at white people. It should come as no surprise then that large numbers of whites believe that they, not people of color, are the true victims of discrimination today.

These are sobering truths we must face and work hard to change because, otherwise, the future is very bleak. Until there is a recognition of the poisonous influence of white racial attitudes, particularly among working-class whites, the kind of racial unity needed for a class struggle to fight economic exploitation and political oppression orchestrated by the plutocrats will not occur.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Letter To My White Progressive Friends The Day After The 2014 Midterm Elections

Dear Progressive White Allies,

Your family and friends let America down once more. It wasn't low turnout by black and brown voters in urban communities. It wasn't bad messaging. It wasn't gerrymandered districts. It wasn't the hundreds of millions in dark money spent. It wasn't the manipulation of voting rules and procedures. It wasn't the negative ads turning off voters. It was the voting behavior of your friends and relatives. You know these people. You talk to them daily. You spend holidays with them. You work alongside them. You are next door neighbors to them. You work out at the gym with them. You cringe but mostly look the other way after one of their racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. It's time you talk seriously to them about the future of our country.

I remember after the 2000 presidential election being a part of a conversation with mostly white activists and organizers from around the region in January 2001. Leading the discussion was a respected black labor leader, George Springer, from the American Federation of Teachers. George sat patiently as progressive people from around the northeast complained about the outcome of the election. They could not believe that so many people could vote for George W. Bush. They could not believe that the Supreme Court got it so wrong. They could not believe that more people didn't turn out for the election. They were mad at Ralph Nader and blamed him for losing Florida. George raised his hand, and said "black people got it right" - the overwhelming majority of black people voted for Al Gore. The room went silent because no one was sure how to respond to that basic truth.

I don't know many poor and working-class blacks who vote against their basic economic interest the way many poor and working-class white people do. I don't know many middle-class black people who complain about big government, want tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and cuts to the social safety net, but want to benefit from any government handout that helps them like tax breaks for middle-class homeowners the way many white people do. I don't know many black people who believe that they have more in common with the super-rich than they do with working class and poor people the way many white people do. I don't know many black people who want to impose their conservative religious views and social values on the rest of the country the way many evangelical and fundamentalist white Christians do. I don’t know many black senior citizens who oppose spending on education while demanding more money for Social Security and Medicare the way many white senior citizens do.

I do not have to look to know that every exit poll from every state that every candidate progressive's favored, whether they won or lost - governor or Senator - an overwhelming majority of black people voted for that candidate. I know my people.

Bilal Dabir Sekou, Ph.D.


And by the way my friend, I am pleading with you. No, I am begging you to open a dialogue with your sons, your daughters, your brothers, your sisters, your mother, your father, your uncles, your aunts, your nieces, your nephews, and your cousins. People of color are not the problem! Don't blame us for being insufficiently motivated to turn out and save America from itself.