Education

The Miseducation of We the People and the Transformation of Human Society

We live in a society that would be absurd if it wasn’t tragic. Yet a majority of the society embraces the myths of its miseducation and, doing so, refuses to accept reality. To be fair, all of the systems and institutions of the society–not only the miseducation system–encourage people to deny reality in favor of dreams. The American Dream of individual and familial meritocratic success isolated from the larger context of society is the driving myth that permeates all the institutions of what has become a corporate-dominated plutocracy masquerading as the world’s leading example of democracy, freedom, and equality. This Dream is exactly what it advertizes itself as: a dream, a somnolent fantasy that we must forget as we move into wakefulness and the realities of the American, and international, day.

America is a product and America is a fantasy, but America is also a reality. Relatively few people are willing to see the reality of America. We live in a banal version of the Matrix. Once you wake up, you’re still where you were. There’s no Morpheus to guide you, no organization with answers. No violent struggle against tyrants in corporate suits will free us. No superpowers will be gained. No pills will point the way out. What you find when you wake up alone today in America, aside from a moral wasteland and a devastated environment, is a loose collection of individuals and organizations stretching out hands and wifi signals in an effort to reclaim a sense of humanity. Our task is to ignite consciousness and conscience so that the people will wake up–if not all the people, enough to claim the ideal of We the People for the 21st century and beyond; enough to actualize the American dream of freedom, justice, and equality for all.


Education Emma Goldman copy

Miseducation put me to sleep. That’s what it’s designed to do. It put you to sleep, too. Maybe you woke up. I see a lot of people here that woke up before me. I’ve been half-awake. Groggy. Disturbed by the cold out there, the lateness of the day. Lulled back to sleep by comforts, rising half-asleep to consume lies. Willingly consuming lies, not because I believed them, but because I could see no other option.

Sure, I fasted in protest. I abstained from the most horrific lies, refused to partake in fake religion and consumer patriotism. I read some Chomsky, a third of A People’s History of the United States, Inga Muscio, Anne Moody, Derrick Jensen, The Conquest of Paradise. I was full-on awake for a while there. Publicly freaking, speaking out.

I got complacent. The reasons for my complacency are complex and irrelevant. What matters now is that I am awake again. Black Lives Matter woke me up. I intend to stay woke.

Miseducation shapes us. It stamps us with answers, stifles our questions. Generally, white people get ahead and get by by embracing our privilege and engaging in the parade of consumption-driven miseducation. The tests are multiple choice, memorization, or regurgitation of the white-washed historical party line–easy shit if you’re white and middle class. Go to college. Pass go, collect a job.

I stalled out. I’m ashamed to say that, despite stalling out, I repaired my jalopy ass–in the way that capitalist, white supremacist society recommended–and tried to get back on the road. But the road was a highway, people drive crazy, I’m overwhelmed by traffic, the damn radio is stuck on some white preacher delivering the news about the War on Terror and how Jesus approves, cut to commercial, and I got distracted, overwhelmed, stalled out again.

I’m built for back roads. I’m a jalopy. It’s good to be a jalopy. Sometimes I’m a bike. It’s good to be a bike. My favorite way to move is to walk, slowly and with awareness.

But the society is built for driving machines, real privileged BMWs and SWMs and SWFs. Career people with cars. Cars with career people. I’m an intentional, pensive guy driving a jalopy; rather be walking.

Miseducation directs us to a false life: the career embedded in capitalism. The goal of education in a capitalist society is not to draw out and nurture the human being, but to produce a worker-consumer for use in the economy. The goal of work in capitalist society is not to engage in meaningful and productive activity that nurtures the human being and human society, but to make money–ostensibly for yourself and family, but also for the perpetuation of the capitalist system. Engagement in meaningful work, a passion for your field, is incidental and a privilege. Capitalism doesn’t care about your passion. Capitalism doesn’t care. Capitalism is being driven to perpetuate itself and concentrate wealth. To work in this capitalist society is to channel wealth upward, no matter what your values, color, or creed.

And look at how that wealth is spent:

military spending

War. We work for war. No matter what we do, our tax dollars go to kill and maim, to destroy and drive to despair, to subjugate people to an economic system that is perpetuated by our miseducation, our labor, our passions. And increasingly, as we’ve seen in communities of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised Americans this past year, that war is coming home.


How does one respond to this situation? By reaching forward, by pushing boundaries and defining the new. And by reaching back, embracing the work of those who have come before to push boundaries and define the new during their historic time. We are alive in history. History is a living thing, not a static page. We are alive within it, the vanguard, the representatives of not only ourselves at this moment in time, but also our ancestors in vital struggle and our children and grandchildren, the young, the just born, and the unborn.

Perhaps the miseducation system can be transformed from within into an education system. Valuable work is being done and will continue to be done from within the system–not only from within the miseducation system, but from within all the systems that are designed to perpetuate white supremacy and capitalism. Valuable work can also be done outside the system. The marginalized, the poor, the incarcerated, the disenfranchised and disadvantaged are increasingly forced to the margins or outside of the system and locked out of the economy. Against immense prejudice and odds, they rise and work. I discover organizations doing powerful, grassroots work–revolutionary work–in communities across America daily.

These organizations and the people that make them up move and inspire me. They call me forward to embrace a more authentic reality and a more authentic identity. Those of us who are overly privileged can work outside the system as well, if so inclined–or impelled. American capitalist society, white supremacist society, is not the inclusive entity it advertizes itself to be. That illusion is crumbling into transparent wreckage day by day, even as the willfully ignorant cling to it and claim it as reality.

No one knows what the future looks like. The image of the past that we have been miseducated to see and revere is an illusion, a socially-constructed lie that serves inhuman interests. Now is the time–the only time we have–to affirm or reaffirm our humanity and commit to serving human interests. When enough of us do, the inhuman will be deconstructed and transformed. With the scraps and wreckage of inhuman tyranny, we will recycle, renew, and rebuild reality. We will build a human society based not on dreams, but on the immense and beautiful potential of millions of human beings working together.

This is a vision. Far-flung, for sure. So far-flung that it seems like a dream. Yes. See it with me. Affirm it. And work toward it.

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Stop Glorifying Ignorance: ‘American Sniper’ in the Context of Mass Media

I’m not going to watch American Sniper. The name is enough to keep me away. Reading the synopsis in this Atlantic article praising it as “complex” leads me to register my disagreement.

This is a movie based on the autobiography of a self-described “redneck” who embraced an us vs. them worldview after the 1998 embassy bombings and enlisted in the Navy, where he was trained to kill people at a distance with a rifle. He discovered that he was good at it. And that he liked doing it. So he kept doing it; after 9/11, he had plenty of opportunities to pick people off in the battlefield. By some estimates, according to the Atlantic, he killed as many as 225 people over four tours of duty.

I’m not going to read Chris Kyle’s book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. History, on which the movie is based. The few words that I read in the Atlantic are more than enough. Chris Kyle wrote, “I love war.” He wrote, “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He wrote, “I hate the damn savages.” He wrote that he finds killing “fun”.

I wish I couldn’t give a flying fuck about Chris Kyle. But here’s the thing: Chris Kyle is in the popular imagination of America because America lacks the imagination and will to be peaceful. This is no easy task, to be peaceful, given history, given mass media, given the glorification of the military in America. But to be peaceful is a necessary task. It always has been, though it’s been neglected in favor of the lazier task of belligerence.

Chris Kyle would not have been empowered to kill from a distance, he would not have been given a book deal in which to glorify his ignorance, and he would not be the subject of an Oscar-nominated film if America had the courage and imagination to actualize a just society.

Captured tweets illustrate how 'American Sniper' perpetuates white supremacy. via @LeslieK_nope

Captured tweets illustrate how ‘American Sniper’ perpetuates white supremacy. via @LeslieK_nope

The questions we should be asking ourselves as a society don’t have to do with the moral ambiguities of war. Let’s go back. The United States has the most advanced military in the history of the planet. On September 11th, 2001, two airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center, causing the collapse of the twin towers and the death of 2,997 people, leaving aside the 19 hijackers. The American government and media served the interests of the military-industrial complex by overwhelming public consciousness with fear and initiating the War on Terror. For more than 13 years, American military forces have been engaged in foreign operations. Overnight, American public life transformed from a dream of vanity and ignorance into a nightmare of fear, xenophobia, and ignorant patriotism. Since the beginning of the War on Terror in 2001, over 350,000 people have been killed, including approximately 220,000 civilians, according to the Costs of War report.

One of the salient features of American life in the age of mass media is ignorance. The ubiquity of television and the 24-hour news cycle pioneered by CNN in the 1980s has created a culture where people are fed opinions. CNN provided constant coverage of the first Gulf War. The phenomenon of corporate media news streaming into homes and public spaces has been continually ratcheted up over the past three decades. Immediately after 9/11, that corporate media infrastructure deployed an immense campaign to instate fear in the American public consciousness. That fear was twofold. On the ostensible level, the coverage and lack of analysis served to stoke fears of further terrorist attacks on American soil. On a more subtle level, the coverage and lack of analysis made clear that a paradigm hostile to public inquiry and dissent had swiftly taken dominance in the American public consciousness.

Rather than promoting free inquiry, objective analysis, and encouraging civic engagement, the corporate mass media, especially television–a technology that 87% of Americans turn to for news throughout the day–serves short bursts of stories and sound bites to deliver a narrative of news, an interpretation of events; in short, to deliver an opinion of the news to viewers.

And this is the context in which we’ve been sold the War on Terror, and in which the stunted life of a miseducated Texan bronco rodeo rider turned professional killer is celebrated as “complex”. Chris Kyle was not very complex. Tragic, I’ll allow; yet the tragedy is not solely his. The tragedy belongs to America.

How did we arrive here, in a dystopian 21st century where we’ve spent trillions on the War on Terror, where we criminalize people based on color, yet become indignant or tepid about prioritizing public healthcare? This is a deeply ill society that we live in, not a paragon of freedom, equality, or justice. The prominence of a story like American Sniper is just a minor symptom of the illness that pervades American society.

America Needs a Radical Revolution of Values

American society suffers from a profound clash of professed values and actual practices. We profess the value of education, but criminalize our children with a school-to-prison pipeline. We profess a love of liberty, but imprison unprecedented numbers of people, most for non-violent drug offenses, and the majority of those we imprison are people of color. We profess equality and security, yet our police departments operate as judge, jury, and executioner in the most disadvantaged communities–the ones that most need police officers to serve and protect. Those communities also need social services, yet social services are routinely cut in favor of corporate profits and privatization, and so the professed rights to life and the pursuit of happiness are compromised.

Chicago activists protesting criminalization of black youth at Cook County Detention Center on January 15, 2015 (photo by @MinkuMedia)

Chicago activists protesting criminalization of black youth at Cook County Detention Center on January 15, 2015 (photo by @MinkuMedia) Click image to read “Willing to Live for Our People”, about the young students who led the Chicago action

The roots of this clash grow from a contradiction at the core of our nation. The “unalienable rights” asserted in the Declaration of Independence have been denied, in some way or another, to African-Americans for the entire history of our nation. Unalienable rights, denied: a contradiction between the professed philosophy of the nation and its lived experience, its history.

This lived contradiction is similar to the notion of cognitive dissonance, the stress experienced by an individual who holds two contradictory beliefs. America professes equality, but practices inequality; this mismatch creates stress in America’s image of itself and in our public discourse.

American practices violate American ideals in the realm of foreign intervention, as well. Throughout American history, the nation has violated the sovereign rights of other nations: Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, to name a few. While many apparently find it easy to dismiss military interventions as irrelevant to the unalienable rights of U.S. citizens, the professed philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is violated by foreign interventions that aim to subjugate populations to American interests.

Speaking on April 4, 1967, about his opposition to the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that America had chosen to:

make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

In 21st century America, King’s recommended revolution of values has never occurred. From the perspective of militarization and violent foreign intervention, our practices have changed little, and arguably worsened, since Vietnam. Our media is complicit. The propaganda drilled into the American people after 9/11 had a profound effect, obliterating the security that many Americans felt during the 1990s and replacing it with a climate of fear. The violation of reason, the lack of debate and a measured response perpetuated by the military-industrial complex after 9/11 created a climate hostile to democracy in America. The 21st century would be a very different time if, rather than rushing to war, the American people had been able to muster the political consciousness and will to approach the attacks with objective analysis, rather than reactionary patriotism. Questions could have been asked, foreign policy analyzed and revised; America could have wrestled with the contradictions inherent in a nation that has never been at peace with its professed values of equality and liberty.

In a country where King’s “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” have never been conquered, and at a time when the reasons he cited for their continued tyranny are equally, if not more applicable than when he gave his speech, our ability to see the roots of our stress and discontent is obscured. In the pursuit of justice both at home and abroad, America must renounce an economics of consumption for a life of engagement. We must engage in a critical assessment of the ongoing national failure to actualize the ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” that we declared on July 4th, 1776. We must undergo, as King declared, “a radical revolution of values” in order to engage in a correction of course that is long overdue.

We Must Abolish White Supremacy

“Is it racist to be proud of your own heritage? Is it racist to want to keep your own heritage pure? Racist is when you hate somebody so much that you want to destroy them.” Those are the words of Roan Garcia-Quintana, a national board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Institution for Research & Education on Human Rights describes as a “white nationalist” organization. I think most people would agree that it’s not racist to be proud of your own heritage. When you begin advocating for keeping heritage pure, and your “heritage” has consistently oppressed people for centuries, you begin to seem like a racist.

If we take his questions and their implications at face value, Garcia-Quintana may not want to “destroy” other races, but the Ku Klux Klan explicitly does, and they are recruiting, as documented in “The Fourth Wave of the Ku Klux Klan,” a three-part video series published by Vice. Steven Howard, the Imperial Wizard of the North Mississippi White Knights, who appears also to be active in the National Socialist Movement, describes his White Knights as “Christian extremists” and draws parallels between his group and “Islamic extremists”. “They’re fighting a holy war and so are we,” Howard states in his interview with Vice. The series highlights the violent, explicitly white supremacist ideology of the Mississippi chapter as well as its tactic of recruiting veterans traumatized by war.

As “The Fourth Wave” suggests, writing off the KKK as a ridiculous relic of southern American culture may be foolhardy. On April 14, 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller was arrested in Kansas City after shooting at five and killing three people. Miller, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, was instrumental in two white supremacist organizations, the Carolina KKK and the White Patriot Party.

Miller’s history with the criminal justice system highlights questions of sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project has found “excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.” The New Jim Crow highlights the racially biased nature of the War on Drugs and how its policies, including mandatory minimum sentences of five or ten years for federal drug convictions, disproportionately target African-Americans. The point to be made here is that the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for first-time non-violent drug offenders contrasts starkly against the six-month sentence that Miller served for founding the White Patriot Party, his second hate group.

This illustrates more than misplaced priorities; seen in the larger context of the American criminal justice system, the disparity between Miller’s sentence and non-violent drug offenders illustrates white supremacy at work. Miller, an avowed white supremacist, later took a plea deal for “plotting to obtain stolen military weapons, and for planning robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees,” and served only three years of a five-year sentence. Contrast this to the systemic injustice of African-Americans being coerced into plea bargains, sometimes for crimes they did not commit. According to Human Rights Watch, “Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain,” and “97 percent of them decide to plead guilty,” since “drug defendants rarely prevail at trial.” Human Rights Watch cites the case of Sandra Avery, one among hundreds reviewed, who refused a plea bargain. At trial, she was found guilty of “possessing 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver” and sentenced to life without parole. Writing about Avery’s case, Jamie Fellner described it as a “misuse of power.” The European court of human rights has ruled that life without parole constitutes “inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Beyond the disparity of white supremacist terror contrasted to non-violent drug offenses, the recent plea deal taken by Marissa Alexander is worth examining. She rejected the offered plea bargain of three years’ imprisonment and maintained her right to defend her life against her estranged husband, invoking Florida’s stand-your-ground law — the same law that Florida police cited as the reason for not initially charging George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. In consequence of rejecting the plea bargain, State Prosecutor Angela Corey sought a 20 year sentence, “in part due to the state’s mandatory sentencing laws.” The jury deliberated for 12 minutes and convicted Alexander on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm. Alexander appealed that conviction and the guilty verdict was overturned. She was then presented with an amplification of the plea deal: she could accept three years of detention, including time served, plus an additional two years of probation while wearing a surveillance monitor, or face charges again, with a mandatory sentence this time of 60 years. As Michelle Alexander has documented in The New Jim Crow, coercive plea deals such as this are routinely used by prosecutors against non-violent drug offenders.

The case of Assata Shakur is also worth review in considering the role of white supremacy in the routine operation of the criminal justice system. Shakur was unsuccessfully prosecuted nine times before she was convicted of a murder charge and six assault charges in the state of New Jersey in 1977. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Angela Davis has written incisively about how the “racist state of America persists“, stating that police killings of African-Americans “represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes.” Like Davis, Assata Shakur was active in the 1970s in the struggle for black liberation. Like Davis, she was targeted by government agencies and imprisoned. Davis gained her release from prison through the legal system; Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.

Some may point to Shakur’s escape, which involved Black Liberation Army members holding prison guards hostage, and cite violence. Those who do are missing the larger context of the violence of America. There was a reason that Malcolm X called for freedom and justice “by any means necessary.” That reason was white supremacy.

Some may point out that in his speech, Malcolm X called for “black nationalism”, and make a fallacious argument that we must condemn black nationalism if we condemn white nationalism. But again, context; oppression is exercised by groups with power over groups without power. When a society’s history, legal system, and culture oppress a group, morality compels us to condemn the oppression; hence, white nationalism needs to be condemned. When an oppressed people struggle against oppression, morality compels us to support the struggle. Black nationalism, like other aspects of black unrest, can perhaps best be viewed as a response against oppression.

The current wave of black unrest bears striking similarities to the mass movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Many white people feel threatened by black unrest. They must realize that black unrest is a product of white supremacy, and the only way to calm black unrest is to abolish white supremacy. This is the task before America.

Here’s the Thing, Mainstream America: Toward Understanding Depression, Situated in Context

I have suffered from depression for over 20 years, since I was a teenager. Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to recall a time when my perceptions were not colored by depression. Medication and a successful marriage have helped; meditation has helped, although I currently view it as a sort of opiate. I feel the need to situate my depression in the context of the larger culture. I feel that its roots are not simply personal and biological–although my brain predisposes me to depression, it seems reasonable to me that social factors are responsible as well.

We live in a society that puts a premium on activity and minimizes rest and reflection. My constitution is such that I need more rest and reflection than the average person. I am highly introspective, highly creative, highly intuitive, and highly receptive to sense impressions. These are all positive qualities, but in a society that puts a premium on activity and business, they become liabilities. Situated in the context of culture, my assets become liabilities.

Without silence, I wither. Media stimulation such as television, music, radio, even reading, consumes me. I need silence in order to concentrate on reading. Television commands my attention. Music is similar. While I can process conversation and media stimulation at the same time, it takes a concentrated effort.

I know that I am not alone in these qualities. They are the qualities of introverts, and research suggests that anywhere from a third to almost half of the American population is introverted. As an introvert, I spend more time thinking and analyzing than an extrovert. I am a critical thinker, and when I look deeply at American society, I am disturbed. I see an economics of exploitation, I see systemic racism, I see ignorance that fuels war. And I tend to ruminate on these issues, and ruminative thinking has been linked to depression.

I need to look at these issues; they are close to my heart. But they are deep and seemingly intractable, and there is little that an individual can do about them; yet to throw up my hands and turn away seems a betrayal of morals and of my heart. To analyze these issues can fuel a sense of injustice and begin a cycle of rumination; I need to act, but how? Writing is the best answer I have.

But here’s the thing, Mainstream America: you brag about justice and freedom while prosecuting wars and criminalizing poverty. You drive and consume and play the stock market and hypnotize yourself with the vanity of TV. You hold up your Constitution and Declaration of Independence while violating human rights and demanding dependence. I see that. Seeing that, I feel angry. Living within that collective poverty of soul, I ruminate. Navigating an economics of consumption for survival, I become depressed.

So it’s not me, Mainstream America. It’s you. It’s hypocrisy and usury. It’s your parasitic obesity that I see in the mirror, and that, yes, is very fucking depressing. I cannot escape your image, as I was created in it. I was born into this culture of high rhetoric and low practices regarding freedom. And I don’t feel free. I feel emotionally constrained within the walls of your mass media. I feel physically restrained by your profit-seeking. I feel ill, force-fed your consumer economy. I feel intellectually stunted by your non-participatory version of democracy. And I don’t know what to do, which is how you like me. I don’t know what to do, but I’m learning.

I, too, am working on getting free. I’m a middle-aged white man, and I, too, have been cheated of my freedom. It’s not obvious to you, Mainstream America. It’s not obvious to you, Extroverted Ideal Male. It’s not obvious, but my alienation is real.

I don’t know what to do, but I do know that love and anger can exist together, because they are both within me. I love many things: the sky on a clear night with all the stars showing me the infinite nature that is within each of us; the innocence of children, the wonder of youth; the wellspring of goodness that resides within the human heart and compels us toward justice. And it is because of love, because of a need for justice, because I believe we are all entitled to human rights, that we deserve to live and thrive as individuals and as a collective–because of love, I feel anger. When I see injustice, I feel anger. When I see selfishness, greed, I feel anger. When I watch my country do the exact opposite of what it professes that it does, when I see it suppress freedom and advocate profit over people, when I’ve watched it deliver death to foreign populations in the name of freedom and liberty since I was a teenager, I feel angry.

I don’t want to be depressed. I shouldn’t; I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In order to heal this depression, I need to face this anger. I need to use it to construct something better than what I’ve been offered. This anger is a face of love; I know that now, and knowing that, I can move forward.

There’s Something Happenin Here

Marcus Garvey

The United States of America was founded on racism  and does not practice the values that it preaches. Writers are writing that. Racism infects all of us. Preachers are preaching and confessing that. Bearing witness.

The city of Chicago spent $20 million defending John Burge and his cohort; Burge is the police officer responsible for the torture of over 100 African-Americans between the years of 1972 and 1991. That’s nineteen years. Twenty-three years later, the United Nations Committee Against Torture has “called on the U.S. Government to provide redress to the Burge torture survivors”. The Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Torture Survivors is gaining the support of more alderpeople today as a result of on-the-ground and social media action publicizing this atrocity. This is one example of a shift in consciousness and intent that is occurring throughout the nation, being led by grassroots organizations. This movement, like the Occupy movement before it, is an incarnation of direct democracy. While direct democracy tactics may have limits on the national stage, we are witnessing a groundswell of activity that intends to challenge those limits.

Speaking of her time with the Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur has said: “Criticism and self-criticism were not encouraged.” Let me note that she left the party for this reason; however, I bring out the quote to apply it to mainstream America, not the Black Panthers. In America, despite our rhetoric of freedom of speech, individualism, and justice, criticism and self-criticism are not cultural values. This needs to change.

In the climate of state-sanctioned torture, the United States government has branded Assata Shakur a terrorist. And in the face of that, black youth are proudly wearing hoodies proclaiming ASSATA TAUGHT ME. There will be various interpretations of this choice of clothing. It appears to me an act of courage against overwhelming forces. Inside a nation where Assata Shakur has noted, “It was obvious I didn’t have one chance in a million of receiving any kind of justice” due to the color of her skin and the history of terror directed at people with that color of skin, and due to the biases of the legal system; in a nation which was founded and endures on white supremacy, these young activists are standing up, proclaiming themselves ready to “get free”, and not backing down. America owes them an immense debt for that.

But we don’t need to be running up any more moral debts in America. We are beyond morally bankrupt, and it is beyond time for those of us with white privilege and moral conscience to act as well. As Deray McKesson has stated, “Everybody has a role to play in the fight for social justice.”

That Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense at All: American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy are Incompatible with Justice

For anyone who still believes that police departments are not infected by racism, this on-the-ground account of the divergent experiences of two men–one white, one black–over the weekend at a protest in New York City may be helpful in getting a clear view. For anyone unfamiliar with excessive force and police corruption, watching this six-minute news clip about the beating of a suspected Latino drug dealer and the undocumented police action against the citizen that filmed the encounter should be informative. Please do note that the news clip is violent and includes police violence against a pregnant woman; those who may be disturbed by the video are advised to read the story instead. And for elucidation of the problems that the African American community has faced and continues to face from the non-African American community, I recommend this video of Angela Davis (prison interview footage starts at about 1:00 in).

Because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life, and walk out on the street every day, seeing white policemen surrounding you… …when you live under a situation like that constantly… um, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Those are the words of Angela Davis from over forty years ago. Yet, despite any advances that may be cited regarding civil and human rights in this country, they apply to our contemporary situation. Let me be clear: none of this is to condone violence. Violence exists. The state is violent. America is violent. Our society has always been violent. That we have been able to overcome the prejudice that we have, that we have been able to make any social progress at all through non-violent means situated in a historical and systemic matrix of violence attests to the power of non-violence.

Yet we have Dick Cheney telling media, “I’d do it again in a minute,” in regards to torture, which has once again been brought into the media spotlight with the release of a redacted version of the Senate’s 6,000 page torture report. This is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, the notion that, because we are America, we do not have to play by the rules. There is no room for justice in that doctrine. There is no room for dissent, which makes it an extremely poor doctrine for a nation founded on dissent and revolution. It boils down to the simple words of George W. Bush, “Either you are with us… or you are with the enemy.”

As calls for police accountability continue across the nation in the form of protests and non-violent #ShutItDown actions, I notice that mainstream white culture remains silent. I stopped paying attention to mainstream media a long time ago, so I’m unable to say definitively whether mainstream media continues with business as usual, though I have my impressions. There is a large segment of white America that simply doesn’t get it; “it” being the entrenched, historic, systemic violence against people of color, especially black people.

What will it take for America to become the just and free nation that it aggressively advertises itself to be? I humbly suggest less posturing, less defensiveness, less violence, the cultivation of empathy and the ability to listen, the demotion of individualism as a cultural value. More to the point: less American exceptionalism, less white supremacy.

Have Some Compassion

I am filled with pride and hope for this country as I watch the protests led by young African-Americans in New York City, San Francisco, and elsewhere. The moral courage displayed is astounding; to stand so visibly against the society that has oppressed your people for centuries takes great courage and great certainty, a conviction that most white Americans cannot muster. Many white Americans seem not even to be aware of the dehumanization inherent in being black in America–the daily marginalization, the micro-aggressions that pile up, the fear for safety and the safety of loved ones that comes with being #AliveWhileBlack in America. How acute this fear and desperation must be in the wake of the non-indictment of Officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.

It would have been very easy to get an indictment in both cases. The grand jury system is suspect; why not skip the indictment process and send cases straight to trial? Cost? What is the cost of one human life? What is the cost of thousands? What is the cost of an ethnic race of people? America needs to reckon with that. America needs to stop treating black lives as disposable lives.

Americans need to work together to advance the American project. That is what democracy is about. That we even have a juxtaposition of Christmas-tree privilege and people marching for the lives of innocents should give us more than a brief pause; it should cause serious national soul-searching. Far too many consider it a disruption of business as usual.

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Not to say that we are not searching in recent days. We are, and the ones searching most of all are black, especially black youth. And they are acting. And I love them so much for it.

“This is not just a black problem. This is your problem!” –Amber Rose, Tufts University Organizer

But white people in America need to do more. White people in America need to stop being complacent and become accountable to their history, which, by the way, is very fucking violent. No more excuses about, “that was all a long time ago.” No more pointing to Affirmative Action and talking about how whites are getting passed over for jobs or college (and certainly don’t reference The Bell Curve when you make your specious argument). People are being murdered and the murderers are not being held accountable. Empathize with your fellow Americans. Have some compassion.

Violence and repression, subjugation of entire communities of color, is happening now and will continue to happen. What are we going to do about it? What does it say about us, white people, that we won’t — apparently collectively cannot — honestly confront our history?

Black and brown and other non-white-looking people know about racial profiling and the miscarriage of justice first hand. Too many white people remain ignorant, often willfully so. I say this as a white person, from my experiences with other white people, my friends and family. That I have to go out of my way to learn about Operation Pipeline (read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, please) and find incredible statistics like “98.2 percent of the stops in New York City yielded no illegal weapon or drugs” is indicative of my white privilege. Those Americans who get stopped for Driving While Black or Brown don’t need to hunt statistics and read books; they experience the reality that I, in my middle class, white life, am removed from.

This must stop. Persecution and repression must stop. Everyone should feel safe. Everyone should feel free. And when people are murdered, the murderers most certainly need to be held accountable.