white privilege

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.

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.

Fellow White People, Let’s Acknowledge America’s Endemic Racism

The below infographic is making the rounds on social media and, on December 2nd, made its appearance in the homes and public spaces of Americans.

O'Reilly Factor Infographic

Leave aside for the moment that it aired on the O’Reilly Factor and, without challenging the veracity of such statistics, let’s stop and think a minute, contextually, about what is wrong with this picture. Context is important.

Let’s back up and get a wider view. Isabel Wilkerson can help us get oriented; in August, she wrote in the Guardian, “the rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.” She’s referring to the extra-judicial killings of black people–I almost wrote men, but I’m not at all certain that lynching was gender exclusive–by mobs of white people in the Jim Crow era. Wilkerson’s article offers insight that should make any intelligent American feel shame that the Fox infographic exists. That it was aired on network TV and embraced by many white Americans should be stunning; unfortunately it is not. Because this is simply the way America operates.

So let’s back up further and acknowledge that America was built by slave labor. Without slavery, we would have had no industrial revolution. Think on that. Let’s acknowledge that the black people who built the country, both physically and economically, were treated as property. Let’s acknowledge that we’ve never addressed slavery in a meaningful way as a country, that the descendents of those slaves have never been even economically compensated for their ancestor’s labors. Let’s acknowledge that by the time slavery was formally abolished, the racist structure was solidly in place, and that the brief period of Reconstruction did not correct the structural inequities, nor did the 20th century’s Civil Rights Era.

Let’s acknowledge that all Americans have a lot of work to do before we arrive at a just society.

Still Separate, Still Not Equal

I spend almost all my waking hours around my young sons. What happened to Tamir Rice will never happen to them, because they are white. White children simply do not get shot by police for having toy guns.

When I was a teenager and young adult, I walked in public spaces, drunk or high, sometimes a mix of the two. When I was in college, I routinely possessed drugs. I did not get arrested and sentenced to prison, as black men routinely are. During a particularly bad chapter of my youth, I caused a station wagon full of my friends to be pulled over by a police officer when I shouted “Officer Bacon”. The officer intimidated and berated me. He did not arrest me. He did not touch me. He did not even ask me to get out of the car. He did not taze me. I am still alive.

The deaths that black people routinely die are not the deaths that white people routinely die. And this shit has been going on FOR CENTURIES, since the first African captives were sold in Jamestown in 1619. Deep Southern slave culture arrived from Barbados in 1670. The justice that black people receive is both a lesser and harsher justice than that which white people receive. This racism is central to our economic system. Slavery built America.

I do not understand how so many of my fellow melanin-deficient brothers and sisters fail to understand this. This is our nation’s history. Wake up. Read. Have some empathy. History informs the present.

The only explanation for not understanding is willful blindness.