The Persisting Justification of Racism

Note: Been dealing with some formatting issues on the site e..g the spacing in this article. Working on it and will hopefully have it resolved soon.

When I was younger I had stereotypical notions of Texas being the most racist state in America. The Deep South still has a terrible reputation but more recent research I’ve done on America’s racial climate brought Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, to the forefront. As I was looking through an article detailing Boston athletes’ comments on Boston’s racism, I came across this comment:

 

It is no secret that Boston has always worn the label as a racist city. A well deserved one at that. But until people STOP using labels to describe ethnic group it will never stop. And that includes all groups. The African-American community needs to stop using the N word for everything. Lose it from your vocabulary . It doesn’t help your cause when you call each that name excessively. Maybe if the word disappears some of these hateful things can be avoided. Sounds a little naïve but it has to start somewhere”
This poster is right, his comment does sound naive. I almost don’t know where to start with this comment. The article detailed several testimonials about racism athelets received in Boston stadiums and Boston as a whole during their time playing for Boston sports teams. After reading all of the experiences, all this man can say is that maybe things like this wouldn’t happen if we didn’t use the N word.
“You’re the ones we learned it from. I heard nigg** back in 1971.” (Ice Cube: ‘Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’).
It is not like blacks historically used the N word to refer to themselves, and then white people used it to insult us. The use of the n word is a re-appropriation of a term that is still used to denigrate the black population. I have heard people arguing that the true injustice is that black people can use the term and they can’t. After all, shouldn’t we be equal?
Firstly, this argument is dripping with paternalism and condescension. Secondly, it ignores context and history. Third, I would gladly trade not being allowed to say the n word for all the benefits that come with whiteness.
On average
1) Girls are more likely to date you
2) People will be more welcoming if you move into their neighborhood
3) People will be more willing to send their kids to school with your kids
4) You will be more likely to be hired for a job (Affirmative action actually benefits white women the most)
5) Less likely to get followed when you shop
6) Less likely to get pulled over by police
7) Less likely to get killed by police
Now, if someone said I can get all that but I won’t be allowed to say the n word, I would gladly take that deal. The white people who think they are victims because they can’t say the n word, represent the true “triggered” victims they always mock. They are surrounded by benefits and privileges that make their lives easier (as a whole), but they ignore all of that and focus on things that are trivial in comparison. I remember reading a testimonial from a woman who was upset because she saw a fruit stand that had a black Jesus painted on it. She felt victimized and ranted about how black people would get upset if she put up a white Jesus at her business. I remember reading this piece as part of my research for my Master’s paper, as best I can remember it came from White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism but I may be mistaken.
This woman is blind to how white supremacy has created the popular image of white Jesus. European painters depicting Jesus in the 14-16th century were very unlikely to depict him as anything but white due to their own views on other races. Centuries later, depictions such as the Sistine Chapel still fuel the American conception of Jesus. This has been cemented by the most popular depictions of Jesus on film and on television. So, this woman ignores the dominant images of white Jesus all around her but feels the need to lash out at a fruit stand for showing something different. It is true that recently there have been more rules regarding displays of religion in some workplaces, which can sometimes affect displays of Jesus. That is not an issue of white Jesus vs Black Jesus though, it is often more of an issue of Christianity vs other religions, which is a whole other article.
Moving back to the comment that inspired this article, the poster also says that we can eradicate racism by simply getting rid of labels. It is true that the labels of “black”, “white” etc. were birthed for the purpose of creating legal and social hierarchies. Hence, the frequently cited argument that race is just a social construct. However, people are not blind. They have always noticed skin colour. The desire to create a hierarchy was a result of the idea that people with darker skin were inferior. Even in the bible, the Cushites (called Ethiopians in the King James version) are described as dark-skinned Africans.
People will still see colour if we remove the categories of race. People already factor in skin colour when deciding what areas they want to live in, who looks suspicious, and who they want to date or marry. I have a hard time believing that tendency will disappear simply because the dark-skinned folk aren’t called “black” anymore. Dating profiles will say “no dark-skinned guys” or no “guys of African descent.” People will cross the street when they see a “dark-skinned guy” approaching. You see where I’m going with this.
What truly baffles me about this post is that this poster doesn’t spout the usual “I don’t even see colour” rhetoric that I would associate with his comments. His comments on removing the categories of race displays the same naivety that the colour-blind worldview does, but he, let’s call him “Blind”, actually acknowledged that Boston is a racist city. Many people would be happy to tell the Boston athletes that the racist incidents were very isolated ones or that they brought it on themselves somehow. Blind displays some more conviction but undermines it by shifting the conversation to race labels and the black community’s use of the n word.  Although he might not mean to, he resorts to blaming the victim. It’s the equivalent of asking a rape victim how she was dressed.
Although “Blind” didn’t make this argument, his comments also reminded me of the black-on-black violence cop-out that is often used by racists to shut down discussions of police shootings of black civilians: “Well black people are killing each other all the time anyway. Maybe they should work on that first instead of race-baiting.”
White people are also killed mostly by other white people, at least in the US. The next time a black person kills a white one, can I just retort that white people are killing each other off anyway?
Even the people who can acknowledge that racism is an issue, can have backwards ideas about its causes or resolutions. I believe that part of this problem is that some white people take it personal when you discuss acts of institutional racism or individual prejudice. They hear you discuss racism and get a knee-jerk reaction to accuse you of racism, or to simply discuss how enlightened and colour-blind they are: “I don’t even see colour, you’re so racist for talking about it.”
These people will then get “triggered” if they see a movie where a white character got changed to a black one (even though this happens less than whitewashing) : “Why is Hollywood forcing diversity on us? I hate this liberal propaganda.”
Welcome to the new colour-blind era.

The Dying Engine

“I used to think that maybe I’d let my anger serve as an engine. But I’ve since discovered that my anger over each new racist incident is now rivaled and augmented by the anger I feel when asked to explain, once more, why black people shouldn’t be brutalized, insulted, and killed. If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.” Cord Jefferson- The Racism Beat

I originally read this article about a year ago, at a time when I was starting to publicly share my thoughts on race more frequently, whether through YouTube or this blog. Many of my videos concerned the overlap between film and race, two of my greatest interests. However, many discussed issues such as racial profiling. I remember hearing about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case back in 2013. Although I knew about notorious incidents of police brutality against blacks, such as Rodney King, I was shielded from this particular manifestation of racism for some reason. I experienced racial profiling numerous times growing up, such as always being asked “do you live here” when I walked around the courtyard of my apartment building in London, England. Or when a flight attendant insisted I use the bathroom in coach, instead of the first class one that I had the right to use since I was sitting in first class.  I’ve also experienced the more subtle forms of racism e.g. “you’re smart for a black guy”, “you speak so well” etc.

Hearing that a neighbourhood watchmen took it upon himself to kill a teenager, because he “looked suspicious” infuriated me since I knew that teenager could have been me.  I have had people cross the street or pull their loved ones closer seeing a 6’4, threatening black man come their way. I always wear hoodies, especially when it is cold or raining (like it was on the night Martin died).

Back in 2013, it was a shock to see Zimmerman acquitted. I thought he would be charged for murder, or maybe manslaughter as a worst case scenario. There were numerous comments defending him online: Martin was a thug, all these people talking about racial profiling are “race-baiters”. Like the Trump election, I wanted to believe that these people must be a loud minority.

They weren’t a loud minority. They were the voices of resentful, racist whites who would say anything to justify the death of a black person. They would say that the liberal media shouldn’t vilify the cops. They would say we need to wait for the facts of the case. Then these people would donate $500,000 to officer Darren Wilson before the trail began. There is no desire to let the trial speak for itself. People’s minds were made up once they saw who got shot, and who shot them.

The shooting of unarmed black men doesn’t faze me as much as it used to. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I’m used to it now. I’m used to the police testimonies, the online comments saying that black people would be better off if they “just obeyed the law” and the host of other excuses that rely on racist assumptions.

A part of me worries I could be on the list someday. Maybe I am walking down the street in an area that is deemed too nice for me, and someone reports me for my presence. Maybe I am driving a car that is too expensive to be mine. Maybe I threaten a cop’s ego by showing him too much attitude, maybe I reach for my wallet and end up dead. What then? I become a thug, another black guy that just couldn’t follow orders.

The fact that I am educated would probably be ignored by a lot of people. They would point to pictures on Facebook where I am dressed in hoodies, drinking, throwing up “gang signs”. Maybe they would bring up conflicts I had with previous landlords, one of them a divorced bylaw officer who was on a power trip (Abdulkadar Mohamed “Mo” Dualeh): He would say I was a troublemaker, aggressive, confrontational. I can be whatever they need me to be. People will lose track of the fact that the trial isn’t to determine if I was a saint; it is to determine if the cop had the right to shoot me at a specific moment and time. The gofundme money would start pouring in for my killer, giving him more money than he could ever hope to make as a cop. My death would be unfortunate, but not a crime.  Some will be outraged. They will be called “race-baiters,” “social justice warriors”, or whatever new terms people come up with by then.

I will leave my family behind. They will be confused and angry, but that won’t matter. They’ll be powerless. The cop might lose his job but he’ll have enough money to buy a new house and start a new life, just like Darren Wilson did.

The Black Death

“Heard about Philando Castille and Alton Sterling shootings and I’m not even surprised anymore. Let’s see if any of the cops are actually punished for it, or just end up getting paid vacation and a bonus through a gofundme like Darren Wilson did.”

I posted this status to my personal facebook page earlier. Honestly, I know I should be full of rage at the two police shootings of unarmed black men this week, but I think I’m sadly becoming numb to them. I already know all the excuses the apologists are going to throw out.

“The one guy was a sex offender anyway.”

Of course people think someone has to be a saint to live. No one is saying Sterling was an upstanding citizen. The question here is did he deserve to die at this point and time. Was anything he did at that point and time worthy of execution. He was not a known criminal who the police had the authority to kill on site, or someone who was already wanted in connection with another crime. Trayvon Martin may have been caught with weed at school, but that doesn’t convert to being deserving of death when buying arizona and skittles. We are dealing with human beings, not checklists.

“We don’t have all the facts folks, let’s not jump to conclusions.”

A good principle, but often not applied well. Even in the case of the Walter Scott, where there was a video showing Scott get gunned down in the back by a cop, people still used this excuse. Even when we see Castillo strapped into his seat, with a seat belt, and bleeding out, people will still say we don’t have all the facts and can’t judge the policeman prematurely. Castillo was pulled over for a BROKEN TAILLIGHT. He has no criminal record. There was no warrant for an arrest. Castillo told the cop that he had a gun, which he was licensed to carry. The cop told him to put his hands, up, then told him to get his identification. Then shot Castillo when he got his identification. You can hear the panic in the cop’s voice. He is meant to be calm under pressure, well trained. I don’t see that reflected here. I see a jittery man who is panicking more than Castillo’s girlfriend is.

I am grateful that she recorded the incident, because if she didn’t I am sure there would be a lot more people assuming Castillo deserved to die.

People generally think it is okay to assume the victim was guilty, but it is not okay to use the evidence at hand to argue that they were likely innocent.

“White people get killed by cops too, why do we have to focus on black people? That’s race baiting”

If people would be bothered to do a two minute google search, they would see that black people are killed at a disproportionate rate. 31% of police victims, while we are 13% of the population. Those numbers don’t add up right? Maybe apologists will say we deserve it. Do you think Castillo deserved it?

“The cop in the Castille shooting sounds scared and sorry.”

That doesn’t change what happened. A crime was committed, and being remorseful does not mean that the cop should walk free. That isn’t how the legal system works.

“Not all cops are bad.”

No one is arguing all cops are racist or poorly trained. However, there is a growing trend (as evidenced by statistics, not just news coverage) and it is time that a cop faces consequences for his actions. Additionally, changes need to be instituted for better training for policemen and less profiling. A stop for a broken taillight should not have escalated to the point where a cop shoots someone four times. Especially if Castille advised the cop that he has a licensed firearm.

I’m pretty sure some or all of the officers involved will have money donated through a GoFundMe campaign and there is a good chance that some or all of them may be acquitted or face little jail time for their crimes.

Our anger, our “prayers” mean nothing. We need real action. We need to see accountability in the system. If not, this will keep happening. More outrage will poor out and nothing will change. Apologists and gofundmes will reign supreme.

The Cop Bonus

“How’s the kitchen coming along?”

“Great, I think we have enough to renovate the basement too. I’m so happy they’ve finally started paying you more. Especially since you lost your job.”

“The money’s not from the police station honey. After I killed that kid, someone started a GoFundMe account. They raised nearly half a million dollars for me!”

“Really? We got this place before the trial though.”

“Yeah, they gave me money to cover our trial expenses.”

“Doesn’t that mean they assumed you’re innocent?”

“Yep.”

“That’s awesome! I was thinking that we could start a garden in the back too, and I think a shed would be really useful too. We have any more from the GoFundMe?”

“No, after the move, the trial and the renovations we’re pretty much out. Still have to be grateful that people gave us all that money in the first place though. It’s nice to be appreciated for taking out deranged thugs. I mean the kid stole cigarettes, cold blooded psychopath right?”

“Yep. Any more people like him around?”

“Now that you mention it… there’s so many people like that in this area. I mean, a lot of them are black.”

“Lazy thugs, gang culture.”

“There must be some more big guys among them.”

“Hulking brutes. Unlike my two hundred and thirty pound husband, who also has a gun.”

“Some of them might do weed too.”

“Dangerous, unpredictable drug addicts.”

“A lot of them are probably poor too and have a bunch of teachers and cops who don’t believe in them.”

“I think we’re sitting on a goldmine dear.”

“Yes we are. I’ll get some overtime at the station. Make sure I do more patrols. If I see a kid wearing a hoodie, it’s going down. ”

“You could get a white guy too right?”

“Hmmm… not a safe bet. White people are at the top of the list, then dogs, then blacks are at the bottom. Never forget that.”

“I won’t. Go out there and make America proud.”

“I will honey.”