The Silence of Our Friends

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More on Willful Ignorance

Oh man! I just reread Dr Martin Luther King Jr's letter from a Birmingham jail on Angry Black Woman's blog. Anyone who really wants to understand should read it, it's long but it says EVERYTHING!
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant ‘Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.
See now here is where Maha and her ilk say things like, all this for a cup of coffee? Or to Rosa Parks, all this for a bus seat? Because you know us POC were only interested in that one single lunch with Clinton, it has nothing to do with how we are ALWAYS left out of policy planning, strategy, discussion, power structure. Nope, we just wanted to have lunch and are making a big stink over nothing, just like that extremist rabble rouser Dr. King and Ms. Parks.

Remember Dr. Kings words, people, the next time they tell you to wait. That your time will come, that it's more important to get past this next election and get their wishy washy DLC corporate whore elected than worry about your petty issues. Or the next time a liberal tells you that coalition building and peace amongst allies is more important. They mean that you should help them towards their ends, but you will get yours NEVER, because the time is never right for justice or equality or doing what is right with these people. They are NOT YOUR ALLIES.
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Yeah, it looks like it might be about a little more than a cup of coffee. But sheesh, that MLK Jr is far too attached to his transient blackness and really needed Maha to talk some of her "Buddhist" sense to him. (In quotations so as not to offend real Buddhists, pseudo-Buddhist white people who twist other peoples' religion and culture, feel free to be offended!)

And now Dr. King speaks across time directly to all the white liberal bloggers at that Clinton lunch, only he calls them "moderates".
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “As Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

16 comment(s):

I guess I have two (possibly more), sort of opposite, reactions to King's letter. One is, Wow, we've come a really long way since then. Racism is still a cultural problem, but it's no longer encoded in law, and it's not nearly as open and pervasive as the nightmare world King describes. People are talking seriously about a black president, and the current epithet of contention is "articulate". I'm not trying to say that racism has gone away by any means, but it has largely gone underground and under consciousness.

In the 50s, most people didn't really care if they were racist. 50 years later, most full-blown racists don't want the public at large to know they're racist (see Allen, George), and most everyone else (i.e., Maha, FDL) doesn't want to *believe* that they have racist or "white supremacist" (in the non-KKK formulation of the term, which nonetheless gives me the creeps).

Perfect, no - progress, yes. Which brings me to my additional thoughts. One is that after having come so far so quickly, the imprecation to wait seems a little silly (especially that weird argument about Christianity taking 2000 years oe whatever).

On the other hand, what makes it difficult is that we have neared or reached the limit of what can reasonably be achieved through legislature - it's not like anyone can pass (or enforce) a "Don't think racist thoughts!" bill. Since racism is now a predominantly cultural phenomenon, education is probably the most effective approach. Not necessarily formal education (although that would be welcome), but the kind that the POC blogosphere has been diligently engaged in, of calling people on their subconscious/patronizing/clueless racist behaviors. It would help if they were not answered with outraged denials, but again, I'm not sure how that can be fixed, other than maybe peer pressure.

My final thought is that King's letter is a lot more applicable to the LGBT community today, which is still legally denied basic rights like marriage, and who it is still culturally okay to ridicule and belittle, and who are constantly told to wait and be patient and not rock the boat.

By Anonymous Eli, at 2/05/2007 12:31 PM  

MLK, jr.'s letter is just as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. I pull it out every once in a while and read it to show myself I'm not imagining things because yes, there is this major push today to deny that racism even in its overt forms still exists.

It clearly defines what's going on today with racism and "progressive" movements that keep saying well, yeah racism is bad but we'll get back to it as soon as we deal with [insert issue as relevant to a White liberal or leftist] and [insert another issue as relevant to a White liberal or leftist].

I discovered MLK, jr.'s letter after it was published in its entire form as an insert in a newspaper and it was during a time period when White liberal and religious leaders were doing exactly the same thing as King describes in his letter. Telling Black political and religious leaders to be quiet, to be patient, to wait for progress which would come eventually, to let the mostly White leadership do the right thing. The only White religious leader not buying into this was a female leader of one of the most liberal religions in the country and she was basically pushed out of the church by members of the congregation who were unhappy with her work against racism and for inviting Rev. Jesse Jackson to preach from her pulpit.

I also wasn't aware that racism had gone "underground". It certainly hasn't where I live and while there may be laws mostly from the 1960s that say it's illegal, those laws are only as powerful as the willingness of people to enforce them and the willingness of judges and justices through their decisions to hold those people accountable. And that's still all too rare today.

By Anonymous Radfem, at 2/05/2007 12:58 PM  

What many POC are seeing is a resurgence of racism. It started with anti-PC "we'll be as rude and obnoxious as we wanna be!" and how that somehow became cool instead of courtesy and understanding. We fear it won't be long before it will be widely accepted again, just take a look at how conservatives talk about Muslims and Mexicans now.

When it goes underground there are a couple of ways of looking at it. The first, you don't know who you are dealing with and they can deny who they are, like Mel Gibson before he blurted out his anti-Jewish tirade. I want these assholes outed.

But when it goes underground the generations coming up aren't subjected to it as much and are less likely to be racist, with the exception of those whose parents are tolerant in public and racists in private and in front of the kids. I suspect this describes Macaca's parents since he probably learned that epithet from his mother.

Also what King was striving for was opportunity. I think if we asked people in black communities how far they have come they would answer, not too damned far. Sure there are a few more middle class blacks, but I don't see huge integrated middle class neighborhoods or even huge segregated black middle class neighborhoods. The biggest problem I see here is how education is funded, public schools that serve blacks in cities are underfunded compared to those of whites in the suburbs because of the tax structure.

This is where privilege comes in. Alot of whites who wouldn't call themselves racists still harbor this notion that we all start from the same place and that those who don't make it aren't trying. But if you bring up the education issue they will ignore it. They know that they and their children have privilege, they don't want to give up any money from their school systems or extra taxes from their pockets for a truly equal education system. "Tut tut this problem is intractable and complicated." No it's not, pay the teachers the same and give the children the same books, supplies, computers, etc, all it takes is money, simple. More exciting feeding the blood lust by dumping billions bombing Muslims in the ME than paying for decent schools, health care, or anything else that would help ordinary Americans.

Almost anything that anyone says about the treatment of oppressed people and the equality and justice they seek will be applicable to other oppressed groups. Which is why this nonsense on feminist site aggravates me. Can't they see that what they are doing to/saying about transpeople is exactly the same as women experience? Obviously not.

By Blogger Donna, at 2/05/2007 2:40 PM  

radfem, I think this letter should be read and discussed in all schools all day long either on MLK day or some time during Black History month. I can see how all kinds of lesson plans could be built around it as long as people are aware of it and it's implications. I would love to read the essays of children who were asked to write about why this letter is still relevant.

I understand what Eli means by going underground, it's not as blatant. But it's making a come back.

As for the willingness of law enforcement to equally apply the law, did you read what I wrote about the Hmong? I wish I had more hope, but I know we are viewed as not quite American like white people and so we aren't quite due the same rights and freedoms.

By Blogger Donna, at 2/05/2007 2:49 PM  

My apologies. I'm not trying to minimize the continued existence of racism, but I will stand by my basic point that it has changed in nature. Jim Crow laws are gone, segregation laws are gone, miscegenation laws are gone. Now there are laws that expressly *fordbid* discrimination. Unfortunately, as Radfem points out and I completely agree with, they are often ignored and not enforced. Which is why I'm saying this is still a cultural problem, both in the general population and in the government.

And a whole lot of people who are racists (or at least have racist tendencies) who won't admit it to anyone (I'm including codeword racists like Rush Limbaugh and Southern Strategy Republicans), or sometimes even to themselves.

Racism is still out there, but instead of lynchings and whites-only institutions, it's crappy schools, lack of opportunities, racial profiling/police brutality/apathy, condescension, and I'm sure a host of other offenses I'm sure I'm overlooking.

Some of them still could be addressed by government action, quality of schools being the first to come to mind (school funding based on local property taxes is a poverty-perpetuating injustice that crosses racial lines, IMO). Police whose mission is to "protect and serve" everybody might be another, although there would probably be enforcement issues there.

Anyway, I suspect I may be rambling aimlessly - writing on a Treo is probably comparable to writing on Vicodin, plus it's a lot harder to see the totality of what you've written.

Basic point: We've made progress, but not enough. What more can be done through law and government (i.e., structural inequities), vs. what can only be remedied by reshaping cultural norms? And what are the most effective ways to achieve the latter, since it's basically going to be people-powered rather than government-powered?

By Anonymous Eli, at 2/05/2007 3:11 PM  

I wish I had more hope, but I know we are viewed as not quite American like white people and so we aren't quite due the same rights and freedoms.

And if you're Muslim/Arab, you can be sent to Syria and tortured, and/or sent to Gitmo for the rest of your natural life with zero recourse.

Or if you're gay, you can't even get married.

Or if you're Hispanic, you can get detained just on the *suspicion* of being an illegal immigrant, even if you aren't.

We have a long way to go before we live up to the ideals in the Constitution (pretending for the moment that they didn't only refer to propertied white men, of course...).

By Anonymous Eli, at 2/05/2007 3:19 PM  

You're smokin' Donna. Gonna linky-love you over at my place and I just did a recommennd of your blog at a site with Native history,links etc. Thanks for the good work.

By Blogger HopeSpringsATurtle, at 2/05/2007 7:51 PM  

Yeah, Donna. King could be talking about today.

I finally got around to reading the discussion over at Maha's blog. I'd been hearing about it but nothing quite equals seeing blatant racist assholism in all its idiotic glory.

I knew there was a reason why I hated liberal Democrats. :)

By Blogger Ravenmn, at 2/05/2007 11:02 PM  

Thanks for your response. I agree with you on teaching about MLK, jr.'s letter! The newspaper I mentioned earlier did sponsor a contest on school essays on the letter from students and they were very insightful and interesting. It was very cool to be able to read them.

Yeah, I'm very pessimistic about the laws that are in place because whether or not they are enforced often depends on how much they infringe on White privilage and the interests of Whites. Sometimes it almost seems like they serve more as shields against allegations of racism than anything else or they can be used to avoid addressing racism. I've certainly seen them used as defense mechanisms when Black or Latino employees have made allegations of racism in the workplace or Black and Latino tenants in apartment complexes here have made allegations of racism against landlords for tossing applications into the garbage, telling them the place is already rented, imposing a curfew on their children but not White children and so on.

I think finally the U.S. Attorney's office sued a landlord team that owned two complexes engaging in this behavior but it was a long time coming.

The employment discrimination laws and the overworked and understaffed and defanged(as is usual during Republican regimes) EEOC and its state counterpart haven't alleviated the rampant discrimination going on in my city's employment ranks which included the firings, demotions and forced resignations of six Black or Latino employees in management positions in one year with the seventh on his way out. Black male workers in public works couldn't even erase off KKK and other racist graffiti or clean feces off of their trucks without getting assaulted by other workers for their efforts. This was between 1991 and 1997. Most of them were threatened with termination for filing the law suit even though that's illegal too. And this doesn't sound like it's unique.

Even the voting laws. Well, Florida and other states in 2000 and Ohio and other states in 2004. The actions by those who disenfranchised voters were about as blatent as it can get but no one in power held them accountable, including the Democratic Party. Did the laws prohibiting what happened to their rights help them get their votes back? There wasn't even much news coverage about this on most media outlets. The only large outlet that covered it was the BBC overseas.

Racial profiling by police officers is supposed to be illegal too, but it's widely practiced just under terms including "proactive policing" or "criminal profiling". Racism in law enforcement is still a serious problem and dealing with law enforcement's problems is very, very difficult as I've dealt with this issue a lot. Partly because any reform effort gets tied to one agency, when it's the profession as a whole that needs to be recreated and that includes the agencies that law enforcement is interdependent on.

Laws by themselves aren't enough. When people say that racism isn't illegal because of these laws, is that really the truth? Considering how unfairly laws in general are enforced when it comes to people of color and their communities, how would it be expected that laws specifically tailored to them would render racism illegal?

If it were the truth, then Chonbury Xiong would be alive today and so would Cha Vang. Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo would be alive today. Tyisha Miller would be alive in my city, Margaret Mitchell and Devin Brown would be alive in L.A. and so might Lee Deante Brown and Terry Rabb, both unarmed Black men who suffered from mental or medical illness who were killed by police officers in my city. I've gone to funerals and memorial services with families that are going through a lot of what Xiong's family is facing now. That is one of the most emotionally difficult and painful places to be is when your loved one is killed by a law enforcement officer(s). And it's unsafe because the agencies often target family members for harassment especially if they speak out against what has happened. It's not even safe for anyone to really talk or write about this kind of thing.

As far as the criminal justice system, I've seen so much blatent racism in that system it's disgusting and heard and read many more accounts. It's about as far away from the Constitution for African-Americans and Latinos for example as you can get but then that document wasn't written for them.

One example that I have seen is that on a death penalty case, there was a Black defendant who tested as having an IQ lower than what was allowed to be executed. Well, the prosecutor told the jury that they could add 14 points to his IQ because the IQ test discriminated against African-Americans because of course, 14 points put him above the baseline set by the Adkins decision. The judge thought that was perfectly fine.

Sometimes people can sue to get the laws enforced or to redress racial discrimination or civil rights violations but it's a tough, sometimes expensive road, especially with the judges on the benches and the only court of appeals branch that does anything, which is the Ninth Circuit, is facing being split into two jurisdictions.

People resist racism and protest against it individually or collectively and often succeed but I'm not sure that's because of the laws in effect to prevent racism, which is the reason often cited by Whites. In fact, I don't agree.

Education is vital in my opinion but there are populations of people who don't want to be educated on it and in fact laugh at it, including more than a few law enforcement officers top to bottom in police agencies. If you laugh and joke after shooting a Black woman 24 times saying you killed the NHI with black bullets, you're kind of beyond the hopes of education. But I read comments on my site by people who claimed to be police officers and thought well, maybe if you caught these individuals several years earlier, there might be hope of changing people's hearts. But it has to be a lot more than the passive classroom "diversity" training most officers receive now.

This world isn't Jim Crow(and the south-western U.S. had its own version of that) and that is definitely a good thing, but a really cynical part of me wonders if it's even necessary to have a Jim Crow world now. Just looking at the death penalty and how it's applied against African-Americans especially in the South, Latinos, especially in the Southwest and indigenous people in this country, it's just disheartening. Some people call it legalized lynching.

I'm not trying to be in disagreement and I've got a cold that's fogged my brain so I hope this makes sense. I almost feel like my brain is rushing with things to write but not in very much order at the moment.

By Anonymous Radfem, at 2/06/2007 12:00 AM  

One brief additional comment, trying to distill the limitations of Law:

You can legislate against discrimination, but you can't "ban" racism. And the second point sabotages the first point.

I wish I had a better solution for it than "wait for us to evolve", 'cuz that ain't happenin', not without a lot of help.

I do think speaking out is helpful for reaching and changing those of us who don't *want* to be racists, or don't recognize racist tendencies in ourselves. And hopefully some small part of it trickles into the ones who simply *refuse* to believe because their enlightened liberal self-image won't allow it.

But Klansman or racist cops? I think you just have to wait for them to die off, and try to contain them in the meantime, and figure out how to keep them from passing their poison on to their kids.

By Anonymous Eli, at 2/06/2007 1:35 AM  

But Klansman or racist cops? I think you just have to wait for them to die off, and try to contain them in the meantime, and figure out how to keep them from passing their poison on to their kids.

Well, police officers are much more prevalent these days than Klansmen, who for the most part have been replaced by other White Supremacist organizations operating more under a cell system.

Not all police officers are racist in that it's overt behavior they show where they use racist slurs onduty or enter racist floats into parades offduty. But the culture itself is racist in that it is what someone I know referred to as "culture colonialism"(which is White male so the system is built on supporting that and everyone of different races and genders is part of that in the roles assigned to them) and that's the real problem, rather than "bad apples".

Racist officers can be White, Black, Latino or any other race in that they uphold racism by Whites against people of color. They can be male or female. They can be gay or straight. They all work to varying degrees to uphold the dominant culture which favors White men even as officers of color or White female officers face discrimination themselves within the ranks. The ones who don't, well they are ridiculed, ostracized and sometimes even terrorized. The system rather than acting on what these officers say punishes them for speaking out. I've never even heard of an officer complaining against racism or sexism who has not themselves been investigated by the Internal Affairs division usually on an old complaint(s) that was closed.

It's also how racism in the ranks is handled(or not)and whether the reinforcement given is positive or negative. I've seen both and what direction is taken by management can be a matter of dates.

That culture is usually passed on to the next generation of officers usually by field training officers who are the ambassadors of police culture or supervisors who at least ignore it or are complicit in it. Keeping the racists "contained" is extraordinarily difficult in law enforcement which is one of the most insulated, isolated and closed off societies that there is in existance. Community members are lucky if they even know which police officer has used racist remarks or which one tells homophobic jokes because the entire process of even investigating allegations of this behavior is steeped in confidentiality. And in a sense, most or all of them would need to be "contained".

It won't fade out on its own, as one generation leads to the next one. What's happening is that each generation has been picking up in terms of maintaining this culture where the other ones have left off.

By Anonymous Radfem, at 2/06/2007 1:00 PM  


Exactly. Racism is not just a poison which infects individuals, which will die off if one simply waits long enough. Racism is structural, societal, institutional, built into the foundations of our society.

Check out this quote from Amos Wilson via Temple3:

For Afrikan Americans, all the promises of the Civil Rights Era have been betrayed, everything has been reversed. The more Black officials have been elected the worse the Black electorate has fared; Black homelessness became a national scandal during the tenure of a Black Secretary of Housing; the Black community was overrun with AIDS, drug addiction, tuberculosis, all sorts of diseases and maladies during the tenure of a Black man as Secretary of Health; Black nations were overrun by the imperial armies of the United States while a Black man was Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the more Black judges appointed to the bench, the more Black men fill America’s prisons and the more Black-on-Black violence ravages America’s Black ghettos. While some 60 distinguished Black men and women sat on some 165 major corporate boards, Blacks were the only ethnic group who suffered net employment losses in major American corporations. At the same time when Afrikan Americans suffered net losses in employment and other minority groups and Whites achieved net increases, Black conservative men presided as the heads of the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission. At the same time when the masses of Blacks are ghettoized in America’s declining cities and no longer live on, own or work the land, a Black man presided as Secretary of Agriculture…

Temple3 adds:

I’ve provided this snapshot as a tool to understand the impact of broader forces - the impact of structural issues that minimize (though not negate) the power of Black individuals operating within national and international scenarios.

The challenge for this and future generations of leaders appears to be connected to building institutions with clear ideological orientations, and an operational commitment to Black people.

By Blogger Kai, at 2/06/2007 2:39 PM  

I know "wait for them to die off and hope they don't pass it on" is more hope than plan, especially since they dedicate themselves to propagating and perpetuating. But there's simply no way to way to reach them, and I don't know how to minimize their harm other than changing the culture around them.

As for cops specifically, the anecdote I recall was when my girlfriend was involved in a scary road-rage incident, and the otherwise very nice police officer who took her statement kept asking her if she was sure the perp wasn't maybe just a *little bit* black.

Because, obviously, a white guy acting like an asshole or a criminal is simply inconceivable.

I've met an awful lot more white assholes than assholes of color, that's for sure.

By Anonymous Eli, at 2/06/2007 4:49 PM  

I agree Kai.

And that society or subcultures of that society, i.e. police culture will fight tooth and nail to stay that way if challenged to hold onto its way of life.

By Anonymous Radfem, at 2/07/2007 8:19 PM  

OT -- just thought I'd check in. I know you're busy with packing, just wondering about you is all. good luck with the move!

By Anonymous queer dewd formerly known as be elle, at 2/23/2007 9:26 PM  

the ignorant in my life INFURIATE me... STOP EATING TRANS FAT, my people...KNOW THY FOOD!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/01/2007 8:41 PM  

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