Copyright © 2019 Respond to Racism in LO

This Week’s 5: Keep Telling on Yourselves If You Want To

August 16, 2019

Author's Note: This Week's 5 is a weekly collection of stories designed to provide insight into how racism works and serve as an easily accessible resource for people trying to have nuanced discussions about these issues. For more explanation on how This Week's 5 works and descriptions of each of the categories, click here.

 

 

Overt

Why isn’t the infiltration of police departments by white supremacists considered a national emergency? In what other context would society be comfortable with heavily armed terrorists roaming the streets with the institutional backing of the federal government? The fact is, these stories come out too often to keep track. There was even a report way back in 2006 by the George W. Bush Administration’s FBI stating that this was a national problem. Nonetheless, we have to fight police departments for every inch of progress while being gaslighted the entire way. Consider a recent story out of Michigan where a Black homebuyer went to look at a property owned by a white cop and found not just a Confederate flag, but an actual application to the KKK. To make matters worse, this cop, Charles Anderson, killed of a Black man about a decade ago under very suspicious circumstances (and of course, escaped any charges). I’m not sure what stands out more, Anderson’s flaunting of his white supremacist ties or the fact that the Klansman cop killed a Black man and it has almost universally been an afterthought in the coverage of this story. One thing is for sure. The response from police departments throughout the country will continue to be damage control and inaction. I’d love to be proven wrong but there’s a good chance another KKK cop story will come out before I hit the publish button on this column. Read more from the Root.

 

 

Institutional

Despite how it may sometimes appear, as a society, we are incredibly hesitant to see the worst in people. The evidence can be as clear as day, but we still prefer to view bad actors as people who just got caught up in a problematic system rather than genuine purveyors of evil. Whatever plausible deniability we can find, we cling to it. That’s becoming increasingly impossible in the case of the recent Mississippi ICE raids. That the state-sponsored terror campaign ripped 680 people from their families was bad enough. The children caught on camera crying because they lost their parents was plenty awful on its own. Then details emerged that workers at these chicken processing plants had recently won a settlement in a massive sexual harassment lawsuit, prompting the suspicion that the ICE raids were, in part, retaliation. Now, to add insult to injury, the plants have laid off over 100 of the workers, bringing the total jobs lost numbers in the Mississippi town that was targeted to 450. Everything about this episode reeks of vindictiveness. More importantly, it demonstrates how law enforcement and private industry often work together to advance their interests and promote institutional racism, even if it severely harms the economy of the constituents they claim to be acting on behalf of (i.e. “forgotten” white Americans). Read more from Slate.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

As the language of social justice becomes more mainstream, many people are getting better at self-policing their own expressions of unconscious bias. That said, there are still plenty of venues for people to tell on themselves. For example, entertainment, and specifically, reactions to it, can speak volumes. Years ago, my family went to see the film “The Help” at Bridgeport Regal Cinemas and I’ll never forget when the predominantly white audience burst out laughing at the line “Mexican shoes.” It wasn’t a punchline or part of a joke at all, but the white people around us were clearly tickled by the phrase. Recently, writer Nancy Marie Withlo had a similar experience during a screening of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” One of the characters uttered the line, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and the crowd laughed. While the line itself is accurate in portraying the casual racism of old western movies and American culture, the audience’s reaction is telling of how much that white supremacist culture persists. If your first reaction to a “dead Indian” joke is reflexive laughter, that signals that you most likely don’t view indigenous people with much, if any, humanity. I’m sure there were plenty of people in that laughing crowd who consider themselves allies. How they and their peers throughout the country respond to calling out this phenomenon will be just as telling as the laughter. Read more from Indian Country Today.

 

 

History

Earlier in this column, I mused on why there is so much systemic inaction when police misconduct (and specifically, white supremacist infiltration) is so prevalent and persistent. Some will almost certainly see this as alarmist, but as a student of history, I’m very familiar with how bad things can get. Allowing the police to dehumanize Black people in particular has resulted in some of the most egregious stains on American democracy captured on video. While we often think about civil rights era footage of dogs and water cannons, the 1985 MOVE bombing is more or less forgotten on a national level. This is striking considering that not only was this a case of mass murder, but it also displaced hundreds of mostly Black residents. Specifically, the Philadelphia police department decided to drop C4 on the home of MOVE activists during an effort to evict them, killing 11 (including 5 children) and destroying the neighborhood around them. MOVE was considered controversial because their brand of Black liberation and animal rights activism rubbed some neighbors the wrong way. The Philadelphia police seized on that dynamic of respectability politics to deploy military-style tactics, including the eventual bombing of their home, to go after MOVE and by proxy, all their neighbors who the police claimed to be supporting. In total, the bombing destroyed 61 homes and left 250 people homeless. It also provided a cautionary tale that continues to go unheeded about trusting the police over activists whose tactics you don’t necessarily agree with. Read more from Vox.

 

 

The Fragility Breaker

White people are obsessed with the n-word. How can I say this, you ask? Well, they can’t stop talking about it. Obviously there’s the recurring, and very telling, refrain of, “Why can’t we say it?” (Hint: If you’re more concerned that you’re being denied your perceived right to say the n-word with no consequence than the myriad of actual social justice issues happening around you, that’s both wildly narcissistic and obviously racist). However, the real tell is all the instances where it comes up when Black people have nothing to do with the conversation. Consider a recent incident where CNN’s Chris Cuomo was caught on video confronting a group of hecklers. In addition to threatening to throw them down a flight of stairs, he also asserted that calling him or any Italian “Fredo,” a reference to a character from The Godfather, was the equivalent of the n-word. While I don’t endorse threats of violence, admittedly, I was on Cuomo’s side for most of the video. Then he had to add that reach of all reaches, claiming “Fredo” is the Italian n-word. It’s not. Is it insulting and wildly disrespectful? Absolutely. Still, it’s not the n-word and the fact that some white people will reach that hard to try and identify with Black struggle is sad. Is the idea of “Black cool” really that irresistible? Or is it the feeling of not holding all the power over this particular word that really bothers our Caucasian friends? Who knows? That said, if you’re tired of being called on it, perhaps stop telling on yourselves. Read more from the Root.

 

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