Not Another Racist at the White House

Donald Trump has nominated Sam Clovis as chief scientist at USDA. Clovis has no obvious qualifications beyond being a radio talk show host spewing racist theories, calling climate science junk science, pushing birther theories about President Obama, and calling President Obama a Maoist with “communist roots.” Clovis “accused progressives of ‘enslaving’ minorities, and called black leaders ‘race traders.”

Though the law requires the chief scientist at USDA to be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics”, Clovis has none of these qualifications.

While Trump tries to keep us off balance with Twitter foolishness, he is steadily working  to take us back to “Post Reconstruction” and let the Klan, neo Nazis and other hate mongers loose in the country and the Federal Government.

The time to stand up is now. Going to a rally is very good. Blocking some of these backwards appointments is also especially important.

Call your Senator and every other Senator that you can, and object to this nomination. Send a post card objecting to this nomination. Go here and sign a petition. Do something now!

 

 

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Man On A Plane

When I put my bag in the bin over my seat after boarding the plane for Western Europe two weeks ago, the man in the seat across from mine said, “You can go ahead and close the bin now.” On the face of it, there was nothing ‘wrong’ with this statement. It was not insulting. It did not injure me. What could be problematic about this simple statement?

My mind said, ignore him. “He is a white man. He just couldn’t stop himself from telling you what to do.”

In the intervening two weeks, I have tried to put that man and his words out of my mind. He meant no harm. He meant to be helpful. Never mind what he meant, I tell myself – his words were nothing to you.

I don’t know whether that man has thought about that snippet of an interchange since that time, or not. I am noticing however, that more than two weeks later, that man and his words are still taking up space inside my head.

Implicit racism, the way that white people, no doubt subconsciously and without awareness, seek to put themselves in charge of whatever situation they encounter with PGM, is part of my everyday life experience when I am in the presence of white people. Often, this is done in the guise of being helpful, or moving things forward. It is nevertheless one of the ways that white supremacy, the idea that white people know best, should be in charge of things, and PGM are best off following the directions of white people, plagues relationships between white people and PGM.

These small, unaware acts of white supremacy challenge and interfere with efforts to develop relationships of equity and parity. Only relationships characterized by equity and parity can result in true collaboration. Only true collaboration can lead us to communities, organizations, and societies characterized by justice and fairness and that work well for us all.

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Not Against Trump! Working For My Vision

I am overcome and wearied with appeals and commands to “fight Donald Trump”, “Stop Trump”, or “repeal Trump”. I say “F—–“ Trump”! “F” means “forget”. Let’s bury Donald Trump under a mountain of silence.

Let us please please, please, take our attention and energy away from Donald Trump. Trump thrives and grows using our attention and energy. A basic principle of the universe: whatever is fed, whatever is given energy, thrives and grows. It seems to me that everyone everywhere, those who support him and those who don’t, are giving Donald Trump their attention, energy and the best of their thinking.  That is how he got into office in the first place. Whether he said something sensible (when was that? you say), or bragged about “grabbing” women’s bodies, every one and all of the media gave him our attention and our energy, 24-7. Enough already!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone found a vision of a world they want to live in, and organized around that vision, rather than organizing around or against Donald Trump.

I want to organize around a vision of a world characterized by fairness and equity. I want a world free from racism, and sexism and male domination, free from Islamophobia, homophobia, and classism.  I want a liberatory society, free from any manifestation of oppression. I want a world that works well for every one.

Perhaps we might begin to organize around our vision and our ideas and ideals, rather than around people or against people. Perhaps we might put our attention on what we want, rather than on what we don’t want. Perhaps it is time to put our attention ahead of us, rather than allowing our attention and energy to be pulled sideways.

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Guilty of Being Black

My friend and noted author Okey Ndibe from Nigeria, told the story of being picked up by police in a small New England town after 13 days in the United States.  The officer said that he “fit the description”.  Ndibe knew that he was guilty as soon as he looked the police officer in the eye.

Police officers are trained to spot guilt, immediately.  Like dogs that chase the ones who are afraid (they say that dogs can smell fear), police are trained to spot behaviors that indicate guilt.  They are duty bound to follow up on those behavioral indicators.  Take running for instance.  When police arrive on the scene, the person who runs is assumed to be the guilty one.

With this in mind, I have led workshops to help Black people learn to stop looking guilty.  I want them to act with confidence and empowerment.  I want Black people to step outside the victim perspective, give up feeling guilty, and act like they belong and are entitled. This, I thought, was one road to success.

I was working once, with two Black male colleagues to arrange a room at a university where we were holding our annual conference.  An adjacent room held additional chairs we needed for our seminar room.  Soon after we opened the door to move the chairs, a police officer arrived.  I greeted the officer warmly, said how happy we were to see him, and thanked him for coming.  We need the other door opened so that we can complete our room set-up, I explained.  The officer responded that he came because when we opened the door to that room, a signal was sent to the police. He had come to investigate a potential robbery.  I asked him to help us move the chairs while we talked.  We had a limited amount of time to prepare before our group arrived. The officer explained that if we needed more chairs from that room, we needed to call the police to come and open the door rather than opening it on our own.  We agreed that we would be mindful of that in the future.  In the meantime, thanks so much for coming to our aid.

When my team and I debriefed that event later in the evening, my two Black male colleagues described the terror, panic, and sense of dread they felt when they saw the police officer approach.  They were flabbergasted when I greeted the officer so warmly, indicating that if they had been the one to respond, the outcome might have been very different.

This event helped frame my (mistaken) conclusion that if Black people appeared more confident, approached situations and people (white) with greater ease, and rid themselves of that “guilty response”, they would have greater success and fewer difficulties with white people, especially with the police.

As I listened to Ndibe tell the story of his encounter with the police, I thought about my efforts to help Black people look less guilty.  Ndibe knew that he was guilty.  When his gaze landed solidly in the eye of that police officer, he was overcome with guilt.  The look on his face betrayed that guilt. That police officer, trained and quick to spot signs of guilt, recognized the guilty look.  He was duty bound to call Ndibe out from among the crowd of people standing at the bus stop and interrogate him. There was no way for Ndibe to “not” look guilty.  His instructions prior to departure from Nigeria to come to the US had been thorough and emphatic:  “Never Look An American In The Eye” (title of his latest book).

I thought about my efforts to help Black people learn the behaviors that would lessen the look of guilt.  Listening to Ndibe, I realized that it is impossible for Black people in the US to not look guilty. In the US, to be Black is to be guilty.  That is written into the history of this country. It is inscribed in our present situation.  Training Black people to not look guilty is to train them to not look Black.  As the courtroom judge told my cousin who was picked up by police because he “fit the description”,  “they have proven that you are not the person in this photo taken at the scene of the crime, and they have proven that you were somewhere else when this crime occurred, but I know that you are guilty of something, so you are going to do some time”.

Perhaps the lesson is one that Black Lives Matter and the Movement For Black Lives has sought to teach:  Black people get to be proudly, unapologetically Black.  At the same time, we get to work with each other and with our allies (in the media, classrooms, courtrooms and elsewhere) to create a society where being Black is no longer seen as a symbol of guilt.

 

 

 

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Noticing White Privilege: Making the Invisible More Visible

Examples of white privilege appear daily in all forms of media. It is useful to practice publicly naming and analyzing some of these manifestations of white privilege.

Here is one example on which to practice. The April 15, 2015 edition of USA Today carries two stories. One story (p.3A), describes the “notorious Chicago police commander who ran a torture ring against suspects for decades…As a result of the torture, the men confessed to crimes that resulted in some spending years in prison or on Illinois’ death row. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan pardoned four….death row victims…” According to the USA Today article, Police Commander Jon Burge served less than four years in prison, was then released to a halfway house, and released from the halfway house less than six months after that.

Jon Burge is white. He has continued to receive a pension from the state.

Contrast this story with a second story (p. 2A) describing the sentencing of “former Atlanta Public School educators convicted of conspiring to cheat on state standardized tests…” Despite the lawyer’s contentions that two of the educators were innocent, Judge Jerry Baxter of the Fulton County Superior Court said that each was being sentenced to 20 years in prison, to be incarcerated for a minimum of seven years, with the balance as probation. In addition, they must perform 2,000 hours of community service.

The Atlanta educators are Black. In addition to their mandatory seven year prison time, pus 2000 hours of community service, they must pay a $25,000 fine.

Burge “ran a torture ring against suspects for decades. Police officers under Chicago Commander Jon Burge used electrical shock, burning and mock executions to elicit confessions from suspects, mostly African Americans.” The Atlanta educators “conspired to cheat on state exams.”

The man who ran a torture ring for decades, and put possibly innocent people on death row, served less than four years in prison. The people who conspired to cheat on state exams, are mandated by the Fulton County judge to serve a minimum of seven years in prison. The convicted torturer receives a pension from the state. The test cheaters are required to pay $25,000 to the state.

I am guessing that few white people would read the story about Burges as an example of white privilege. Few would read the story about the Atlanta educators as a story about the absence of white privilege.  I am guessing that almost every Black person who reads the story about Burges would immediately conclude that if he had been Black, he would have received harsher treatment and stiffer penalties. His sentencing for torture certainly does not parallel the sentencing of the test cheaters. Many Black people would assume that only white privilege would render test cheating in the education department as warranting almost twice the prison time as running a torture ring in the police department.

Another way to practice noticing white privilege:  who would assume that a white educator would be sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring to cheat on a test?

While it seems to make some white people uncomfortable to talk about white privilege, increased awareness and consciousness about white privilege has the potential to change the tone and tenor, and perhaps the content,  of some of our public dialogue.

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Race Based Terrorism Has a Long History in the United States

Fifty two years ago today, James Chaney, a black man, Michael Schwerner, a Jew, and Andrew Goodman, a white man, were murdered by terrorists in Mississippi, USA. These men were part of “Freedom Summer”, a voter registration and education campaign organized by the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) to educate Black people about the political process and register them to vote.

The long-standing white terrorist organization, the KuKluxKlan, recently associated with the current GOP presumptive presidential nominee, was implicated in their deaths. The bodies of the three men were found in an earthen dam after they were stopped by local police, let go, and then followed out of town.

The Mississippi Attorney General announced yesterday that the investigation into the deaths of the three civil rights workers has been closed. One person was convicted for manslaughter in the case. The Attorney General cited difficulties in the investigation including “enduring reluctance among some to speak to the authorities [that] made the likelihood of more  prosecutions remote”. According to a 48 page report released by the U.S. Justice Department on Monday, “the willingness of surviving witnesses to cooperate fully rather than minimizing their knowledge with false denials or feigned memory problems is a factor to consider.”

One hundred and one years ago today (June 21, 1915), the United States Supreme Court ruled that “grandfather clauses”, used by some states to keep African Americans from voting, were unconstitutional.  Many states continued to use ‘grandfather clauses’ and other measures (poll taxes, literacy tests) to insure that only white people  (who often did not have to take the literacy test) could vote.

These measures, along with laws designed to restrict the participation of People of The Global Majority (African, Asian, Latina/o and Native American Heritage People), refusing to pass laws overturning barriers to participation, hate speech, and physical violence, are some of the ways that race based terrorism is kept alive in these United States.

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Most Of The Orlando Shooting Victims Had Spanish Names*

 

At least 39 of the 49 people killed in the Orlando shooting had Spanish names.  The killer choose Latinx night (a night when People of the Global Majority were specially invited to come to the club), to commit this awful crime.

While no link to any outside terrorist group has been established, mainstream media continues to focus on terrorism stemming from groups outside the United States.  The killer was born and raised in Florida! According to many residents of the Global Majority** and the Southern Poverty Law Center***, daily racism in addition to homophobia, is practiced in Florida.

I have not read any accounts in any mainstream media that address Florida racism connected to these killings.  I have not read any account discussing the terrorism that is spawned when politicians, judges, district attorneys, and other leaders make statements that contribute to a pubic atmosphere that make it seem okay to mistreat and kill people you don’t like.

I wonder what would happen if the mainstream media were able to acknowledge and examine the role played by racism and internalized racism in the execution of this horrible crime. I wonder what would happen if mainstream media were able to examine the ongoing damage done to us all by racism. I wonder what might happen if mainstream media were able to write or utter the word, ‘racism”.

Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon.

** People of the Global Majority –POGM- the Peoples of Africa, Asia, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and the People of South, Central and Caribbean America – the majority of the people of the world.

***The Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization that monitors hate crimes in the United States, including racism.

 

 

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