Nicole D. Nelson – The New York Times:
Not only are the local court system and law enforcement community committed to reinforcing that black lives do not matter here, but the police also continue to escalate tensions and foment distrust between them and protesters.
All of this is exhausting. The insensitivity. The mockery of real struggle and pain. The disregard. The arrogance.
When will Black Lives Matter in St. Louis? Which local leaders will finally step up and stop the government from continuing its long, complicated and devastating history of racism? From our view, military tanks, tear gas, rubber bullets and dishonest narratives won’t be bridging this gap anytime soon.
The mockery is coming from a narrow spectrum of commenters. They’re people we’ve heard, read, and in a few cases, directly responded to for years, decades, even centuries. For example, “[the] point is there is no more slavery no one owes anyone anything,” “Only issue is people think they have the right to do whatever they want when they want like the law don’t apply to them,” and “What I do believe is that … success is due to hard work. Period. Not hard work and that you’re white.”
It’s as though slavery were the only issue, that it ended in America last week, and that we could all live happily ever after now that we’re all equal if it weren’t for those BLM types. This is sophistry. It ignores one hundred forty-years of history following the Republican party’s abandonment of Reconstruction. The Jim Crow era, redlining, disenfranchisement, segregation in housing, schooling, and employment, and the lingering scourge – over-policing and over-incarceration of black men – don’t rate consideration by these folks. Wear black skin while violating the law, or even while committing no crime, and you’re far more likely to end up dead at the hands of police than if your skin is on the lighter side of taupe.
If ethnicity weren’t relevant anymore, black Americans emigrating from the South during the last century, and then remaining in northern cities despite the rampant prejudice they found should have led to broad black middle and wealthy classes. After all, these are the people who persevered despite bigotry at every turn; nature selected for the emotionally and constitutionally strongest among them. We do not see a broad black middle or wealthy class.
This is not to say that all black folks are born behind the eight-ball, or that all blacks who fail to achieve success do so at the hands of the white majority, or that all white children are born eating a silver spoon. It is to say there remains systemic ethnic bias and bigotry in America.
There’s good reason why groups like Black Lives Matter, the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam exist. Nature abhors a vacuum, it’s said, and these groups fulfill the need to advocate for black Americans. Remove systemic racism and these groups evaporate.
Turning to the “hard work” argument, white-skinned folks living in the Dream of America, and believing it was nothing but their hard work that accounts for their success is nothing more than white privilege. Being pissed off when that Dream is shaken by dark-skinned people who decry generations come and gone, born with a one- or two-strike count against them is blind hypocrisy.
Strike one, being assigned the racial identity “black.” Strike two, having parents marginalized into dangerous neighborhoods with poor schools and a rampant drug trade. Try self-making yourself out of that.
As Coates wrote, extending Baldwin before him, race is an idea. It is not reality. This was the realization of Malcolm X, too. We assign race to children, and follow through by treating them as “white” or “black,” so they grow up internalizing and perpetuating whiteness and blackness. This adds to our cultural baggage of race as an actual thing, when it’s no more than a cultural construct that we could, if we chose to deal with it forthrightly, do away with. Coates:
there will surely always be people with straight hair and blue eyes, as there have been for all history. But some of these straight-haired people with blue eyes have been “black,” and this points to the great difference between their world and ours. We did not choose our fences. They were imposed on us by Virginia planters obsessed with enslaving as many Americans as possible. They are the ones that came up with a one-drop rule that separated the “white” from the “black,” even if it meant that their own blue-eyed sons would live under the lash. (Between the World and Me)
See black skin, assign “black” race, treat as “black” until he or she demonstrates “blackness,” which differs from “whiteness.” Marginalize. Repeat.
At this point the intellectually lazy chime in about identity politics. That’s shorthand for you wrote “black/gay/trans/hispanic/,” you’re playing race/gender/whatever political games.
But politics, the art of persuading the masses without resorting to violence, descends from culture, not the other way around. Railing against identity politics is nothing more than arguing against identity in culture, identity which is often assigned by culture. Who determines what identities lead to which outcomes? The cultural majority, which assigns value to people as well as contribution. That’s where the blame lies for racial tension.
America, as a majority-white culture, and by this I mean people who play the role of whiteness, has done this to itself, and is still doing it. If we want to change the politics of ethnicity, we must change the culture of racism, of assigning roles and expectations to ethnicity. Don’t be a blind, smug bigot. Don’t elect blind, smug bigots. Don’t keep your mouth shut and let it happen, either. And don’t fall into the cultural trap of seeing the color of someone’s skin as a measure of their character.
That’s when black lives will matter in America.
Have you ever wondered why we do this? Why brown- and black-skinned Americans have yet to enjoy assimilation with the rest of America, as have minorities from Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, and South America? Is it the collective shame of the majority that carries the baggage of race? Or repeated retrenchment of the cultural majority’s ownership of America? That ownership is slipping. By 2020 the under-18 cohort will be minority white, and by 2040 the entire population will be so. Interesting times ahead.
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