Tag Archives: racism

Institutional Racism and the Yale Halloween Hallabaloo––KNOCK IT OFF!

On November 12, CNN political commentator Sally Kohn published an article titled, “Don’t be too quick to judge Yale protesters.” In this article, Ms. Kohn defends Yale students who protested against their school’s alleged insensitivity in not banning potentially “offensive” Halloween costumes and the remarks of two of their professors who, in effect, told them to grow up.

Here is my response as posted on CNN.com:


I’ll focus on Ms. Kohn’s use of the words “institutional racism.” In this case, as in the case in Missouri and other campuses, this term is being applied with ferocity. Alternately, you may hear “systemic racism.”

Where, Ms. Kohn, does this “institutional racism” exist and what proof it there of it’s existence?

This is what

This is what “institutional racism” looks like. This is the official institutional welcome a civil rights protester received in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

Institutional or systemic racism implies a concerted and intentional effort to deny the rights and privileges of a particular group based on race and color. Is Missouri purposely excluding black students and faculty? Is Yale itself endorsing racist behavior on campus?

Or, in the case of the Yale professors, were they simply acknowledging that the institution plays a limited part in the lives of allegedly adult students and that the students themselves should address legitimate offenses, if and when they occur.

Remember that this entire furor started BEFORE there was any offense!

Should we be upset when, if and where we encounter or witness racism? Certainly, but protests and events of the past several years would have us believe that racism in 2015 is not limited to the few ignorant or entrenched bigots who still judge others based on color. No-the implication is that America is a nation of racists and our current institutions, both government and private, are perpetrating a clear and purposeful plan of discrimination and racial subjugation.

It’s not happening.

Ironically, I just visited the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site in Atlanta. I sat in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church and listened to a recording of one of Dr. King’s most moving sermons. As I viewed the artifacts of Dr. King’s life and the images of people being beaten, hosed and attacked by dogs, I couldn’t help but think about what Dr. King and the people who stood with him would think about today’s movement.

I couldn’t help but think that they would be sickened––that what’s going on today is an affront to the real dangers they faced and the sacrifices they made––which in Dr. King’s case was, of course, the ultimate sacrifice.

Blacks in the 1960s did face “institutional racism.” There were actual courts and law enforcement officials who beat and arrested people because of their color and determined that white murderers, rapists and thugs would not be prosecuted or convicted––if, of course, their victims were black.

There was actual discrimination and segregation––despite the fact that these practices had been outlawed by the federal government and jim-crow was the functional law-of-the-land in much of the country.

There was a great hesitancy to prosecute these offenses on the part of even the President and his Attorney General for fear that to do so would inflame the situation. These leaders who were slow to bring the hammer of justice down were none other than the now revered Kennedy brothers.

THAT was institutional racism.

Dr. King himself was not welcomed as a champion of human rights––not at first. He was investigated by the government as an agitator. Many of his own people cautioned him that the time was not right to bring the issue to a boil––that this would only hurt the black cause.

In his book Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. King recalls the visit of one of Africa’s newly established black heads-of-state who was “called upon by a delegation of prominent American Negroes. When they began reciting to him their long list of grievances, the visiting statesman had waved a weary hand and said:

“‘I am aware of current events. I know everything you are telling me about what the white man is doing to the Negro. Now tell me: What is the Negro doing for himself?’”

Am I blaming the victim for the alleged crime? Am I implying that Dr. King was doing the same?

Absolutely not. What I am saying is that Dr. King’s message was one of responsibility. I am also saying that what today’s students are protesting is completely out of scale.

Dr. King and many others fought and gave their lives, figuratively and literally to end institutional racism and discrimination. Dr. King acknowledged in his time that it was all too easy for white society, and white government in particular, to simply say, “We’ve passed the laws, our work is done.” It wasn’t––the laws were still not being enforced. Racism was still an institutionalized and systemic practice.

The clothes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wore when he knew he would be jailed at protests. Note the work boots.

The clothes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wore when he knew he would be jailed at protests. Note the work boots.

He adds, “When he seeks opportunity, he is told, in effect, to lift himself up by his own bootstraps, advice that does not take into account the fact that he is barefoot.”

Dr. King and his peers didn’t stop at stamping their bare feet in protest––they started making shoes.

There was much work to be done––there is much work to be done––but to imply or even insinuate that there is an intentional, purposeful effort to practice and promote “institutional racism” is simply wrong.

If you make this implication, Ms. Kohn, where is your proof?

This effort would require a monumental and secretive plot the scope and scale of which even our most skilled intelligence operatives would be incapable of conducting.

I acknowledge completely that there is still work to do, but this work is societal rather than institutional. I respect the students who protest against racist behavior––but recognize exactly what you are protesting and as Dr. King and his colleagues did, study your adversary.

Are you fighting to educate the ignorant and cultivate greater understanding? To continue Dr. King’s work?

Or––are you tipping at institutional windmills? Are you fighting a phantom that exists more in your minds and hearts than in the offices of your college chancellory?

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“We need to put the American flag down.”

by Jim Bouchard

“We need to put the American flag down.”

Farrakahn BrietbartThat’s what Louis Farrakhan said this week.

He said this during a rally in response to the shootings in Charleston and the uproar over the display of the Confederate battle flag. As more and more people acknowledge that some symbols need to be retired out of respect to current sentiments, people like Farrakhan are using this moment to exploit ignorance and destroy the progress we’ve made as a society …

… which is exactly what the American flag represents.

That’s right––progress.

I don’t have a problem with removing the Confederate flag from public properties. Many believe it’s time we do.

That’s a fair point, but as the argument widens from the display of the Confederate battle flag, let’s get the facts in order.

First––you cannot extract slavery from the argument.

Confederate TroopsThose who defend the public display of the Confederate flag argue that it is a symbol of what they consider the “true” meaning and intent behind Southern secession.

Many in the South, particularly those who did not own slaves and those who opposed slavery, sincerely believed they were defending their native states against an act of Northern aggression. They believed they were defending their rights to conduct their business as sovereign and independent states.

Acknowledging that point of view, you must also acknowledge that the right they were most vigorously defending was specifically the right to own slaves and treat people as property––a right that was, at the time, codified in the Constitution.

Mississippi planter Richard Thompson Archer stated the case plainly in 1859. From CivilWarCauses.org:

“The South is invaded. It is time for all patriots to be united, to be under military organization, to be advancing to the conflict determined to live or die in defence of the God given right to own the African”

In a twist that sounds strange to most people today, the South was ironically pressing for national recognition of the protection of slavery as it was specified in the Constitution, arguably as a compromise during the founding period, while the Northern political sentiment was that slavery was a state issue, and that slavery could not be enforced on a federal level. That argument reached it’s climax during the debate over the enforcement of slavery in “free” states culminating in the infamous “Dred Scot” decision. In that case, the Supreme Court denied a black man’s right to citizenship and representation in court when he sued for his freedom after his owners moved to Wisconsin, which was then a territory where slavery was illegal.

No, you can’t just say that the Confederate flag is strictly a symbol of Southern pride.

Dylann RoofTo too many people, it’s also a symbol of the denial of basic human rights, oppression, violence and unspeakable cruelty.

Even if you allow some latitude in the defense of that flag as a historic symbol, you cannot deny that it became a symbol of bigotry, violence and crime as it was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan and later as an icon of the Neo-Nazi and white supremacy movements.

No matter what the original intent, which was to represent the Army of Northern Virginia, you cannot separate the flag from the racism, violence and murder perpetrated by these organizations and condoned by their supporters.

Back to Farrakhan …

… and he’s not alone. This week CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield proposed that maybe it’s time to talk about taking down the Jefferson Memorial. After all, she opined, he was a slave owner.

This leads to my second important point––you’ve got to debate this issue in context.

Jefferson lived in a time when slavery was a societal institution, right or wrong. He was raised with the belief that is was not only proper to own slaves, it was his obligation to his family and their business. Many in his time justified slavery under deeply held religious convictions.

Revolutionary leaders were deeply conflicted over this question. Jefferson was deeply conflicted in his own mind and heart. As he struggled with the issue, he wrote:

“The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”

Like many leaders of the founding generation, Jefferson could not reconcile his own conduct with the ideology he and others risked their lives to establish. How could he be arguably the iconic voice of freedom, yet at the same time deny freedom to other human beings?

The question sounds ridiculous to our ears. Not so during the establishment of the United States.

The point is that Jefferson was defined by his commitment to freedom, not by his slave ownership, however reprehensible and hypocritical that seems from our vantage point today. In several documents, including his drafts of Constitution of the State of Virginia, Jefferson was obviously moving toward a reconciliation of his beliefs. In these drafts, which became the framework for the Declaration of Independence, he wrote:

“No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever.”

This was still a long way from abolition and you can certainly make the argument that he was moving too slowly––but he and many others of his generation were indeed moving.

Was Jefferson a symbol of bigotry and racism? Or, does he remain a symbol of freedom––even if we acknowledge his flaws in the context of the radical changes and progress he inspired?

Jefferson and his generation left important work undone, but the flag they created to represent their new nation which evolved into the flag we fly today represents, as much as anything, the enormous ideological, cultural and societal changes these men set in motion.

It’s difficult to argue against the case that we’ve still got work to do––but it’s ignorant, divisive and destructive to deny the progress we’ve made.

To do so dishonors and deprecates everyone, including many of us, and many of our ancestors, who worked so hard to treat all human beings with equal respect and dignity and sacrificed so much to transform our ideals into reality.

Farrakhan didn’t stop with the flag …

“White folks march with you because they don’t want you upsetting the city––they don’t give a damn about them nine.”

Mr. Farrakhan, with all due respect––screw you.

America has many faults. As Americans, we still have work to do.

The point is––we do it.

Our flag has flown over some shameful times. It has flown over actions, decisions and events we now regret.

However, unlike any flag before it, our flag represents our commitment as a people to right our wrongs and to create and evolve a society as citizens, not subjects. We don’t have to overthrow despots and tyrants any more. We change ourselves as people and as a society. We learn, grow and evolve––as people and as a society.

We commit our hearts and souls and risk our lives and treasure to promote these changes.

That’s what our flag represents.

You want to burn it?

With what flag, sir, would you replace it?

US Flag Civil War Era

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Chris Rock is a Racist: KNOCK IT OFF!

Chris Rock on white people:

“Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.”

After generations of progress, by all sides- Chris, this is the type of rhetoric that continues to damage race relations and causes many good people to get just plain angry.

Chris RockCommenting on a New Yorker article, Inquisitr.com shared some of Rock’s tirade against white Americans.

Notable-

“Chris Rock goes on to say that white people aren’t only responsible for their “actions,” but must take responsibility for those of their racist ancestors.”

Well Chris, like many white Americans, I’m sure I did have some racist ancestors, but most of my family were anything but.

As far as any inheritance being “unfair,” well…

My mother’s family were Polish immigrants. When they arrived in America during the Great Immigration, they were treated, to use your parlance, like niggers.

They were discriminated against in every way imaginable. My mother grew up in urban tenements. I remember her talking about the first time they had an apartment with running water- until then the water was carried up three flights of stairs from a common well shared by several buildings.

Most of my Polish ancestors changed their names upon arriving in America. If they had a “ski” or a “wicz” at the end of their names, they were turned away from decent homes, jobs and schools.

The man I knew as my grandfather was my mother’s stepdad- her birth father having died from a heart attack working in Connecticut sweatshops, no doubt because he inherited so much from his immigrant parents.

My grandfather did inherit some money- which was taken away by Russian communists before he left Poland after the War, where he had spent his last couple of years as a POW in a German concentration camp.

He was a genius of a man and a genuine chess champion- but his name and his poor English limited him to a job operating a furnace in the Stanley tool factory.

My father’s side descends from French-Canadian stock. Many of them came to America to escape persecution of Francophones common in Canada for generations. Anglo-speaking Canadians in fact passed laws to convert French speakers and eradicate their culture.

My distant cousin, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was a famous hockey player- who also found himself, somewhat by circumstance, as the symbolic leader of a civil rights movement in Canada to fight for equal pay, opportunity and treatment for French speaking citizens.

Some branches of my French family arrived before the Civil War. I’ve traced several to service in several Maine regiments during the Civil War, where they fought, as far as they were concerned, to end slavery and free America blacks.

Most of my French family settled in Northern Maine where they worked largely as potato farmers, many of them tenant farmers. As the potato business dwindled in Maine, many of these ancestors, whose inheritances were not what Mr. Rock would imagine, left to work the factories of Massachusetts and Connecticut. My father- obviously having squandered the riches of his inheritance, was part of that migration. That’s how he ended up in Connecticut and how he met my mother.

So-

My parents were the decedents of people who struggled for generations to overcome prejudice and discrimination. They started their life together with absolutely no money- their ancestors having struggled for generations to simply survive.

Mr. Rock…

What great inheritance are you speaking of?

What sins did my ancestors commit- especially those who gave their lives to end slavery?

Of course, that’s ancient history. Let’s talk more about my mother.

I wasn’t raised as a racist. My mother taught us that you judge people by their actions and character, not by their color, nationality or religious beliefs. She taught us that we were solely responsible for our own destiny and that the past, however terrible, was just that…

…past.

From this past my first real job was working in my father’s construction company- a business he built out of 18 hour days where weekends were largely for the weak. After that I worked as a pipe fitter in a shipyard building nuclear submarines.

Yes- jobs reserved for the privileged. I’ve worked hard for every dollar I’ve ever had and for most of my life I’ve had precious few above and beyond the bare necessities. Still- I’ve had a nice life so far and it’s getting better every day.

Mr. Rock, I am not a wealthy entertainer, but I do not begrudge you a nickel of your money. Frankly, most of the time I think you’re hilarious- even when you’re making white people the target of your humor. I’m a true believer in the free market and if the market says your work is worth millions- so be it.

I don’t know your past; maybe you did work menial jobs like I did and like my ancestors did. I do know that now you enjoy a life of privilege most of us can only imagine. 

I do, however, resent your characterization of me and my ancestors. You dishonor the abolitionists, the civil rights activists and warriors who sacrificed to assure fair human treatment for everyone, regardless of race. You show flagrant disrespect for those of us who have stood up for friends and strangers when they were mistreated or abused because of their color- and those of us who continue to do so.

And as far as our generation paying for the sins of the past- that sir, is outrageous on the face of it.

I do not know first hand the challenges of growing up as a black man in America. I did have friends who experienced the race riots of the 1960s. I do remember when there was still Jim Crow and overt, legal discrimination. I remember the integrations of schools and the busing riots. I have friends that did suffer under those conditions. I even have friends who had crosses burned on their front yards.

I am just a few years older than you are- you may have missed some of this action.

My generation and generations of white Americans before fought, many died and many more sacrificed and risked their lives and livelihoods to eradicate institutional racism and end discrimination. Many of us continue that fight…

…but frankly, many of us are sick of hearing that we’re still part of the problem.

So as to your assertions that all white people are racist, that all white people are responsible for the lingering effects of slavery and institutionalized discrimination- that all white people are still accountable for the difficult conditions still experienced by some black people, conditions you seem to have transcended…

We’ve paid the price, and many of our ancestors paid the bill before us…paid in full.

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Racist America – Fact or Friction?

michael brownDarren Wilson may not have been indicted last week, but once again America is indicted- for being racist.

Is America racist?

Was the shooting of Michael Brown an example of a systemic bigotry what we simply cannot overcome?

No- and no…

I won’t debate the facts of the Michael Brown case specifically. If you’re like most Americans, your mind is made up. If you’re the average person, it’s also likely that you have not read any of the grand jury disclosures, and unless you have, we’d only be arguing intractable emotions and feelings rather than facts.

I will first question the motives of an individual, Officer Darren Wilson…

To presume that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown because he was black is to assume that he would not have shot a white man under the same conditions.

After extensive grand jury investigation and countless hours of media scrutiny, there is not one shred of fact or even innuendo to suggest that Wilson, as some allege, was a bigot. Nor is there one scrap of evidence that indicates, as some shouted after the incident, that Wilson “just wanted to shoot a black man,” or anyone else for that matter.

What we have here is not institutional racism, it’s a systemic failure of leadership…

I work with kids like Michael Brown as a volunteer in my state’s juvenile detention program. Not the 12 year old Michael Brown whose picture dominates the media, but rather the 18 year Michael Brown who attacked a police officer after committing a petty theft at a convenience store.

And yes, his background is relevant.

Young people black and white embrace the thug culture, especially in impoverished areas where they feel victimized and hopeless. They gain more credibility with peers by defying authority than by respecting authority.

I witness this defiance of authority on a regular basis. Do these kids have a reason for their attitude? Of course they do- they were taught to behave this way.

Leadership starts at home…

Nearly any leader who even suggests that these issues might be resolved by first focusing on the family is immediately painted as naive, or very often as a traitor to the African-American cause.

Anyone who suggests that the disproportionate percentage of single mothers, absent fathers, drug abuse and domestic abuse in these communities may be a more important cause of higher crime and arrest than race is vilified and tagged as racist.

People rightfully cite data that indicates a serious problem; blacks are arrested in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the general population…

…but is this indicative of racism?

Not long ago you could make this argument.

In a case that has shamefully been associated with the Michael Brown incident, a young black man named Emmett Till was kidnapped, then brutally tortured and murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 for flirting with a white store clerk.

In a sham trial an all white jury acquitted his murderers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, of all charges.

Racism? Of the worst kind…

The Tills case ignited the furor for justice and civil rights all over America. We fought for years to eradicate institutional racism from our society- and we did it.

Separate but equal…Racist?

Yes…and made illegal.

Discrimination in housing and employment…Racist?

Yes…and made illegal.

Voting restrictions…Racist?

Yes…and made illegal.

Arresting people based solely on their race…Racist?

Yes…and MADE ILLEGAL!

My mother taught me to judge a person by his character, not his color. Inspired by Martin Luther King and other leaders, an entire generation picked up this banner and made sure that from those times forward, not only would institutional racism be eradicated, but that individual racism would be openly condemned and opposed.

You cannot legislate away bigotry, but you can make it illegal to discriminate based on racial prejudice…

…and we have.

Leaders who continue to beat the drum of inherent racism are ignoring another significant data set. Ferguson, like many of the communities experiencing continued issues involving race, are populated by a black majority.

In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, many Ferguson residents expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the lack of black police officers on their police force. Others condemned their largely white representation in city government.

Ferguson is 65% black!

People have a right to be upset, but what should they be doing about it?

Just a few days ago I listened to an interview with a young man from St. Louis- I did not catch his name. He identified himself as a documentary filmmaker.

He talked about the lack of black representation in the Ferguson PD and in city hall. The reporter then asked why there was such a low voter turnout among blacks in Ferguson.

He answered that black voters felt disenfranchised, largely because white politicians largely ran unopposed. African-American voters simply felt- what’s the use? He said there are simply no good choices!

This young man was obviously intelligent, articulate and charismatic.

No choices? All I could think of was…

…Why aren’t YOU running for office?

If this were 1955, it would still be true that blacks would be prohibited from holding office in some communities. I have friends that still remember when they couldn’t use the same restrooms as whites!

It might also be true in 1955 that even if a community had a black majority of voters, those people would likely be intimidated into voting with the white minority or simply turned away at the polls without recourse.

This is not 1955. If a black person would run for office in Ferguson today, it might be impossible for a white candidate to win- unless of course, race were not an issue.

If meaningful leadership would emerge from the black community in Ferguson, it seems likely that the entire city government could be populated with black officials. They could then hire a black chief of police and fill the rest of the department with African-American officers…

…if, of course, race, or more specifically racism, were the only issue.

And as for white officials and leaders, stop thinking that you can solve all the problems in black communities!

This is not because you’re inherently racist, but simply because of the fact that while racism is not the problem, the racial composition of a community is still an important consideration.

One disturbing factoid making the rounds to support the idea that we’re still inherently racist is a study showing that within 3 months, most human babies demonstrate a preference for other human beings of a similar color.

Of course they do. It’s natural. Not too many generations ago- this was simply part of our survival mechanism.

Human beings are inherently tribal, this is not new information. We tend to trust and bind ourselves more strongly to people who look like us, speak the same language and as we develop, those who share the same fundamental cultural beliefs.

That does not mean we’re racist- it means we’re human.

This trick of evolution does not give you license to treat people badly because they don’t look exactly like you. It does not mean it’s right to discriminate against people who speak differently or act differently or believe differently.

Malcolm X once said;

“We are not anti-white. But we don’t have time for the white man. The white man is on top already, the white man is the boss already… he has first-class citizenship already. So you are wasting your time talking to the white man. We are working on our own people.”

Malcolm X was vilified by white people in his time, largely because of his militant tactics. In pre-civil rights America, was peaceful demonstration working? Was he not simply employing the same tactics to assert rights for blacks that the founders used in fighting Great Britain for theirs?

But we live in post civil-rights America…

Black communities need black leaders, not because they’re black, but because we need leaders who live and work in those communities- leaders who know the community and the authentic concerns of the people.

White leaders should not impose solutions, but rather support solutions brought forth from those communities wherever and whenever viable leaders rise to the task. If you are white and want to make a difference in a black community- then move into that community, earn the respect of the people and work from there.

Continued attempts to impose solutions from outside the community simply reinforce the same mistakes made, however well-intended, throughout the 1960s. As black leaders stepped up and organized their communities, they were largely discredited and ignored. Funding and support went instead to white activists and organizations working in black communities. Is it any wonder that some black leaders responded with militant activism and others became the leaders of gangs rather than than mayors and city councilmen?

We will never resolve black-white differences as long as we fail to respect those differences. Nor will we resolve those differences unless we are willing to fully acknowledge our sameness…

…our sameness as human beings.

We solve problems together only when we acknowledge our commonality and respect our differences.

Do we still have a race issue in America? Obviously.

Do we still have racism in America? Of course we do- and always will.

Is this racism promoted, accepted or tolerated?

No…

…not because there is no bigotry, but rather because there we no longer allow racism to infect our institutions and when it does, we do not hesitate to destroy the infection.

Ultimately, the important question is no longer whether there is systemic racism in America at large. There is not.

The important question is-

Are you a racist?

I am not.

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” ~Malcolm X

This is leadership…

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