It seems we are having a moment in America. Let me correct that it seems we are having a Moment with a capital M in America. What the activists and commentators on social media are doing is raising awareness to the level that traditional media has been forced to respond and in some cases alter the narrative that reinforces white supremacy in the majority of these cases.
But sometimes we need more than the immediate reaction to current events. Before we can start to think of solutions to our current standing in society we must accurately diagnose the problem. Michelle Alexander has done a pretty good job articulating one of the more pressing issues in her book The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration In the Age Of Colorblindness .
In this book she advances the premise that the disastrous war on drugs and the “tough on crime” mentality in the national consciousness since at least the 1980’s is actually a root cause of the problems plaguing the black community in America and not a result of a pre-existing affinity for crime among the urban poor as the common media narrative would have you believe. It’s empowering to finally have someone exhaustively examine this topic. When discussing the idea that blackness has inherent criminality in the view of society you rarely find someone who can succinctly articulate the valid points that support your reasoning.
But when confronted with statistics and some general facts about our current state of mass incarceration one with a firm grasp on reality would be hard pressed to deny the inequity that exists in our judicial system. Explored in depth in this book is the execution of the drug war itself. Although drugs are used at almost identical rates by white and black youths the drug war has almost exclusively been waged in neighborhoods of color. The prison population that hovers at nearly 50% black despite the fact that we never make up more than 14% of the US population should be a clue that some sort of unnatural selection is being made. And although the media makes a big deal about the arrest and prosecution of violent criminals the majority of African-Americans branded felons by the state have been convicted of non violent drug offenses and are subject to harsh mandatory sentences that even some prosecutors and judges fear are too harsh.
Also explored is the stigma attached to someone labeled a felon in this country. If you are an African-American convicted of a felony your role as a functioning member of society is essentially over. The harsh truth is that another system of control has been constructed in America. Slavery and Jim Crow existed to exploit and expand inequity. Mass Incarceration is nothing short of genocide. A society actively working to weaken an entire population without implicitly invoking race so that it can sleep at night believing that it somehow has realized Martin Luther King’s dream. But for most of us reducing MLK to platitudes about colorblindness isn’t a solution it’s actually part of the problem. Read this book for the rest of the diagnosis.
If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election.
Last week we learned that a company called Cambridge Analytica used some dubious methods to collect and sell data from Facebook for profit. Most of the reporting on this story has been about the unethical way in which this data was collected and exploited. But what troubles me more personally is what the data suggested. America’s failure to grapple with the legacy of race has metastasized into a terminal cancer that has the potential to kill us all. It was so easy to stir the seeds of racial resentment among not only the least educated whites but among large swaths across every single segmentation to the point where a plurality of white voters are ensnared in the delusion. And thus begat Trump.
If The United States Of America were a nation of robust empathy and moral temerity then no amount of racist agitprop would have had any noticeable effect on our election. However we are extremely weak in that area. America’s obsession with race is surpassed only with its need to appear to not be racist. Even as study after study after study empirically confirms what all people of color know in their hearts to be true: that American racism is a malevolent force making our nation weaker. You will read a lot in the press about “racial resentment” but let’s be clear here what they mean is out and out racism. And the levers of power and privilege are such that in this case the moral crime must be reported timidly as to not offend the perpetrators. Because they represent a sizable portion of the audience.
It’s incredible how racism works in our society. Racism isn’t just about attitudes and actions, it’s about language, it’s about power, and it’s about the lens through which interpret all of the above. The 2016 serves a serious case study in which all the ways racism has made our country vulnerable. All throughout the election you heard about the travails of the “white working class”. The media never interrogated our society to ask what the most important part of that phrase was. What is so remarkable about white people that they need their own special subset of the working class? Why would their interests be any different than that of the Latino working class or the African-American working class? The answer to those questions which the media never got around to asking are simple. The culture of whiteness has been shaped to view the economic upliftment of non white people as being at the expense of white people. The forces of tribalism, nationalism and racism have conspired to create a toxic, entitled, and embittered population. This is so clear that when turned into a statistical model Cambridge Analytica, Russia, and the Republican Party are able to deftly exploit it. They don’t need to know anything about Trump other than that his rise upsets Blacks and Latinos that’s not a bug, that’s a feature.
The same Republican Party that touted family values in the wake of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct in the White House have largely acquiesced control of their party to a man who bragged about sexual assault and had multiple affairs throughout his 3 marriages. Racism is a cancer and Trump is a tumor. He has weakened our resolve. He has exploited the divides in our country and he is governing a nation for the 1 percent while exploiting the unique ignorance of his supporters.
If Americans stopped being racist we would be safer as a country. Sure both political parties might still be in the thrall of special interests and corporate lobbyists. But those lobbyist themselves would be demanding policies that actually helped us economically. A sensible immigration policy not based on xenophobia and fear mongering but on the net economic benefit of immigration would be a start. A school reform policy that saw black and brown and even poor white children as the raw material for a new tech based economy. (Teach these kids how to code) would be next. A new GI bill that served to rectify the inherent injustice of the WWII era where white veterans came home to create the middle class and while black veterans were deposited in slums and ghettos. Imagine a non racist America where these ideas were feasible based on face value alone.
Knowing that the resentment and hatred of minorities is a prevalent force in our politics is only half the battle. The other half is to find and support candidates who will openly acknowledge and address this. As such for me any candidate mentioning specifically the “white working class” will get an automatic side eye from me. There you again making exceptions and pleas for the hateful to drop their psychological bags and join the rest of us. I need a candidate to learn from the failures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. You can’t work with people who hate you. You have to work around them. We must stand fast in what we believe in even as the opposition wavers.
In a way we are lucky it is Donald Trump and not someone with more class, dignity and sophistication. Someone with the charm of Ronald Reagan, the false piety of George W. Bush or the sheer sinister maneuverability of Richard Nixon might do more serious permanent damage to our world. No Trump is the accidental president. Someone who probably didn’t even want the office but most likely has been blackmailed by a foreign government into taking it. He’s a rich con artist, a vain fool, a sexual abuser and an unrepentant racist. And he’s sitting at the highest seat in the land. Every second he sits in that chair he exposes the lie that his supporters care about anything or anyone but themselves. I’ll sign off by repeating one of my everlasting truths: to the greedy, the ignorant and the hateful Trump is all of you.