Exploding the ‘post-racial’ America myth
25th August 2014 · 0 Comments
By Ashahed M. Muhammad
CHICAGO (Special to the NNPA from The Final Call) — The United States of America is not operating in a post-racial era and the frequently advertised colorblind society is a myth said Black psychologists, sociologists, faith leaders and activists gathering here August 5-8 for the National Summit on Race.
Under the current white supremacist structure, an egalitarian society governed by principles of equality could never exist said Dr. Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.
“It never existed. It will never exist. I believe in the permanency of racism,” said Dr. Winbush. “If you know that something evil is going to persist, what do you do about it? I’ve said and Dr. Derrick Bell and other scholars have said that you’ve got to keep hammering at it until it becomes weaker,” he added.
“America is at its weakest now. I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it is at its weakest, and I think we have to take advantage of that weakness with our strength — our historical strength,” Dr. Winbush offered.
The U.S. economic downturn resulted in wealth reduction for many Black families who already lagged behind in comparison to whites. The so-called “War on Drugs” and the emergence of “three-strikes” laws have resulted in mass incarceration of Blacks with several generations of some families incarcerated.
The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference’s 2013 report titled “Bearing Witness: A Nation In Chains” contains findings from nine statewide Justice Commission hearings on Mass Incarceration. Author Michelle Alexander, author of the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness wrote the foreword to the report and criticized America’s “habit of creating massive systems of racial and social control.”
“As long as people of color are viewed as largely disposable, with the only limiting principle being how much it costs to throw them away, caste-like systems will be a recurring feature of American life.” Ms. Alexander wrote.
The United States is the world’s leading jailer. Thirteen percent of the U.S. population is Black but nearly 50 percent of those incarcerated, Black youth, are nearly five times more likely to be confined as whites the same age. Blacks represent 42 percent of those on Death Row. Prisons are now being privatized as revenue generators. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) are all raking in millions from the prison industrial complex.
The unemployment rate among Blacks consistently doubles that of whites, so it comes as no surprise that 45 percent of those in state and federal prisons are serving time for drug violations. Voting rights are under attack in areas where Blacks are key.
The statistics don’t improve in any area, whether it is health, economics, education or safety. Donald Sterling’s publicized comments, and caricatures of President Obama as a monkey are prime examples showing that despite declarations of growing societal tolerance, when it comes to race, it is still America’s big problem.
America’s Race Problem
Ironically, it was whites who fled cities in order to avoid integrated schools and housing. Now, many of the areas where whites moved away en masse are now experiencing an influx of white entrepreneurs and corporations seeking to control the profit centers.
America does not want to deal with its ugly racial problems, and when the subject of race is raised, it is only approached from a position that allows whites — who have been the dominant purveyors of racial hatred — to remain comfortable. They aren’t made to confront their well-documented legacy of racial discrimination, vicious assault and murder.
“You can’t be post-racial before you are post-racist,” said 26-year-old Melech E.M. Thomas. “What they’re actually trying to do is erase their history and if you erase the history of what they actually have done to Black, Brown, Yellow and Red people in this country, then you erase their need to feel guilty,” he added.
Mr. Thomas, who is in his final year at Princeton Theological Seminary said America still has not implemented the principle of Atonement introduced by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in 1995 at the Million Man March.
“America has not atoned for slavery; it has not atoned for the Trail of Tears; it has not atoned for lynching; it has not atoned for the projects; it has not atoned for the forced starvation of impoverished people, so until there is an atonement—which I think Minister Farrakhan has sought after for so long—there can be no justice and that’s why I can never believe in a post-racial America,” Mr. Thomas added.
Dr. Winbush said white supremacy “co-opts language” when using terms in media, academia and government like “post-racial society”, “colorblind society” and often, Black people begin using and popularizing the terms. This must end. He chided Blacks referring to themselves as “minorities” and encourages his students to challenge that type of language whenever they hear it.
“The world’s most powerful minority are white people, but they don’t want to be called that,” he said.
The “God complex” of white people must be challenged at every opportunity, and Black people, the historical victims of racism, should see themselves as “survivors of racism” instead of trying to act as if racism does not exist in American society.
“People will say they are a victim of a flood, or a victim of a tornado or an earthquake, but when we say we’re victims of racism, that’s a little different,” said Dr. Winbush. “They’ll say the victims of a disaster have said they are going to get together and rebuild and that doesn’t show any type of powerlessness. I think that being a victim should never be equated with being helpless,” he added.
Confronting the Issues
Dr. Iva Carruthers, secretary general of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference said despite the political, educational and financial success that many Blacks have achieved, the masses of Black people are face to face with the reality of genocide in the cities of America.
The well-known financial troubles in Detroit, gentrification efforts activated in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, dozens of school closings in Chicago, the militarization of police forces nationwide, and a consistently growing list of Black men and women who have been victims of extrajudicial executions under suspicious circumstances, were cited as crisis level issues requiring well thought out strategies and immediate action.
“We have to begin to connect the dots to what is happening in our local communities block by block and what is happening in the states and in this nation that justifies our case as a global case before the international courts,” said Dr. Carruthers.
Certain events in Black America’s history were cited throughout the summit as pivotal moments that forced the entire country to look at the race problem. Emmett Till’s 1955 murder and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley’s decision to have an open casket viewing was seen as a critical moment in the struggle. The 1965 death of Malcolm X, and the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were noted as was the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.’s historic 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. The 1993 Rodney King beating, trial and subsequent rebellions following the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers, the 1994 O.J. Simpson Trial, and the 1995 Million Man March were events in which Blacks and whites held widely divergent views and opinions. Hurricane Katrina’s handling by then-president George W. Bush in 2005 and the aftermath, Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first Black president in 2008, and Trayvon Martin’s 2012 death and his killer, George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal, when viewed through a racial lens, revealed stark differences between Black and white perceptions of reality.
Dr. Carruthers said many of those events within the last fifty years have transformed the racial landscape and nature of the racial struggle itself, however, one of the major issues with the election of America’s first Black president and the elevation of many Blacks to political positions is one many are hesitant to confront.
“The sad thing is that part of the narrative we now must clearly confront is the question I keep asking which is: What happens when the new master looks like us? It is not enough for us to think in terms of Black skin and white skin. That is critical, but it is not sufficient,” she said.
Using the example of the “Chicago trinity,” a term she uses when referring to Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and Michael Jordan, Dr. Carruthers said no amount of material success can negate the real life experiences of a suffering people.
“That is the trinity they elevate to us to make it appear as though we live in a colorblind society,” said Dr. Carruthers. “We know the disproportionality in which the racism, the venom, the demonization and the dehumanization is sent against us—we know that it exists,” she added.
Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, a co-convener of the Race Summit created the documentary film “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till” and his research helped lead to the reopening of the case by the U.S. Department of Justice in May 2004. He said America’s racial issues are the same now as they were in 1955 and ignores talk about this being a “post-racial society.”
“It is an illusion that we must stop saying to ourselves, and correct those who are saying it because problems that existed back in the ‘50s and ‘60s throughout that movement still exist today. Things haven’t changed—racism is alive and well,” Mr. Beauchamp added.
Praxis Groups and Actualization
The summit was limited to 300 people in order to ensure that working groups would be functional. The emphasis was on consultation, documentation, declaration and actualization while using the Praxis Model of discussion emphasizing the communal nature of Black people, and providing room for creative expression and idea sharing. Praxis is a term used in social sciences and theology merging “practice” and “action.” Some of the Praxis Groups were:
• Incarceration, Systems and Racial Control
• Family and Community Destabilization
• Impoverishment, Class and Caste
• Health, Wellness and Bioethics
• Religious Narratives and Racial Control
• Law and Public Policy
• Journalism, Iconography and New Media/Technologies
• Global & Market Economies and Racial Control
• Land, Ecology and Racial Control
• Arts and Cultural Production as Racialized Space
It was determined that corporations have become more powerful than the economies of some nations. Housing employment, redlining and food deserts are problems that need to be dealt with immediately by focusing on communal ownership and pooling of resources. Additionally, Black disaster preparedness, and urban agriculture must be emphasized.
“Preparedness is a state of mind, not a kit to be used as a reaction after something has happened,” said the Rev. Marjani Dele, a spokesperson for the Land, Ecology and Racial Control group.
In the Law and Public Policy praxis group, the implementation of community based policing was discussed. A shift in thinking as it relates to police was also recommended. It was pointed out that a police presence does not necessarily mean justice is present; the police presence simply means someone has been victimized. Restorative justice and alternative sentencing options were also explored.
In the Education Systems and Resisting Racial Control praxis group, it was determined that institutional racism is at the root of educational injustice for Black children under assault by “weapons of mass mis-education.”
In the Youth Project praxis group, teenagers and college students with various interests and experiences gathered to articulate their issues while at the same time, creating actionable solutions. The youth expressed the desire for more positive and accessible mentors and academic tutors.
One of the young people thoroughly involved in the summit was Christian Medley who began his freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, August 20.
“The reason I’m here is because I had positive mentors,” said Mr. Medley. “Because of that, I feel like it is my obligation to do the same for others,” he added.
He commended the organizers for truly bringing the voices of the youth to the table.
“Actually for the first time in my life, at this summit, I felt like my ideas were heard. That was a great feeling and I actually felt empowered by that. They were included in the presentation. It definitely meant a lot and I want others to experience the same thing,” he added.
This article originally published in the August 25, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.