Black Agenda Report, March 8, 2016
Listening to white Americans talk about race and Black people makes my brain hurt. How many times have I heard U.S. Caucasians recoil against the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” proclaiming with eye-rolling exasperation that “all lives matter”? But who in the Hell said that white and-or Asian and/Latino and/or Arab and/or Native American lives don’t matter? Nobody. Of course all lives matter. What kind of moral idiot would proclaim otherwise?
When Black men in Memphis and other Southern cities in the 1960s marched as part of the Civil Rights Movement with signs saying “I am a Man,” did they thereby proclaim that white men weren’t men? Of course they didn’t.
When you raise your female child to understand that she is a worthy and valuable person, does that mean you teach her to believe that a male child isn’t? Of course not.
The problem is that, with perhaps the exception of the nation’s small remaining population of Native Americans, the lives of no racial or ethnic group seem to matter less to America’s soulless capitalist and imperial system than do those of Black Americans. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” emerged in response to the endemic police shooting of young Black adults, young Black men especially, who are gunned down by mostly white law enforcement officers with shocking regularity in the U.S. – once every 28 hours on average.
Do lower and working class whites ever get shot down by the police? Do they ever get incarcerated and criminally marked? Of course they do, but the likelihood of Americans in other groups – especially whites – getting shot, imprisoned, executed, frisked, traffic-stopped, home-invaded, ripped off, beaten and harassed by police, and felony branded is much, much slighter than it is when it comes to the Black minority.
The statistics of racial disparity in poverty, disease, mortality, wealth, joblessness, incarceration, felony marking, education, execution, and more are stark. Nobody is more savagely concentrated in highly segregated high-poverty, no-job ghettoes, in under-funded and inferior schools, and in mass jails and prisons than are Black Americans. It’s not even close.
I’m not going to repeat all the numbers here. I’ve done that countless times before and it hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference. Anyone who actually cares enough to look them up can do so quite easily and they are invited to include my name in their Google searches. I’ve published volumes about it.
And besides, the main problem with the dominant white mindset isn’t denial of the disparities but denial rather of the ubiquitous societal racism that causes them. “They brought it on themselves” is the standard viewpoint of majority white Amerikanners who tell me “Racism? What racism, dude? Hey, man, the President of the United States is Black!”
Well, leaving aside the epic bigotry that even Obama’s race-downplaying and “color-blind” presidency has elicited, it’s not really about the skin tone of the president or for that matter about the color of the U.S. Attorney General or the color of a CEO or a football coach. It’s about the relentlessly racialized day-to-day functioning of core social structures and institutions including the labor market, the workplace. the financial system, the real estate market, the educational system, the social welfare system, the electoral system, and the criminal justice system. And across these and other key societal spaces, study after study documents the persistence of an ongoing and often stark anti-Black racial bias, discrimination, and neglect. It all grinds on, Obama notwithstanding, atop a cold white refusal to acknowledge, much less pay reparations for the incalculable compound price to Black America of centuries of Black chattel Slavery and nearly a century of formal Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement in the South – this along with the de facto segregation in the 20th and 21st century urban North and racial-ethnic cleansing across the rural and small town North in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Google up the term “sundown towns”).
So damn what if the current corporate-imperial president is Black? Obama has had incredibly little to say about and against racism during his time in the “bully pulpit.” His “Black but not like Jesse” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” candidacy was predicated on calculated, post-racial distancing from any serious confrontation with American racism, deeply understood. He has in the White House continued his early and ugly habit of giving poor and working class Blacks (“cousin Pookie”) nasty neoliberal lectures on their own supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their presence at the bottom of the nation’s steep socioeconomic pyramids. Truth be told, Obama has been a calamity for the struggle for Black equality on numerous levels, including the cloaking power his presence in the White House has provided for persistent societal racism.
A white “all lives matter” e-mail correspondent asked me recently if I had seen the terrible recent data about rising white middle-aged working class mortality, increasing at a significantly higher rate than that of any other group in the nation? Yes, I have. It’s very disturbing and indicative of how millions upon millions of white blue- and grey-collar men have been turned into “surplus Americans” – people shorn of “productive [employable] engagement with society” – by global capitalism (the same system that brought us chattel slavery). But it’s important to keep some comparative perspective. Middle-aged blacks still have a much higher mortality rate than whites: 581 per 100,000, compared to 415 for whites.
When the research paper documenting the rising mortality of working class whites came out last year, Ronald Lee, a leading University of California demography researcher, spoke to the New York Times. “Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper,” Lee said. “It seems so sad.”
The “it” that caused the academic’s melancholy was the increase in white death due largely to substance abuse and suicide, not the persistently higher Black mortality. White lives matter more in U.S. culture.
There were no lectures from Obama or anyone else on white working and lower class folks’ personal and cultural responsibility for their increasingly deadly dire straits – this despite the fact that alcohol abuse and illegal drug use have been shown to play major roles in the rising white mortality.
It’s at this point that many whites I’ve interacted with on the race issue in the last two years like to play what they think is their ace in the hole. “If Blacks want to say that ‘Black Lives Matter,’ then why don’t they stop killing each other so much?” Then comes the rant about Black-on-Black crime and how many more young Blacks get fatally shot by other young Blacks than they do by white policemen.
The response here, for me at least, isn’t to deny the statistics on that. The numbers don’t lie (Spike Lee gives some of them at the beginning of his latest movie “ChIraq”). But it’s still all a bunch of racism-denying self-delusion to use Black on Black crime that way. The intra-Back violence takes places within a White-Imposed context of racially concentrated poverty, joblessness and hyper-segregation that White America simply refuses (with too few oddball exceptions like this writer) to acknowledge. Does anyone seriously think that gun- and drug-mad and militarism-backing white Americans wouldn’t be gunning each other down on an epic scale if they were the minority group piled up on top of itself in jobless, opportunity-free ghettoes, reservations, and prisons of hopelessness and despair, branded by the color of their skins and the ubiquitous lifelong stigma of criminal records? Trust me when I say that the resulting white-on-white gang-banging slaughter that would occur on a regular basis in the great Caucasian ghettoes and reservations would make current Black-on-Black (and Native American-on- Native American and Latino-on-Latino) violence look mild by comparison (and I’m not just talking about Italian wise-guys). For what it’s worth, Europeans whites have been known to shoot and carve each other up on a pretty grand scale in history, I might add. If you don’t believe me just Google up “Thirty Years War,” “Seven Years War,” “Napoleonic Wars,” “World War One” and “World War Two.”