Fear and Hate: Seeds of Violence and Murder (December 16, 2015)
(Also posted OpEdNews.com, December, 2015;
SocialJusticeSolutions.org, January, 2016)
“The people are the sea that the revolutionary swims in.”
Mao Zedong, 1937
“… and the terrorist.”
Jack Carney, 2015
Part I – Little Has Changed:
“It’s the guns,” a friend of mine posted on Facebook the day after the San Bernardino shootings.
Yes, I agree it’s the guns, particularly the assault rifles.
Yes, they should be registered, as New York’s SAFE Law – Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act – has made mandatory for State residents. SAFE was passed in January, 2013, in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings, at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Several of its provisions were and remain controversial, although the law has passed constitutional muster in the courts. Those same provisions, particularly assault rifles’ renewable five year registration period and the ten-round limit placed on the size of their magazines, appear, at least to me, unenforceable. No data on the impact of SAFE on gun safety and the reduction of gun-related deaths have yet been released. Interestingly, the California State legislature intends to follow suit, having voted to place a referendum, entitled “Safety For All,” on the 2016 ballot. The California initiative will require background checks for the purchase of assault rifle bullets and will limit the size of assault rifle magazines.
But, down deep, I believe it’s fear, an elemental fear that appears to be gripping most Americans, particularly white Americans, of “the other”, i.e., anyone or any group that threatens their privileged status and self-identity as members of the political and social majority, that threatens to displace them. Historically, that status and self-identity have been built on the backs of the marginalized and the scapegoated, whose numbers have expanded over the recent years. Move over black Americans, Native Americans and those labeled mentally ill. Make room for all Muslims, Syrian refugees and any immigrants. And let’s not forget the poor, black and white, folks beyond the pale, who lose their social welfare benefits because they’ve become invisible and can’t recall that they’re U.S. citizens and can vote to protect their self-interests. And folks who never expected to lose their special status at their age, middle aged white Americans, who’ve lost their jobs and their self- identity, who’ve become superfluous, and drink or drug themselves to death or find some other means, like a gun, to kill themselves.
These are times of dramatic change, perhaps revolutionary change, with the predominate political and societal status of white Americans perhaps becoming no more than an artifact, resting on shaky ground. To put this in a larger context and draw some lessons from the not so distant past, Richard Hofstadter, in his classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1964), depicted “fear of the other” as a permanent fixture in American life and politics. He also provided an historical overview of what he termed the “politics of paranoia,” dating from the dawn of the Republic and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 through the founding of the John Birch Society in 1958, so that “armed with [that] history, readers might be better prepared to see through the fanaticism and dogmatists of the past and the present – and perhaps, of the future” (Forward to the Vintage Edition, Sean Wilentz, 2008). The common historical thread, he noted, was fear of displacement by and loss of status to new, non-Anglo Saxon Americans.
In the second chapter of The Paranoid Style … , entitled, “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt,” first written in 1954, Hofstadter focused on Joe McCarthy and his adherents, and characterized McCarthyism “and similar forms of right-wing recklessness” as expressing “a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways… They wished to destroy far more than they did to conserve … [Hence,] pseudo-conservatives had become subversives in the name of crushing subversion.”
Hofstadter proceeded in the book’s fourth chapter, “Goldwater and Pseudo- Conservative Politics,” to analyze the far-right’s (or the pseudo-conservatives’) first moves to gain control of the Republican Party, in the 1964 Presidential election, and its success in securing the Presidential nomination for Barry Goldwater. Referring to Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, Hofstadter expressed grudging and perhaps alarmed admiration for the “zeal and gift for organization” of the right-wingers who comprised the campaign’s backbone, concluding that it left them in a position “to make themselves effective far out of proportion to their numbers.” Wilentz reports that C. Van Woodward, another distinguished American historian, presciently remarked to Hofstadter that the young right-wingers represented “ a formidable and apparently permanent force in American politics.”
To which I’ll add — always conspiratorial, now thoroughly paranoid, their hatred of the post-New Deal American way has transmuted into unceasing hatred of the Federal Government.
Since 9/11, fear of the other has heightened, begetting paranoia, hatred, violence and more fear. Gun sales spike after every mass murder as Americans’ fear accelerates. The Washington Post has estimated that the number of guns in the hands of Americans in 2013– 357 million – outnumbers the country’s population of 317 million persons.
That fear is currently being exploited by the putative Republican candidates for president, particularly by Donald Trump (nee Goebbels), and his largely silent partner, Ted Cruz (whose sour demeanor and threatening pronouncements remind me of Joe McCarthy). At the very outset of his campaign, Trump called for the deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented persons in the country, most of whom are Latinos. More recently, a day after the San Bernardino shootings, he recommended as a safety measure the development of a registry for Muslim Americans; followed, on December 9, by calling for banning all Muslims from entering the country, to great acclaim from the country’s far right media pundits and an increasingly large bloc of frightened white voters.
The Republican Party leadership recoiled in mock horror – many were saying or intimating the same xenophobia – and then leveled broadsides at Trump, as did the Democrats, for threatening national security. My own cynicism – how could one not be cynical after watching the one percenters’ politician surrogates in action for the past 15 years? – tells me they were furious with him for letting the cat out of the bag. Their leaders’ protestations to the contrary, the Republican Party’s mission, since the passage of the mid-60’s civil rights laws and the public opposition to those laws by its Presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater, has been to sustain and support white supremacism and maintain white Americans’ and its own political predominance for the foreseeable future. Being surpassed in population numerically by America’s creoles does not necessarily mean ceding political power to America’s peoples of color. They’ve learned well from the Southern experience after Reconstruction failed in the 1870’s: Southern whites, relying on fear and terror, succeeded in passing the Jim Crow laws that left Southern blacks disenfranchised and disempowered for the next hundred years and more, despite their numerical superiority to Southern whites by the end of the 19th century. We can expect the same from the Party that, irony of ironies, failed to impose its political will on the South after the Civil War and has now taken a page from the South’s political playbook to maintain its own power.
I grew up during the era that Hofstadter describes. I understood little about the political machinations, but I knew about fear. Fear of the Commies and particularly fear of the bomb. (Some kids grew so anxious about nuclear radiation and incineration that they developed what mental health professionals called atomic bomb disease.) I didn’t make the fear-gun connection until I saw Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (2003). Moore notes the ubiquity of guns in both the U.S. and Canada, and he also notes the discrepancy in the death rates by gun in each country – 3.55 persons per 100,000 in the U.S. vs. 0.49 persons per 100,000 in Canada (data for 2013, Institute for Health Metrics, U. of Washington). He concludes that Americans live in perpetual fear.
I’d say that that’s the cultural sea we Americans swim in. When you add to the mix the demonization of black men; illicit drugs and prescription drugs, particularly the psychoactives and the opioids, swamping the country; guns for all to be used to protect Americans from the demonized black men and the rampage killers and now the ISIL terrorists, that’s a toxic brew. It keeps Americans gripped in fear and hatred of the other, unable to address America’s fundamental burdens of race and white supremacy. Together with the instant communication afforded by the internet, they lower the threshold for violence and afford what Granovetter terms the “strength of loose ties.” (For a review of Granovetter’s “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior”(1978) and “The Strength of Weak Ties” (1973), c.f. my previous post on MIA, “Identifying the Next School Shooter Before He Shoots: Needle In a Haystack,” Nov., 2015.)
I posted my first article about fear on Mad In America, in April, 2013, entitled “The Culture of Fear and the Lost Art of Organizing for Social Change.” To quote from its second paragraph …
“… in the aftermath of Newtown , a colleague posted a provocative article on the ISEPP list serve that had originally been published in The Washington Post, “White Men Have Much To Discuss About Mass Shootings”. The authors’ contention is that American white men have apparently overlooked the fact that most mass murders in the U.S. are carried out by other white men. Rather than searching for causes in the persons of crazy people or, after Boston, in immigrants and Muslims, white men need to examine their own culture, their own beliefs, and how these might be contributing to the mayhem.”
Little appears to have changed.
I also reference in that article noted historian Ira Katznelson’s Fear Itself (2013), who, similarly to Hofstadter, lists the nodal points in the progression of the spread of fear in the country. He begins with the Depression when Americans feared for their own survival as well as that of their government as a democracy; and proceeds through the McCarthyite witch hunts after World War II to the end of the Cold War, 1989-91, when the Berlin Wall was taken down (November, 1989) and the Soviet Union was formally dissolved (December, 1991). It seemed then that we had no mortal enemies and might at long last enjoy the “peace dividend” that the Cold War’s end promised. But tell that to the families of the hundreds of unarmed black men killed by U.S. police officers since 1990 (extrapolated from a study conducted by The Guardian [published May 25, 2015], which shows black men being killed at twice the rate of any other U.S. ethnic group – 6.34 per million persons – with two-thirds of those men killed while unarmed). And tell that to the families of the hundreds of thousands of Afghanis, Iraquis and Syians killed since late 2001 when we sent the first U.S troops into Afghanistan.
Little appears to have changed. The money and resources we expected to be transferred from the Eisenhower-labeled military-industrial complex to repair the nation and our society, to address and resolve basic contradictions, never materialized. Instead, more wars and the steady and ever-increasing occurrence of mass murders, an estimated one per day since the Newtown shootings, culminating in the Planned Parenthood and San Bernardino rampages. Which is why we won’t find the proverbial “needle in the haystack” and identify the next shooter before he shoots. Which is why no one suspected Sayed Farook of being capable of doing what he did, this apparently assimilated Pakistani-American, U.S.-college educated, recently married, with a 6 months-old daughter. The more violence that takes place, the more guns that are bought, the lower the threshold for still another shooter.
Are there any remedies for the foregoing? Can anything be done to head off what seems to be the inevitable, i.e., more mass killings? My watchword is always resist – resist the hatred directed towards “the other”. Resist marginalizing and scapegoating the vulnerable; resist guns as a means to ward off fear and paranoia. Struggle to build a grass roots, up from the bottom, boots in the streets, political movement. Restore our cultural sea to health.
The other night, my wife and I were discussing these very same issues with friends over dinner, specifically what to do in the face of the mass murders and the hate and paranoia that were both their cause and consequence. We shifted to a local issue, the proposed warehousing of toxic railcars on unused tracks near the town our little dinner party was taking place. These were the very same railcars used to carry the oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands around the country’s periphery, through New York state, for one, to the crude oil refineries in Louisiana and Texas. Local residents were alarmed at this possibility, which suggested to me an opportunity to rally people around a common cause and oppose the risk to which they were being put by a railroad corporation indifferent to that risk, aided and abetted by an equally indifferent Federal Railroad Administration.
Fortunately for the town and nearby communities, the proposal was scrapped when no other railroad companies expressed interest and it became apparent there was no money to be made. That near miss notwithstanding, these are the sorts of issues that can be used to forge communitarian solidarity, a long lost feature of our very divided society.
Part II – Resistance:
Judging by nationwide commentary, the following appear to be among the issues that have caused the greatest divisions in the country and turned our cultural mix toxic. Accordingly, they are the precisely the ones around which to organize and construct a restorative political movement piece by piece:
- Guns: Always guns, too many in the hands of too many. As I mentioned at the very outset of this article, existing gun control legislation, particularly assault rifle bans, will be difficult to enforce. In rural areas of the country, similar to the part of New York state where I now live, there appears to be a tacit understanding between county sheriffs, most of who are pro-gun rights, and local residents who happen to own assault rifles, that no in-home investigations to determine whether the rifles are registered and properly safeguarded will be conducted. If there were, I can just imagine a patriot militia contingent from the Midwest riding to the rescue, much as they did to Cliven Bundy’s in April of last year, crying “Remember Waco.” Rural areas of the country seem most concerned with the epidemic of heroin and methamphetamine abuse that has hit their communities. I noted that this year’s election campaign for district attorney in several nearby counties centered on how tough the candidates would be in combatting this problem. But that’s another issue, albeit certainly related to gun violence.
On a brighter note, I learned from a December 9, New York Times editorial that the Supreme Court, which I had thought was the bane of gun control regulation, more often than not declines to hear cases involving contested gun control laws.
The most recent occurence was earlier this month when the Court declined to hear a challenge to a Highland Park, Illinois, ordinance that banned assault rifles and magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, all provisions similar to those contained in the New York law. The Times noted that this was the 70th time since 2008 that the Court had decided not to hear such a case. During this same period, i.e., 2008 to the present, lower Federal and State courts have upheld gun control statutes in 93% of the more than a thousand cases brought before them.
(Speaking of New York Times editorials, today’s (December 16) lead editorial, “Mental Illness and Gun Violence,” debunks the presumed universal causative link between people labeled “mentally ill” and gun violence, asserting that this emphasis served to deflect attention from more pertinent causes. To quote: “… Blaming mental health problems for gun violence gives the public the false impression that most people with mental illness are dangerous, when in fact the vast majority will never commit violence.” The Times editorial closes by stating that “… addressing mental health, on its own, will not solve the country’s gun violence problem.” I couldn’t agree more.)
But don’t get your hopes up too high. Thirty-two states have Republican governors and the same number have both houses of their legislatures controlled by Republicans, who will never pass any laws that would appear to diminish the NRA’s sacrosanct 2nd Amendment. Highland Park enacted its local ordinance just before a new Illinois law prohibiting the banning of assault weapons within the state took effect. Nonetheless, local and state-wide efforts to enact gun controls should continue, but their achievement by gun control advocates will prove to be a long, hard slog. More pragmatically, their enforcement, for the foreseeable future, will depend on gun owners’ voluntary compliance. I just can’t see the five million assault rifle owners in this country bringing in their rifles to register them, even if they had bought them legally from a licensed gun dealer. The levels of fear and hate and paranoia among most Americans are simply too high, and gun violence and mass murders will continue. Our terrorists, please remember, whether ISIL-inspired or domestic, swim in the same violent sea.
- The militarization of the police and police violence: Yes, both go hand in hand. And when you add in many police departments’ pervasive white supremacism and the fear and hatred of black and other marginalized Americans, you get the indiscriminate killings of unarmed black men and of persons regarded as “the other”, including the poor, persons labeled as mentally ill and, in all likelihood now, Muslims and recent immigrants.
I’ll go into greater detail below, so let it suffice to say that white supremacism is the defining cultural attribute intrinsic to all “white” Americans – and our European relatives – and carries with it the belief that to be white is to be fundamentally superior to all peoples of color as well as to those Americans who’ve been pushed out of our political and economic mainstream, the notorious “others.” This notion of superiority arrived in the early 17th century with the first colonizers to land on what would become American shores, and is now what I would call “bred in the bone,” i.e., been absorbed as an unconscious assumption into white Americans’ self-identity and into the institutional foundations of American society.
Needless to say, all our law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and their officers’ have incorporated this American way of being into their day to day operations, particularly since the Reagan administration began to funnel to local police agencies surplus military equipment, including assault rifles, light tanks and armored cars, high velocity weapons and helicopters. Which practice has since been continued by every presidential administration, even accelerated under Bush fils after 9/11, and appears to have dramatically impacted how policemen view their job and how they are trained. When I was a kid and until the late 1960’s and the riots that broke out in poor black urban communities, the job of police officers on the beat was to conciliate and calm neighborhood and domestic disputes before they escalated into life-threatening situations. I know that New York City cops were trained to use their guns as a last resort.
That began to change in 1965, when the Los Angeles Police Department, after the Watts riots of that same year, organized its first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams to combat and control urban disorder. With the onset of the War of Drugs, which began in the early ‘70’s under Nixon and has continued until today, cities large and small around the country organized their own SWAT teams to ferret out and incarcerate drug dealers, whose cast of characters shifted to include American and European gangsters, Colombian and Mexican drug kingpins, and, always at the center, young black men selling dope on the streets. Hollywood catalogued this drug history in celebrated films – “The French Connection”(1971); “King of New York” (1990); and “American Gangster” (2007) – inevitably depicting at their conclusions heavily armed SWAT teams swooping down and corralling the bad guys. The American public was being taught why we needed SWATs.
Since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh set off a bomb in front of the Federal office building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 office workers and wounded another 600, and particularly, after 9/11, SWAT teams grew in number to deal with the multiplying threats presented by mass murderers or rampage killers, right-wing domestic terrorists like McVeigh, and now, since San Bernardino, ISIL-influenced home-grown terrorists. The increase in threats to public safety brought to the country’s police departments a corresponding increase in more and heavier weaponry to combat these threats, and an increase in expectations that the police would use their new muscle efficiently and effectively. The police officers on their SWAT teams and in their cities’ streets were trained accordingly.
Rather than conciliation and communication, standard tools for the policeman on the street, all police officers are now being trained as soldiers, i.e., to assess the danger they might be confronting; shoot, if indicated; then assess the damage done to those posing the danger and any collateral damage to bystanders. Only then does the talking commence, to identify those shot, if any, and to determine the motives of those who presented as dangerous. In short, cops are always on high alert, easily startled and quick to act.
Surveys analyzing police shootings for the first six months of this year, conducted by The Washington Post (May 31, 2015) and The Guardian (May 28, 2015) and reported by The Huffington Post (June 1, 2015) reveal the following consequences:
- 484 people killed by the police, with 385 killed in fatal shootings or 1 in every 13 fatal shootings committed in the U.S.;
- 100 black Americans fatally shot by police, three times the rate of any other ethnic group, with 32 of those shot unarmed. A total of 102 unarmed persons shot and killed by the police;
- 92 persons believed to be mentally ill shot to death;
- in turn, 14 police officers shot and killed during the first six months of 2015. The number of police officers “feloniously killed” in 2014 was 51.
The protesters in Ferguson and their supporters in other cities, along with Black Lives Matter, have written the book on how to respond to police violence and the killing of unarmed black men: protest, in the streets, demand justice; demand that the local district attorneys bring charges against the officer or officers involved; demand the ouster of the town’s or city’s police commissioner; demand the re-training of the entire police force; demand that the Department of Justice investigate the local department for signs and patterns of systemic racism in its dealings with the black community.
Many of the foregoing demands have been met in the cities where the most notorious killings have taken place – Ferguson, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore and Brooklyn. They need to be made again wherever ordinary citizens are threatened by the entity whose mission, presumably, is to protect them.
The de-militarization of the police, essentially removing from the SWAT teams their most potent and damaging weapons, particularly their armored vehicles, is another matter. In this era of mass shootings with automatic weapons, Americans are probably reassured at seeing our heavily armed cavalry riding to the rescue. For my part, whatever reassurance that might bring is offset by the intimidating sight of police officers in an armored vehicle confronting the Ferguson protesters, or by the stampede of armored police vehicles charging down the streets of a Boston suburb to apprehend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, and shooting hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the fiberglass boat parked in a resident’s driveway where he had been hiding. The possibility of so-called collateral damage seemed an afterthought.
So long as terrorism and rampage shootings remain realities, our nation’s police will remain armed to the teeth, making their contribution to the fear and paranoia that assail us. We have to be alert and to protest any abuses of power that might result.
- White Supremacy & Privilege: I’ve written at some length about this in a three-part article I posted on OpEd News on September 6, 8 and 9 of this year:
“Origins: Bred In the Bone: Part I of Traitor to My Race: The Abolition of White Privilege”, http://www.opednews.com/articles/Origins-Bred-In-the-Bone-by-Jack-Carney-Race-Racism_White-Privilege-150906-927.html
“Jim Crow Re-Visited: Part II of Traitor to My Race: The Abolition of White Privilege,” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Jim-Crow-Re-Visited-Part-by-Jack-Carney-Black-Lives-Matter_Police-Brutality_Police-State_Race-Racism-150906-307.html
“Traitor to My Race –The Abolition of White Privilege: Part III – Personal Transformation,” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Traitor-to-My-Race–The-A-by-Jack-Carney-Jim-Crow_Race_Systems-Systems-Theory_White-Male-Privilege-150906-326.html
The first article traces the evolution of white supremacy or white skin privilege from slavery to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, whose “three-fifths” clause has been alleged to have legitimized the practice of slavery in the new United States and to contradict the principle premise of the Declaration of Independence, viz., “… that all men are created equal…” The second continues the historical overview, focusing on the Jim Crow laws enacted in the South subsequent to Reconstruction and their continued influence in modern America. The third, where I describe how I came to reject white privilege, addresses the subject I’ve decided to write about here, viz., the imperative for American whites, particularly white males who are the primary guardians of white privilege, to renounce that privilege and join with all Americans to abolish it.
The process to do so is straightforward but incredibly difficult, since it involves American whites significantly altering their self-identities as those who are and should be predominate in this society; and it begins with the willingness by white men to listen to what black Americans have to say. In still-segregated America, very few white Americans know black Americans well enough to engage in the kind of exchange which would allow their black compatriots to unburden themselves, to talk of the pain that white privilege has caused them. On the other hand, few blacks probably trust whites sufficiently to be emotionally vulnerable and share such confidences with them. And if you’re white and possessed of a sense of innate superiority coupled with a belief in American Exceptionalism or righteousness, it will be hard to hear black Americans’ complaints, particularly if they’re directed at you and depict you as being responsible for or contributing to the harm that’s been done them. In short, that you’re part of the problem. Recent experience tells us that most whites would be dismissive, would regard the charges against them as invalid and mere inventions, designed to blame them for blacks’ own shortcomings.
This very scenario is being played out right before our eyes. It began with the rampage killing at a prayer service being conducted at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, when nine members of the church were killed and one wounded by a young white neo-Nazi, who was later apprehended and charged with murder. In the aftermath, the foregiveness shown towards Dylan Roof, the murderer, by the shooting victims’ family members moved the nation and shamed their fellow white Charlestonians. An outcry went out from blacks and their many white supporters to remove the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds, where it flew over the state’s Confederate Memorial. Given an opening, black South Carolinians contended that the battle flag was a daily affront and should be removed to a museum, where it belonged. A month later, the state legislature voted to take the flag down.
This action appeared to energize black Americans, particularly college students, who began to voice their dismay at the racist behavior, blatant and otherwise, they were experiencing on their college campuses. Students at the University of Missouri, in a September, 2015 rally they entitled “Racism Lives Here,” revealed that many had been subjected to racial slurs and bigotry, had reported these incidents to university authorities but received no reassuring response. When the football team, whose players were, in the main, black, threatened to boycott their next game, the balance was tipped and the university’s president and chancellor were obliged to resign. The students also publicly complained about the daily micro-aggressions or slights they experienced as disrespectful to which they were being subjected by fellow white students and white professors. Echoing the Black Lives Matter meme that black bodies, objects of several hundred years of abuse at the hands of whites, needed to be safeguarded, the black students voiced concerns about their own personal safety in an environment they often considered hostile. Predictably, their concerns were dismissed by right wing pundits as “whining” and as rationalizations for their own academic failings.
The Missouri students inspired other protests and displays of solidarity at other campuses in the United States, including Ithaca College, Yale University, Smith College, Claremont McKenna College, Amherst and Brandeis, with the dean of students at Claremont McKenna forced to step down in November. There has been, of course, the inevitable backlash. It was touched off at Yale, according to The New York Times (Nov. 8, 2015) when university administration cautioned students from wearing Halloween costumes, such as ones featuring blackface or turbans, “that could offend minority students.” What proved to be an inflammatory response was issued by a long-time professor and residence counselor who expressed her belief that students should be allowed to wear whatever costume they chose to, that kids should be allowed to be kids.
She, in turn, was attacked in an open letter signed by hundreds students accusing her of conflating students’ free speech rights with license to express themselves however they chose, regardless of the impact of their actions on students who found themselves “marginalized” at Yale. To quote from the letter, “To be a student of color on Yale’s campus is to exist in a space that was not created for you.” After the president of Yale met with “students of color,” whom he found to be “in great distress,” he professed himself to be “deeply troubled” when “many said they did not believe the university was attuned to the needs of minority students.” Subsequently, the university professor in question resigned and right wing pundits, again, seized upon the issue, contending that white students were being blocked from speaking their minds by a politically correct Yale administration.
Right-wing academics then proceeded to resuscitate Arthur Jensen’s old chestnut, first published in 1969 and later summarized in “Thirty Years of Research On Race Differences In Cognitive Ability,” co-authored with J. Philippe Rushton in 2005, that advanced highly contested research purportedly confirming the irremediable cognitive deficiencies of black students in comparison to whites. It was offered as evidence that black students’ complaints simply camouflaged their inabilities to succeed in highly competitive academic settings. In the Supreme Court’s recent review of the University of Texas’s affirmative action plan, Justice Scalia shamelessly alluded to Jensen’s research, suggesting that black students’ chances to succeed might improve if they attended “slower,” i.e., less demanding, black universities. After all, few if any black scientists , he added, had attended the major research universities (N.Y. Times, 12/9/15).
An opportunity to engage with black students and learn from and about them was lost. The courage they demonstrated in being vulnerable with whites and revealing their apprehensions and anxieties was misrepresented as a clear indication of wilting under pressure, of lacking the resilience necessary for success in unfriendly environments, so unlike white students. As has happened so often in the past, the burden of change was assumed to be the sole responsibility of the black students.
W.E.B. Dubois addressed this issue well over one hundred years ago, at the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, and at greater length in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), when he stated that “The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line, the question of how far differences of race — which show themselves chiefly in the color of skin and the texture of the hair –will hereafter be made the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization.” He made it clear that the responsibility for the resolution of the problem resided in the hands of those who had created it, the white peoples of the world.
William Faulkner, in an unerringly prescient 1955 article in the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News about the killing of Emmet Till in nearby Money, Mississippi, at the hands of white supremacists, began by addressing Americans’ hypocrisy when boasting about American values to others …
“… after we have taught them … that when we talk of freedom and liberty, we not only mean neither, we don’t even mean security and justice and even … the preservation of life for people whose pigmentation is not the same as ours … Perhaps we will find out now whether we are to survive or not … Because if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive and probably won’t.” (Excerpted from Paul Theroux’s Deep South ).
The senseless brutality of Till’s death at the age of fourteen is considered by many to be the touchstone of the modern Civil Rights Movement. It appears to me that we, particularly if we are white, owe it to the memory of Emmet Till and to all Americans who struggled and died for “equal rights under the law”, embodied in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, to pursue the discussion that needs to take place with black Americans about the urgent need to put a stop to the racial conflict that has riven this country from its inception. To not do so, to echo Faulkner, is to jeopardize our existence as a creole and unified nation that merits survival.
To begin to understand this from the crucial black perspective, I recommend to readers Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015), which takes the form of a letter written by Coates to his teenage son about the pitfalls that await him in white America and his need to protect himself and his body from harm. Unlike Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) to which it is compared – Baldwin’s book was framed as a letter to his nephew – Coates’s book concludes not on a bitter note but one that espouses resistance to oppression and is accordingly more hopeful. Talk about resilience.
In that same spirit, I urge those of you who recognize the folly of white supremacism and have come to understand it as the principal source of fear and hate in this country, to seek out like-minded white Americans and courageous black Americans willing to take the chance and promote conversations, in community forums, in private homes, in groups large and small, where black folks can talk and white listen, and so begin to learn who each really is, and to cross and erase the color line.
Part III: Conclusion — Music to March To:
Armies march on their stomachs. Social movements for change march in tune to the music in their heads, to the music its members make together. The labor movement had an entire catalogue of songs to sing that defined and inspired it. I remember singing “we shall not, we shall not be moved …” marching on strike on a picket line in 1976 with my 1199 brothers and sisters in front of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. The Civil Rights movement had many if not more, some drawn from the black church, others written by folk singers – Pete, where are you now? I don’t know how many times I sang “We Shall Overcome” on how many picket lines, the most recent memorable time in 2008, the day after Obama was first elected, when my fifty staff members and I, hands clasped in a circle, sang it in thanksgiving.
And did you know that the Rolling Stones, the bad boys of rock ‘n’roll, were credited by Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright and activist and the first president of a Czechoslovakia free of an authoritarian Communist party and government, with providing the sound track for the “Velvet Revolution” which he led? To Czechs’ delight, the Stones finally got to Prague on August 17, 1990, and, according to Eduard Preisler who was there and wrote an Op Ed about the event in the August 17, 2010, New York Times, their presence signaled that freedom had actually come to his country. The Stones kicked things off with Mick Jagger singing “Start Me Up” (1981: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGyOaCXr8Lw), and the crowd went wild. Tom Stoppard, the British, Czech-born playwright, celebrated the Stones and their role in the Velvet or Gentle Revolution in his acclaimed play, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” first staged in 2006. I always trust that artists, those creative persons with empathy and imagination, will be ahead of the curve, will get it right and inspire the rest of us.
More recently, on December 6 and 7, Bono and U2 returned to Paris and gave the concerts they had been obliged to cancel after the November 13 terrorist attacks when 130 Parisians were killed and 238 wounded. HBO televised the December 7 show, U2’s last stop on their world-wide “INNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE” tour, and my wife and I, who watched it together, found it uplifting and inspiring, a welcome counterpoint to what we had witnessed little more than 3 weeks before on CNN. By all appearances, so, too, did the 15,000 or so Parisians in attendance at Accorhotels Arena, some of whom jumped up on stage, at Bono’s invitation, to dance alongside him. The concert itself was organized in a very compelling manner, with its first half comprised of U2 songs rooted in band members’ own personal experiences with the death and destruction inflicted by terrorists upon family members and friends and people they had gotten to know in their travels around the world.
Midway through the concert, its emotional highpoint, the band played the song which perfectly characterizes what I’ve been writing here and which I hereby recommend as the first anthem of the social movement for change that will one day emerge — “Invisible” (2014). The audience, again at Bono’s invitation, sang the choruses – https://youtube.com/watch?v=ajVoeX4eqIQ:
“ … I’m more than you know
A body in a soul
You don’t see me but you will
I am not invisible
I am here
There is no them …
There’s only us …
There is no them
There’s only you
And there’s only me
There is no them”
It’s impossible to predict what the lasting impact of the concert will be, what historical residue will remain twenty-five years from now; but, for me, it provided a potent jump-start to counteract the hatred and the fear that the Paris attack left in its wake and issued an unmistakable invitation to us all to commit to the work that now must be undertaken.
For the finale, U2 invited Eagles of Death Metal, the band playing at the Bataclan theater when it was attacked by the ISIL terrorists and eighty-nine concert goers were killed, to join them on stage to sing Patti Smith’s anthem and stirring marching song, fit for a movement, “People Have the Power” (1988) – https://youtube.com/watch?v=pPR-HyGj2d0:
“…And the people have the power
To redeem the work of fools
From the meek the graces shower
It’s decreed the people rule
People have the power
People have the power…
And always remember Joe Hill’s admonition, “Don’t mourn, organize.” And sing!