R*CISM … and other bad words

April 3, 2012

I had never read a Hunger Games book when I went to watch the movie a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the movie, as I do most. There weren’t many black characters, but I found myself really impressed with the ones that were there. They were not playing stereotypical roles, they were complex, and on the whole, the most sympathetic characters in the film. As it turns out, that was a problem. Tweens took twitter by storm outraged that the fan favourite, Rue, was played by a black actress. The tweets fell along the spectrum of expressing surprise to KKK-esque. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum was this young man who tweeted: “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”.

Ok my friend, I’ll call you a racist. And George Zimmerman, can I call him a racist too? Probably. Jason Russell? Ermm… is that pushing it? Mayor Rob Ford? Well no one likes him anymore anyway. What about the entire American criminal justice system? Can I call a system a racist? What about the South Asian security guard in the grocery store who insists on following me? But he’s South Asian, is he a racist too? Am I a racist? Are you a racist? Are we all racists? This witch hunt will take us nowhere, because the truth is, there aren’t enough fingers in the world to point. If only there were one word to explain the Hunger Games reaction, and the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the fact that 1/3 black men in their 20s is under criminal justice control, and why that security guard won’t just leave me alone! And if only we could use that word to describe a historically rooted, complex, systemic issue — instead of a cop-out or crutch for overly sensitive stuck-in-the-past radicals.

r*cism? [ahem]…RACISM!…yea I said it. Here’s the thing, it’s a lot harder to talk about racism than it is to stone a racist. It takes more words, more honesty, more love, it implicates us all, and yes it might get awkward and uncomfortable. But we must. Should you choose to confront this overwhelming beast, consider yourself warned. Once we deal with the easy topics – slavery, the n* word, Martin Luther King, George Zimmerman – then we need to deal with the harder ones. Racism is in the shadeism within communities of colour; it’s in entire education, political, criminal justice and immigration systems; it’s in our iPod’s; it’s in our families; it’s in us.

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.” G. K. Chesterton

@lpha

[Find this post republished on ForHarriet.com and The Africana]

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17 Responses to “R*CISM … and other bad words”

  1. jonolan said

    Has it occurred to that 33% of young Black men are under criminal justice control because they’re criminals?

    There’s always this unsaid assumption that these young Blacks shouldn’t be criminal justice control, as if they’re not criminals, which is objectively nonsensical with the current levels of checks and controls placed on the police and the courts.

    As for that security guard – How’s your butt? Nice? Don’t jump to the conclusion that being followed by a guard is because he’s suspicious of you. 😉

    • alphaabebe said

      …I’ve talked too much today already. I will wait and see if anyone else would like to take this one. If not, I will try my best to find the energy needed to dignify your comment with a response.

      • Habesha Diaspora said

        Whew….I’m not sure where to even start with this response, Alpha…I’m gonna go look up research studies that address this…

      • jonolan said

        Please do so! I’d love to see it. I think you’ll fail to find anything substantive though. There’s too many variables involved and no benefit to court system to have the raw data easily accessible if there is a problem.

        Here was my point though – If you don’t already have this data, what basis do you have for the assumption that young Black males are wrongfully under court system control?

        And if enough of you have this assumption, how many of those young Black men copped a plea even though they were innocent because they assumed that they’d be wrongfully convicted and get a longer sentence?

      • Kal said

        the assumption that black=guilty has a considerable impact on the number of black people in their 20s being in Prison, I think. Add to that the societal and economic factors in play that put young black people at a disadvantage in the first place…

    • Asil S said

      And don’t assume that because she’s black it must be about her butt…

      What about all those non-black people who are criminals but not in prison? Like the number who embezzle, take drugs, politicians who bribe, ministers who steal from the poor in other countries? Their crimes are not considered reprehansable because they support the status quo. The criminal justice system does not consider them criminals because it is built to protect them and to define who is inside or outisde society. Those 33% might be defined as criminals by the laws they were convicted by but we need to consider why other people are not incriminated and the factors that lead to them becoming criminals.

      What are the factors that lead some to criminality and others to a life as “good citizens”. One of hte major factors is that we have a vested interest in behaving well because the system somehow protects us. Then there is a kind of trade off – we give up some of our freedom to benefit from the system. Credit, healthcare, references from employers all contribute to managing our behaviour and incentivising us to behave well. But when you don’t have access to credit, healthcare or employment the liklihood of you managing your behaviour is limited.

      There is a book by Wes Moore that came out in 2010 called “The Other Wes Moore” I encourage you to investigate the message in the book: http://theotherwesmoore.com/about-the-book/.

      • jonolan said

        I didn’t make that assumption, actually. I just went with the description of the guard’s behavior.

        As for the rest, it’s all quite immaterial to my question. I do not dispute that law, morality, and justice only intersect by happenstance and coincidence. Nor do I dispute that underlying factors have a part in “guiding” people into wrong choices.

        I only question the implied assumption that young Blacks are, too some large extent, being charged and incarcerated for crimes they didn’t actually commit.

    • Habesha Diaspora said

      Essentially, the problem lies in implicit bias that pervades humans including those in law enforcement and and the judicial system leading to police harrasment (as in the tyler perry piece someone attached below), wrongful arrests, and at times wrongful convictions. This implicit bias combined with the fact that people of color have less resources to defend themselves properly in the court of law results in wrongful convictions. (example: state appointed attorney tells you to take a plea bargain because (s)he does not see a way out of this. If you have resources you can try to hire another – possibly better – lawyer but if you are poor how do you fight?)

      This article in a law enforcement journal addresses implicit bias and the impact it has had in the field (including a 2005 study on the impact of implicit bias on whether police officers choose to shoot at a “suspect” or not. This particular study was used to change training for police officers): http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=2499&issue_id=102011

      This article is an example of a wrongful conviction:
      http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/virginia-man-wrongfully-convicted-of-rape-exonerated-after-27-years/

      Another story on wrongful conviction: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18559_162-57399487/students-help-free-wrongfully-convicted-man/

      This website discusses a stanford project to examine how to change both biased police actions and how to create more trust in police by the community they serve: http://waldron.stanford.edu/~policingproject/

      Another story of wrongful conviction: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/03/jefferson_parish_judge_finds_m.html

      A story of a white man wrongfully convicted (this happens too, but note that all the other people I found were men of color): http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505263_162-57404647/wrongly-convicted-man-freed-after-25-years/

      An example of a hispanic male wrongfully convicted: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/25/10233263-wrongfully-convicted-man-awarded-25-million

      Another example of a hispanic male wrongfully convicted: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/13/10151296-wrongly-convicted-man-adjusts-to-life-after-decades-behind-bars

      • jonolan said

        One can’t really trust anecdotal evidence or draw much inference from what stories are reported by today’s media.

        I can’t and won’t dismiss the effects of economics on court results though, nor will I deny that Blacks are more likely to lack financial resources than White.

        I’ve got to ask you though what likelihood you place in the tate appointed attorney telling someone to take a plea bargain due to that attorney believing as you seem to?

        Also, do we even have the figures on the economic levels of the accused by crime and race? If we don’t, how can we say whether or not there’s a racial bias instead of a court system geared to favor the more affluent?

        In any event, thanks for the discussion on this rather difficult topic.

    • alphaabebe said

      Thanks to everyone who added a lot more depth to this topic with their comments. Another friend also sent this very helpful link along “The Crisis of the Young African American Male and the Criminal Justice System”: http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_crisisoftheyoung.pdf

      @Jonolan… I’m a little bit perplexed about what exactly you are skeptical about, and what your threshold of trustworthy evidence would be. I’ve got a library of material from my criminology courses that I could add to those shared by others, but I see no value in doing so when it comes to the argument I am trying to make in this post. Even if I were to accept the absurd notion that a young black male has never been wrongfully convicted of a crime in America… if 1/3 of young black American males are currently under criminal justice control then I can only accept one of two possibilities: 1) either there is something inherently and biologically criminal about young black American males; or, 2) racism in America is systemic, rampant, and one of the worst human rights crises in our world today. As far as I am concerned, slicing this issue any other way is just complicating a picture that is staring us all in the face.

      • jonolan said

        Or 3) Criminal behavior is more prevalent in lower income heavily urbanized population.

        Over-complicating things is bad but so is over-simplifying them when doing so makes it a binary toggle such as you have done.

        You define it so that either the minorities or the racists are right, with the other being wrong. You’ve accepted their narrative.

      • alphaabebe said

        Yes, I accept your third preposition, but only along with all the other propositions made by others including inequitable definitions of crime, racial profiling, an uneven criminal justice system, etc. etc. You are right, oversimplifying the issue would be wrong, but that is not my intention. I was simply following the same kind of deductive reasoning you were to show the logical tension between the statistic and the possible explanations.

        In any case, I am sorry you seem to be missing my point Jonolan, which is that the issue is NOT about “the racists” as you’ve suggested. The issue is racISM, which is systemic and encompassing enough to describe the complexity of the situation as we’ve been discussing it, much of which you have agreed with.

        I’m grateful for the discussion you’ve sparked, because it is precisely the issue I am trying to highlight — which is that we need to broaden our understanding of what racism is and begin to talk about it honestly and intellectually.

  2. addisu said

    Hey Alpha,
    Have you watched CNN’s video about race view through children’s eye …

    http://cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2012/04/03/ac-pkg-doll-test-part-one.cnn.html

    I wanna here your analysis but i found it fascinating myself …

    • Eugenia said

      Thanks for that link, addisu. I hadn’t seen that report but it reminded me of the tests done in the 50s, I believe it was, or maybe the 60s when kids were given dolls of different races and asked to ascribe characteristics to the, Invariably, the white dolls were given good characteristics by both whites AND blacks while the black dolls were described as having bad characteristics.

      The world is making progress but it is doing so more quickly in some places than in others. Discussions on race which are measured and reasoned are one way to help move the clock forward.

      As a people we must also address colorism as Alpha suggested because it is just as psychicaly harmful as racism – in my view, anyway.

  3. Sebhat said

    Hi Alpha, a very similar experience from Tyler Perry.

    “A few days before President Obama was supposed to speak at my studio, I was leaving the studio, headed to the airport. Most times when I leave the studio I have an unmarked escort. Other times I constantly check in my rearview mirror to be sure that I’m not being followed. It’s a safety precaution that my security team taught me. As I got to an intersection, I made a left turn from the right lane and was pulled over by two police officers. I pulled the car over and put it in park. Then, I let the window down and sat in the car waiting for the officer. The officer came up to the driver’s door and said that I made an illegal turn. I said, “I signaled to get into the turning lane, then made the turn because I have to be sure I’m not being followed.” He said, “why do you think someone would be following you?”
    Before I could answer him, I heard a hard banging coming from the passenger window. I had never been in this position before so I asked the officer who was at my window what was going on and why is someone banging on the window like that. He said, “let your window down, let your window down. Your windows are tinted.” As I let down the passenger window, there was another officer standing on the passenger side of the car. He said, “what is wrong with you?” The other officer said to him, “he thinks he’s being followed.” Then, the second officer said, “why do you think someone is following you? What is wrong with you?”
    Before I could answer the officer on the passenger side, the one on the driver’s side had reached into the car and started pulling on the switch that turns the car on and off, saying, “put your foot on the brake, put your foot on the brake!” I was so confused as to what he was doing, or what he thought he was doing. It looked like he was trying to pull the switch out of the dashboard. I finally realized that he thought that switch was the key, so I told him that it wasn’t the key he was grabbing. I reached down into the cup holder to get the key, not realizing that the key had a black leather strap on it. As I grabbed it they both tensed up and I dropped it as I heard my mother’s voice from when I was a little boy.
    My mother would always say to me, “if you get stopped by the police, especially if they are white policemen, you say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’, and if they want to take you in, you go with them. Don’t resist, you hear me? Don’t make any quick moves, don’t run, you just go.” My mother was born in 1945 into a segregated hotbed town in rural Louisiana. She had known of many colored men at the time who were lynched and never heard from again. Since I was her only son for ten years, growing up she was so worried about me. It wasn’t until after I heard her voice that I realized that both of these officers were white.
    The officer on the driver’s side continued to badger me, “why do you think someone is following you?” I then said, “I think you guys need to just write the ticket and do whatever you need to do.” It was so hostile. I was so confused. It was happening so fast that I could easily see how this situation could get out of hand very quickly. I didn’t feel safe at all. But one officer stopped his questioning and said, “we may not let you go. You think you’re being followed, what’s wrong with you?” At this point, I told him that I wanted to get out of the car. I wanted the passersby to see what was happening.
    As I stepped out of the car another officer pulled up in front of my car. This officer was a black guy. He took one look at me and had that “Oh No” look on his face. He immediately took both officers to the back of my car and spoke to them in a hushed tone. After that, one of the officers stayed near his car while one came back, very apologetic.
    I said all of that to say this: do you see how quickly this could have turned for the worse?
    Now I know that there are many great officers, patrolmen and security guys out there. I am aware of that. But although we have made significant strides with racial profiling in this country, the world needs to know that we are still being racially profiled, and until this situation has improved greatly, I’m not sure how a murder in Florida can be protected by a “stand your ground law.”
    And in another case that I have been screaming at the top of my lungs about, also in Florida, is the case of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos, a young black man and a young Mexican man. Eight years ago, in Naples, FL, they were both put in the back of Deputy Steve Calkins’ police car and never heard from again.
    They were never arrested, never brought to jail. They were put into the back of Deputy Calkins’ car and never heard from again. And to this day Deputy Steve Calkins is a free man.
    I guess it’s time to march in Naples now.
    RACIAL PROFILING SHOULD BE A HATE CRIME INVESTIGATED BY THE FBI!!!
    That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished

  4. alphaabebe said

    Jon Stewart and Larry Willmore take a 5 minute “racist timeout” to talk about the ‘racial elements’ in the Trayvon Martin case…it won’t dissappoint: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-april-4-2012/racist-time-out

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