Saturday, December 13, 2014

They are not making this stuff up

Sometimes, when debating the treatment  of minorities in the US with family and friends, I can get argumentative, even combative. I believe so strongly in the truth of the situation and am convinced of the importance of believing this truth I find myself getting a tad overly zealous.  I am distressed by the fact that people whom I respect and love, who I know are good-hearted people who care deeply for the well-being of others, who believe deeply in civil rights, and hold dear that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, believe that minorities are, on average, treated just as well as a white counterpart would be treated in the same situation. It distresses me because this belief about the treatment of minorities in America leads good people to support a way of doing things that hurts others and is contrary to what they themselves embrace, it keeps good people from being as good as they could be, because I want the people I love to do what is good, because it keeps good people from confronting evil, and because it allows other persons made in the image of God to have that image denigrated and be oppressed. 

A lot of good people are scratching their heads saying, “We outlawed segregation.  We outlawed racial discrimination.  African Americans can do anything they want to now, if they work hard enough.  Heck, we even have a black president.  I don’t see African Americans being hassled. I’ve been pulled over and I’ve watched COPS and they always conduct themselves professionally and are careful not to use force unless necessary.  And there were trials with evidence- they found the police did nothing wrong in these cases.  And when a white person is killed by a black person, there is no big outcry- that isn’t fair.  Looks like just a bunch of thugs looking for an excuse to break stuff and loot, to me.”

 I am one who once believed that it was all just a matter of poverty rates correlating with race, attitudes of African Americans when they interacted with authority figures, and African Americans own theory ladeness of observationI bought the lie.  We've come a long, long way in the last 50 years.  Lynching, overt segregation, and openly denigrating other races are largely over.  But that doesn't mean everything is hunky-dory now. Racism in the US now primarily occurs in the form of unconscious attitudes/impressions/fears that manifest themselves in the way we react to people and situations.  Racism plays out as policies, laws, programs, voting laws, gerrymandering, school funding, bus routes, etc. that, intentionally or not, help or harm people primarily of one race over another.  There is still work to be done. Over the years I have come to see that there is truth behind the outcry.  There is a lot of data to back up the outcry.  We, as Caucasians in the US, live in a different world than our African American neighbors do.  To paraphrase George Orwell, we are all equal, but some of us are more equal than others.  And there seems to be some force at work to keep it that way. There is a reason African Americans are so emphatic in calling for reforms.  And there is a reason there is such a wide range of classes represented in the demonstrations and other forms of agitating for change from college professors to pastors and ministry workers/leaders to congressional staffers.  We need to listen and to hear what they have to say.  We need to listen and hear and then come alongside our neighbors.  To keep quiet on this issue results in a tacit approval of the injustice.

Some Stats and Links to Sources:

African Americans, as a whole, are oppressed by our society as a whole. General societal oppression can be seen in everything from harsher punishments in schools (1, 2) (and the darker the skin, the harsher the punishment), to greater difficulty in getting a good jobmentoring, or access to their public officials, or being shunted away from better apartments/houses.  The killings of African Americans by police and by Caucasians who were “standing their ground” is perceived as part of this institutionalized oppression.  

The average Caucasian American has no African American friends while most African Americans do have Caucasian friends according to a recent study.  Fully 75% of Caucasian Americans have no friends of any other race.  This is not just among close friends who might help you move, but all friends.  Caucasian Americans who have virtually no real relationships with African Americans and no real interactions with African Americans beyond the occasional exchange of goods and services or that African American guy at work we say “hi” or “how ‘bout them Steelers” to but never have lunch with or do anything after work with will not likely know anything better about their African American neighbors than they are told/shown by society and media.

 According to a very large survey by the Census Bureau, The 2012 American National Election Study, half of all Caucasian Americans believe that African Americans are, in general, less intelligent and lazier than Caucasian Americans. A similarly unflattering view of Caucasians is NOT held by African Americans.  (Data is in User Guide on ANES page or sign in for spreadsheet download. Graphs of this referenced data can be found here.) Can we seriously believe that if half of all Caucasian Americans have this foolishness in their hearts, it will not show up in their actions?  

Young African American males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their Caucasian counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.  The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million Caucasian males in that age range died at the hands of police.  One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica's analysis shows, is to calculate how many more Caucasians over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.  And the numbers only include those police departments which actually report their stats to the feds.  Many, NYPD, for example, do not. 

Because of these patterns, each injustice or perceived injustice against an African American is seen as another example of an entire people group being oppressed systematically and not as isolated events There is no reason, in the eyes of the oppressed, to believe that their perceived oppressors are telling the truth or that the courts are fair.  Especially when there are so many events like Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, or Rodney King which occur on camera and anyone can see that there is obviously no danger to the officers involved who are relentlessly beating a man lying on the ground or choking an older overweight man to death or rolling up on a boy and shooting him the moment the car door opens and in virtually every case the ending verdict is “not guilty.”  It is the oppression of the weak by the powerful and they are almost never held accountable by the justice system in any way.   Therefore these high profile cases must be seized upon to bring the injustice to light and to build momentum or it will slip back into the unreported, unseen, and be ignored. 

I am not saying that all police or even the majority are unapologetic racists.  There are a lot of good cops who are honorable men and women.  They love their neighbors and act like the police officers we see on shows like COPS.  I am also rather incredulous about “a few bad apples” theory that police and government officials put forth and we should keep in mind what the rest of that saying is. I don't believe that most officers are consciously pulling over black people more or looking to kill blacks. But we as a culture have created and maintain certain stereotypes so that when perceiving a black person our level of suspicion, defensiveness, wariness, etc become heightened and we are prone to paranoia.  Police have dangerous, highly stressful jobs where split-second decisions have to be made daily that can affect officers and citizens.  This results in targeting African Americans for traffic stops, questioning, and the use of violence during those interactions.  

The “brotherhood” culture of police officers means that even otherwise good officers turn a blind eye to the abusive behavior of their fellow officers and will even actively protect the abuser from justice.  Investigations are normally handled internally, by the accused’s coworkers.  In the rare event that a grand jury is convened (usually due to publicity), there is rarely a recommendation to prosecute.  Grand jury investigations normally consist of the local prosecutor (who works with the police) and no representation by the victim.  Grand juries almost never recommend prosecution of the prosecutor’s coworker for some reason.  And in those extremely rare cases where the grand jury does recommend prosecution, the prosecutor has a terribly difficult time getting a “guilty” conviction against his or her coworker.  If the police and the government who directs them will not actively and publicly get rid of their bad apples, but instead actively protect them from consequences, what conclusion is left for the oppressed but to assume the whole bunch is spoiled? 

I do not write this to bring judgment.  I wrote it as someone who needed to be shown the truth and who wants justice for all who are created in the image of God.  It is intended to give all of us a clearer picture of how our neighbors might see the world. It gives us a starting point to know that, "Hey, many white people do not see African Americans in a very positive light. Maybe I should be more thoughtful in my conversations about this subject so as not to reinforce foolish opinions. And maybe I should be more aware of how those around me are treated by whites or treat blacks that may stem from this foolishness. Maybe I should take an African American more seriously and have less skepticism when he or she complains about being discriminated against for a position or by someone in authority. And maybe I should find ways to be a peace-maker and a reconciler." 

-Loyal Hall

The following is by another author who does a very thorough job of outlining the historical and current-day pattern of economic abuse and predation upon black Americans.:

Our history, both of our grandparents and our own present day, is rife with financial oppression.  Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.

The marks of collaboration with Jim Crow are all over the New Deal. The omnibus programs passed under the Social Security Act in 1935 were crafted in such a way as to protect the southern way of life. Old-age insurance (Social Security proper) and unemployment insurance excluded farmworkers and domestics—jobs heavily occupied by blacks. When President Roosevelt signed Social Security into law in 1935, 65 percent of African Americans nationally and between 70 and 80 percent in the South were ineligible. The NAACP protested, calling the new American safety net “a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.”

The oft-celebrated G.I. Bill similarly failed black Americans, by mirroring the broader country’s insistence on a racist housing policy. Though ostensibly color-blind, Title III of the bill, which aimed to give veterans access to low-interest home loans, left black veterans to tangle with white officials at their local Veterans Administration as well as with the same banks that had, for years, refused to grant mortgages to blacks. The historian Kathleen J. Frydl observes in her 2009 book, The GI Bill, that so many blacks were disqualified from receiving Title III benefits “that it is more accurate simply to say that blacks could not use this particular title.”

The lives of black Americans are better than they were half a century ago. The humiliation of Whites Only signs are gone. Rates of black poverty have decreased. Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows—and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly. But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere. The income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970. Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, studied children born from 1955 through 1970 and found that 4 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks across America had been raised in poor neighborhoods. A generation later, the same study showed, virtually nothing had changed. And whereas whites born into affluent neighborhoods tended to remain in affluent neighborhoods, blacks tended to fall out of them.

This is not surprising. Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes—a medical emergency, divorce, job loss—the fall is precipitous.

And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”

The implications are chilling. As a rule, poor black people do not work their way out of the ghetto—and those who do often face the horror of watching their children and grandchildren tumble back.

In 2010, the Justice Department filed a discrimination suit against Wells Fargo alleging that the bank had shunted blacks into predatory loans regardless of their creditworthiness. This was not magic or coincidence or misfortune. It was racism reifying itself. According to The New York Times, affidavits found loan officers referring to their black customers as “mud people” and to their subprime products as “ghetto loans.”

“We just went right after them,” Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer, told The Times. “Wells Fargo mortgage had an emerging-markets unit that specifically targeted black churches because it figured church leaders had a lot of influence and could convince congregants to take out subprime loans.”

In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $355 million to settle charges of discrimination against its Countrywide unit. The following year, Wells Fargo settled its discrimination suit for more than $175 million. But the damage had been done. In 2009, half the properties in Baltimore whose owners had been granted loans by Wells Fargo between 2005 and 2008 were vacant; 71 percent of these properties were in predominantly black neighborhoods.

I am not saying that every injustice is the result of conscious, intentional racism.  Some injustices are.  But if I may give people the benefit of the doubt, I believe that much of the modern oppression of African Americans is subconsciously done.  With the present way we segregate ourselves and how so many Caucasian Americans view African Americans, I don’t see how racial injustices would not happen. 
That same spirit that led our ancestors to enslave another race and to value them as less than human seems to be at work in our society today, keeping African Americans from fully being part of America. 

No comments: