Friday, December 5, 2014

Racism is not a figment of black folks' imagination.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

35 years ago, I was stopped by the cops up near Booneville in Northern CA.  It was just a tail light but as the cop went to show me where the fuses were he noticed my six pack of Miller down at my feet, one can open as in those days it wasn't uncommon to sup a couple when driving.

My navy buddy was next to me and our wives were in the back, you know, the good Christian way. The cop never said a word. I wasn't sure of my location so they placed my CA map on the hood of their car (one older white cop quite pleasant and a younger won who was not so friendly) and we checked out where I was.  As the older one was showing me, the younger one detecting my accent, asked me where I was from.  I told him well aware that an English accent has helped me out in such predicaments. He then said, "You got many niggers in England?"  He followed it with something about having lots of them here.  

The comment took me aback for a moment as my first thought was why he thought he could make a remark like that to me.  My second was the open beer can and the six-pack at my feet in the car.  "I think the black population is about 5%." I replied.  Had I not had the beer in the car and had the cop not known about it I would have taken him up, I would like to think I would have.  But I was unemployed, not a citizen, I was drinking.  Sometimes we keep our mouths shut for our own security. In retrospect, I wish I had followed it up, memorized his badge and name and when I returned home made a case of it.  I wasn't as political then and just let it pass, angry I couldn't do anything. But it has bothered me ever since. I have never forgotten it.  I have many black friends, good friends I have built relationships with over the years.  Many of them were the best fighters in the union. My grandchildren are black.

After the cops let us go I thought to myself, "What if I were black? I could be dead, at least arrested." I am not a white liberal or one of those leftists that is ashamed of being white or male and a son or daughter of the privileged middle classes.  I don't feel guilty about who I am or feel sorry for specially oppressed people, those who are oppressed as workers and also as persons of color, women, LGBT or any others. I am inspired by their struggles and their humanity in the face of a violent system that brutalizes us all. Liberal guilt and self-hatred produces the most crude and condescending racism in my opinion. 

But recognizing history for what it is does not mean blaming oneself for conditions beyond our control as individuals or history in which we played no part.  But denying history as others experience it and what that has meant for them in the present, not giving validity to the experiences of others or accepting that they may face additional social oppression, discounting their accounts of how society treats them, is calling them liars and is insulting. Don’t be surprised if you are labeled a racist or sexist, you deserve the handle. To do this is divisive, it is the form of prejudice that prevents the unity between working class people that can change conditions for all of us, provide all of us with a future.  Those white brothers and sisters, who justify the killing of black youth like Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and others, an almost daily occurrence, should be ashamed of yourselves and others of us must publicly condemn them, show where we stand.

The white racist bosses don’t care about white workers.  That white workers have had social advantages and privileges is only because we are a majority and are used as tools in the overall plan.  Bob Dylan’s song/poem A Pawn in the Game, is one of the best examples of how white workers have been conned, how the white ruling class has used white workers as a means of dividing the class as a whole.  The same divide and rule tactic is used between men and women, is used in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestant. It is not male workers that pay women 70 cents to the male dollar. It is overwhelmingly white bosses (and their black class colleagues) and their political parties that instituted it.  It’s not that a woman getting the same pay as the male one that is the main issue; it’s that the boss tells the male worker it will come out of his pay.  The same with improving black or white poverty, the bosses will, if we let them, ensure the increased share for the poor comes from those of us better off.  It’s a conscious divisive tactic.

Racism, sexism and all other forms of division like these are built in to the capitalist mode of production, the economic system we call capitalism. As white workers, we have to recognize that our lot, our future is tied to our class, to all other workers, not to those with power who happen to have the same skin tone and who might throw us a few more crumbs from their table. When I was traveling in Iraq in the 70’s, some Arabs would talk of the violent role British imperialism played in that country. I agreed and made it clear that my similarity with them was we had white skin, spoke English and drank tea.  My sympathy lay with the Iraqi’s not the Queen of England whose family, like all of them, stole every penny of their wealth in the most brutal fashion.

 “You can’t have capitalism without racism” Malcom X said. He was right.

Here is a piece from Mother Jones Magazine that drove me to make the comments above.

21 Things You Can't Do While Black

In the United States, sometimes your skin color is evidence enough against you.

Update: On October 17, 2014, Michael Dunn was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Jordan Davis.
Update: On February 15, 2014, the judge in the murder trial of Michael Dunn declared a mistrial on the first-degree murder count after the jury could not come to a decision. The jury reached verdicts for the other charges Dunn faced, and he was found guilty of three counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of throwing a deadly missile. Prosecutor Angela Corey said that she will retry Dunn for first-degree murder in Jordan Davis' death.
Florida's second sensational, race-tinged murder trial in less than a year is underway. Michael Dunn, a white, 47-year-old software developer, shot and killed Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old African American, as the teen sat in an SUV with three friends.

Charged with first-degree murder, Dunn is pleading self-defense.* He contends that he argued with the teens (over what a witness says he called their "thug music") and fired on them after he claims he saw Davis brandish a shotgun. Police found no gun at the scene, and witnesses say Davis never had one.

Like the George Zimmerman trial, during which the self-styled neighborhood watchman successfully argued that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in self-defense, Dunn's case has raised questions about Florida's broad Stand Your Ground law, racial profiling, and how the two issues intersect. Would Martin and Davis be alive if they weren't black? Would they have been afforded the benefit of the doubt by their killers if they had been white? Their deaths didn't happen in a vacuum. There's evidence that just being black in the United States is often all it takes to arouse suspicion. Here are 21 examples from the last five years of some of the things black people can't do without others thinking they're up to no good.
1. Listen to loud music at a gas station.
2. Walk home from a snack run to 7-11.
3. Wear a hoodie.
4. Drive after swimming.
5. Drive in a car with a white girl.
6. Appear in public in New York City.
7. Walk on the wrong side of the street.
8. Wait for a school bus to take you to your high school basketball game.
9. Drink iced tea in a parking lot.
10. Seek help after a car accident.
11. Inspect your own property.
12. Show up at your job.
13. Talk trash after an NFL game.
14. Throw a temper tantrum in kindergarten.
15. Buy designer accessories at Barney’s.
16. Buy designer accessories at Macy’s.
17. Be a 13-year-old boy.
18. Enter your own home.
19. Botch a science experiment.
20. Be a tourist.
21. Lay face down in handcuffs.

Clarification: A previous version of this story stated that Dunn was pleading self-defense under Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law.Dunn waived his right to an immunity hearing under Stand Your Ground, but it has played a significant role in Dunn's defense. During the trial, Dunn's attorney argued to the jury that Dunn had the right to "meet force with force"—language pulled directly from the law. The same language is also in the jury instructions, according to Dunn's attorney. Return to the story.

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