Protect civil rights or Mr. Potato Head?

Hippocratic oath, ignored

potato headThe Weekly Sift guy posits: If there’s a theme in recent political news, it’s that Republicans and Democrats seem to be living in different worlds.

“I live in the Democratic world, so the issues Democrats talk about — Covid; the economic effect of Covid on ordinary people; protecting the right to vote; repairing crumbling 20th-century infrastructure and building for the current century; climate change; racism, sexism, and various other forms of bigotry; mass shootings; and letting DREAMers stay in the country — look real to me.

“Meanwhile Republican priorities — making it harder to vote; keeping transgirls out of school sports; changing discrimination laws to increase conservative Christians’ opportunities to express their disapproval of other people’s lifestyles; encouraging more people to carry guns in more situations; more tightly regulating which bathrooms people use; not letting cities require masks; and protecting Mr. Potato Head from cancel culture — are all weirdly divorced from any problems I can see.”

He describes this in much greater detail. And it wasn’t always so, as he explains.

Anyway, while trying not to pay too much attention to a murder trial in Minnesota, some other things that caught my attention.

ITEM: A story about my home county:
Research reveals gaping racial disparities in suburban arrests
“A review of data by the Times Union provided by the Capital Region’s largest suburban police departments revealed Black people are arrested and ticketed at rates that far exceed their percentage of the population in the mostly white communities.

This should surprise no one around here. Of course, the black folks in Albany knew this. But some of the white people in my church have been telling me this for years, how they had received what they perceived to be preferential treatment.

The Talk, redux

ITEM: Asian Americans, many for the first time, are giving children and elderly parents ‘The Talk’ on how to protect themselves from hate
“Some parents have been putting off these uncomfortable discussions, but they’re now unavoidable after the targeted murders of six Asian American women in the Atlanta area.” The conversations with their children are about how to gird themselves against a wave of anti-Asian sentiment, violence, and bullying.

ITEM:  Arkansas Governor Signs Pro-Religious Discrimination Bill Allowing Doctors to Refuse to Treat LGBTQ Patients.
And here I thought doctors followed a Hippocratic oath to recognize their “special obligations to all my fellow human beings.” This is contemptible legislation.

ITEM: Lindsey Graham Accuses President Of ‘Playing Race Card’ On HR 1
There was a time, right after John McCain died, that I thought maybe this guy could become something better. Nope.

ITEM: From The Lancet, no less. Public policy and health in the Trump era
“Trump exploited low and middle-income white people’s anger over their deteriorating life prospects to mobilise racial animus and xenophobia and enlist their support for policies that benefit high-income people and corporations and threaten health.

“His signature legislative achievement, a trillion-dollar tax cut for corporations and high-income individuals, opened a budget hole that he used to justify cutting food subsidies and health care. His appeals to racism, nativism, and religious bigotry have emboldened white nationalists and vigilantes, and encouraged police violence and, at the end of his term in office, insurrection.” (49 pp, free with registration)

ITEM: SATIRE –  Georgia Governor Declares Water a Gateway Drug That Leads to Voting

On the other hand

ITEM:  Louisiana, Activists May Be Winning a Battle Against Environmental Racism
Analysts say the massive petrochemical complex proposed by Formosa Plastics is “financially unviable.”

ITEM: Brown University students vote to support reparations for descendants of enslaved people connected to the school
“Studying the issue doesn’t put money in Black folks’ pockets,” the student body president said. “It’s lovely and all, but how does that rectify what happened?”
Of course, the question is always, “How?”

Redlining and The Color of Law

author Richard Rothstein

Redlining.HOLC_map_AlbanyA few months ago, CBS News did a piece on redlining. That is the discriminatory practice in which “a mortgage lender denies loans or an insurance provider restricts services to certain areas of a community, often because of the racial characteristics of the applicant’s neighborhood.”

More amazing, though, was the report in February 2021 when CBS’s Tony Dokoupil reflects on how “his family benefitted from government housing policies that were denied to Black Americans.” And he spoke to some of the neighbors with whom he grew up. One said, essentially, that what’s past is past and we’ll do better in the future.

The problem is that the wealth gap shows “evidence of staggering racial disparities. At $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150) in 2016.”

It’s rather like running a 10K race, with the competition already at the 9K mark. It’s impossible to catch up.

The issue is not just with redlining. I’m in the midst of reading an important book entitled The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. It shows in excruciating detail that the segregation in American cities is de jure rather than de facto. It is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it.

More than the month

This is why I support, more than ever, Black History Month. Not that it should be limited to February. Indeed, black history should be “taught in all schools—especially those with a small Black student population.” I’ve heard a number of times people trying to create racial awareness, only to receive pushback in their work or organizational environment. “We don’t have that many minorities here.”

My perception is that a lot of people think they know about slavery. They may be oblivious to rebellions or underestimate the brutality, but it’s on the radar. The period after the Civil War from Reconstruction to the imposition of the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and lynching, is less familiar. Stories about Wilmington, NC, and Tulsa, OK, for instance, are just now being heard in the broader population.

And of course, at least some kids have heard about MLK, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson.

But the systemic governmental and institutional (banks, unions, real estate agents) forces that limited the creation of wealth in the black community in the 20th century have been largely a hidden phenomenon.

The maps don’t lie

Check out, for instance, Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America. It shows maps from all over the country reflecting the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation policies between 1935 and 1940. The areas in red were considered economically “hazardous.” The map shown is of Albany, NY, with Arbor Hill, West Hill, and the South End in red. (Note the city actually points more to the northwest.) But it’s hardly unique. Search YOUR city.

“HOLC assumed and insisted that the residency of African Americans and immigrants, as well as working-class whites, compromised the values of homes and the security of mortgages. In this they followed the guidelines set forth by Frederick Babcock, the central figure in early twentieth-century real estate appraisal standards, in his Underwriting Manual: ‘The infiltration of inharmonious racial groups … tend to lower the levels of land values and to lessen the desirability of residential areas.'”

I may write about the book The Color of Law. Or I may let my friend Alison do so since I know she took nine pages of notes when she read it.

This month, the House of Representatives held hearings on H.R. 40 – a bill that would set up a commission to examine the institution of slavery and its impact and make recommendations for reparations to Congress. Note the effects of slavery did not end in 1865. Jim Crow segregation and enduring structural racism are endemic to our society.

Discussion of reparations as history lesson

for three decades, members of Congress have introduced H.R.40

reparationsIn the current conversation about reparations, there is one thing I think we all can agree upon: we see race in America with very different lenses.

I have been skimming the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties’ hearing on H.R. 40 and the Path to Restorative Justice, which was held Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Both the bill number and the date were significant.

H.R. 40 refers to “forty acres and a mule,” a radical post-Civil war redistribution of land “set apart for the settlement of the negroes [sic] now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.” After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. this, of course, never took place.

June 19, or Juneteenth, was the date in 1865 “when the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.” After a period of decline, the celebration “received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. [in 1968]. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor.”

The specific ask in the legislation is to establish “the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.” In other words, have a bunch of meetings.

TESTIMONY

“Reparations is not a new idea—and for three decades, members of Congress have introduced H.R.40, a bill to establish a commission that would study reparations. But only once before, in 2007, has Congress even held a hearing on the bill.”

You may have heard the riveting testimony of prominent black author Ta-Nehisi Coates. “It is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement, but the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy, respects no such borders. And the god of bondage was lustful and begat many heirs: coup d’etats and convict leasing, vagrancy laws and debt peonage, redlining and racist G.I. bills, poll taxes and state-sponsored terrorism.”

However, another author, Burgess Owens, whose great-great-grandfather was a slave, testified: “At the core of the reparation movement is a divisive and demeaning view of both races. It grants to the white race a wicked superiority, treating them as an oppressive people too powerful for black Americans to overcome. It brands blacks as hapless victims devoid of the ability, which every other culture possesses, to assimilate and progress. Neither label is earned.”

So you have some asking to cut the check and others who point out the statistical errors of “the reparations agenda.”

THE BIGGER PROBLEM

Like me, the Weekly Sift is “of two minds about this subject. On the one hand, enslaved Africans and their descendants built a large chunk of America’s wealth and wound up owning none of it. That long-ago injustice (plus Jim Crow plus ongoing racism) still has repercussions, and even those whites whose families never owned slaves have benefited in ways we don’t always appreciate…

“But in addition to the inadequacy of monetary settlement, there’s a bigger problem: For reparations to bring this chapter to a close, our society needs to reach some kind of consensus about what the payment is for and what it means. We’re nowhere close to that.

“If reparations for slavery were paid tomorrow, the white-nationalist types would believe blacks had used their political power to extort something, and they would want to get it back. A lot of other whites would feel like racism was a dead topic now: ‘Don’t ever talk to me about racism again. I paid my bill for that.'”

That appears to be an accurate assessment, based on the comments of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who suggested that electing Barack Obama as President made up for hundreds of years of racism. As if.

The rationale for the Supreme Court gutting the heart of the Voting Rights Act in the 5-4 Shelby County ruling of 2013 was more voter equality. Yet, even before that ruling, states have passed discriminatory laws making it HARDER for people to vote.

My inclination, in this current retrograde period, is to have the conversation about what “reparations” mean go forward. But I need to continue musing on this, with perhaps more personal observations next time. Meanwhile, listen to Let Your Voice Be Heard radio for the episode 40 Acres and Barack Obama.

May #2: Philosophy of the world

Why Is Everyone Running for President?

Waiting for the But
xkcd -licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
What I Lost (and Can Never Get Back) When My Father Was in Guantanamo North

How Poor Oversight and Fraud in Generic Drug Industry Threatens Patients’ Health

Why Is Everyone Running for President? It’s a Billion-Dollar Industry

‘We’ve created a civilisation hell bent on destroying itself – I’m terrified’, writes Earth scientist

What Changed My Mind About Climate Change? Risk management is not a binary choice

Last Week with John Oliver: Green New Deal and Death Investigations

Last American slave ship discovered in Alabama

What Reparations for Slavery Might Look Like in 2019

Largest ever class of black women graduating from West Point – 32!

Hilde Lysiak of the Orange Street News gives commencement address at Reed School of Media at West Virginia University

‘We must be in this together. Relentlessly.’ Deborah Lipstadt, MA ’72, PhD ’76, delivered the keynote address at Brandeis University’s 68th Commencement

Arthur’s Unexpected reboot

Understanding the divine sense of humor

Why certain words are left out of our English-language Bibles

Kindness Can Be Taught. Here’s How

Casting announced for The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen’s acclaimed Off-Broadway hit, at the Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, NY July 11-14, 18-21

Portrait of Steve Martin and Martin Short on 60 Minutes Australia

The Bob Emergency: a study of athletes named Bob- Part I and Part 2

The Secret Behind the Success of Avengers Endgame – not that much of a secret

Blogging revelation and reflection

How to Be an Ethical Influencer and I’m A Supposed Influencer and An Open Letter to Professional YouTubers

Now I Know: What do you do when someone you don’t like is wearing your clothes? and The Second Life of Crayons and Pigcasso

Does This Dress Make Me Look Guilty?

Why do people love coffee and beer

Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln was one of the most remarkable adventurers, scoundrels and fraudsters of the 20th century

To keep his daughter from getting bored on a family trip a dad had her Irish Step Dance in every location they stopped in at Ireland

8 Things Your Credit Card Can’t Buy

The Worst Product Ever

MUSIC

Rolling Stone – Annie & the Hedonists

Someone You Loved– Lewis Capaldi.

And The Waltz Goes On – André Rieu, composed by Anthony Hopkins

Symphonic suite for the Hayao Miyazaki film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Joe Hisaishi

Coverville: 1262: This Day in Covers – 1989 and 1263: The Smiths Cover Story

Mass incarceration

“[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks,” [H.R.] Haldeman, his Chief of Staff wrote, “The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

newjimcrow2Arthur, the Yankee Kiwi dandy, in response to my July 4 post, notes:

Yep, and now we have people like Bobby Jindal [Republican governor of Louisiana] — who always follows his party’s rightwing, never leads it—declaring that an armed rebellion by rightwing “Christians” is in the offing. It just keeps getting better, eh?

I’d be quite keen to see a post about government overreach. We hear that all the time from the right—the far, FAR right in particular—but I can’t recall ever seeing anyone from our side of the Great Divide talking about it.

Do you want an example of government outreach? OK, and it was massive, and it continues. Per The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and other sources, there have three major enslaving periods of black people in the United States. A July 4, 2014 talk by Alice Green addressed this phenomenon.

The first period, of course, was chattel slavery, It was, in most ways, the easiest to define. When Frederick Douglas gave his ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ address in 1852, everyone was on the same page as to what was happening, even as they vigorously disagreed about what to do about it.

(Note that in 2014, an Arizona charter school teaches from a book arguing slavery wasn’t so bad.)

This period ended with the Thirteenth Amendment of 1865, which reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In fact, it is that section between the commas that have been the problem for the next two phases.

After the brief Reconstruction, which ended by 1877, there is the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (and they are STILL around), Jim Crow laws, the 1896 separate but [ostensibly] equal Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson, and Slavery by Another Name, picking up blacks for minor crimes and renting out their services to industry.

Following World War II, indeed, in part as a result of the war, the US experienced a major pushback against racism, with Truman desegregating the army, the Supreme Court’s Board v. Board of Education (1954) and other cases, the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-1956), Freedom Riders, the 1963 March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and various other activities that suggested that equality was right around the corner.

Enter President Richard Nixon and the War on Drugs. Early on, circa 1971, “the majority of funding goes towards treatment, rather than law enforcement.” In a test market the year before, a methadone program in Washington D.C. “reduced burglaries by 41%.” So there were early signs that treatment could work.

For reasons too complicated to go into here – read this The Atlantic piece – Nixon wanted to employ an electoral “southern strategy.” “In Nixon’s eyes, drug use was rampant in 1971 not because of grand social pressures that society had a duty to correct, but because drug users were law-breaking hedonists who deserved only discipline and punishment.”

But there were also more cynical motives:

Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue…that we couldn’t resist it.

– John Ehrlichman, White House counsel to President Nixon on the rationale of the War on Drugs.

“[Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks,” [H.R.] Haldeman, his Chief of Staff wrote, “The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Did you ever wonder how this country went from a prison population of about 300,000 in 1973 to 500,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million people in 2008, the most imprisoned population in the world, and still over two million today? Is this a result of a sudden lack of moral character? No, this was a function of a decision to criminalize more actions.

States went along with this policy. New York State had the draconian Rockefeller drug laws “that put even low-level criminals behind bars for decades.” It had harsher prison terms for people who took crack cocaine (primarily blacks) than those who snorted powdered cocaine (primarily whites).
prison-Hallway
Once you have put people in prison, though, they never get out. Not really. Recidivism rates are generally high. Turning one’s life around is difficult with a criminal record and no job skills.

Did I mention that “African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population”?

Now this an oversimplification, but I think a lot of the problems with police overreaction with criminals, and with citizens who aren’t necessarily committing a crime, are linked to creating a criminal class. The excessive militarization of American policing is the result. A group of people is demonized, again. See, for instance, a woman beaten by a California Highway Patrol cop or the death of Eric Garner.

You may have heard about a new epidemic of heroin use in Vermont, upstate New York, and elsewhere. Most of the addicts are white, and most of the time, you see stories of their parents saying, “He’s not a bad kid, he just needs help.” While I agree with this, I wish the hearts and minds of people were so considerate towards black and Hispanic people with the same problem. White kids need help/black kids need jail codifies the mass incarceration scenario.

Not that white people don’t get caught up in the dragnet of excessive use of jail time. An impoverished mother dies in a jail cell over unpaid fines for her kids missing school. The Pennsylvania jail became a debtor’s prison.

I’ve noted recently how important it is to let people who had been in jail and served their time to be able to vote. (Note: I wrote that before you asked the question, but didn’t post until after.)

Also, this is why I tend to be in favor of legalized marijuana use, which is happening in Colorado and Washington state recreationally. I never “got” pot; the few times I tried it, it just made me sleepy. But the decriminalization of cannabis almost HAS to be better than Drug Enforcement raids.

The problem with the government’s overreach of mass incarceration is that it was so broad that it has become systemic. Now there are other factors, including education and poverty, but too many people in prison certainly affect these as well.

Since I started writing this, there was a stellar piece about prison on This Week Tonight with John Oliver. Also, How Race And Class Drive The Justice System:

Why are African-American youth 4.5 times more likely to end up in jail than white kids who commit identical offenses? According to Nell Bernstein, the answer is simple: Race and class determine who gets locked up in this country.

In her shocking new book, Burning Down The House, Bernstein examines America’s broken juvenile justice system and the toll that it takes on those who go through it. Bernstein explains why minorities are treated so much more harshly than their white peers, why the government won’t shut down the most abusive prisons, and how difficult it is for teens to rebuild their lives after spending time on the inside.

Finally, you should read Miriam Axel-Lute’s article on making reparations. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea, mostly because I don’t know what the mechanics of doing that look like at this point. She cites Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic, about which she says, correctly, “Coates ties together a number of disparate historical facts into a compelling, cohesive narrative about how this country didn’t just happen to have slavery until we finally got rid of it, but that our wealth, our economy, even our democracy, is the way it is because of slavery, and the racial violence that allowed it and outlasted it.” Four years ago, Coates opposed reparations.
***
And speaking of education: Ronald Reagan stuck it to millennials: A college debt history lesson no one tells.

And actual slavery is not dead in America.