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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Flag Removed: one more Detour?

It's just amazing how easily many Americans are distracted from real issues.  As a society, we sometimes have a hard time focusing on the heart of an issue even when it stares us down and flies directly into our field of vision; into our very faces. Such a detour was just taken in South Carolina, and it has served to direct our attention away from the main issues.

Perhaps it is instructive to note a few examples from our history of other diversions from primary issues:

Real Issue: Challenges that Communist theory imposed on Capitalist theory and practices
Sidetrack: Investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950's into communist sympathizers within the government, the entertainment business, and the army.

Real Issue: Does Saddam Hussein and his regime pose a real military threat to the United States?Sidetracks: Weapons of mass destruction, nuclear fission material from Africa and attacks upon his own people used as propaganda

Real Issue: Right to Vote granted to all citizens
Sidetracks: Voter fraud (practically non-existent), voter IDs restricted to certain types, subtle voter suppression (closing of certain election offices, last-minute change in poll locations, changing hours of openings to inconvenient times, closing of bathrooms at polling places, etc.)

Real Issue: Gun violence is causing deaths and injury for innocent children and adults at a rapid pace.
Sidetracks: More guns in hands of more citizens will curb gun violence; Right-to-carry concealed guns in any circumstances for protection; 2nd Amendment rights must remain unrestricted in case government powers attack their own citizens; Mental health care is the key to reducing gun violence by a few disturbed individuals

These are but a few of the distractions from real issues that have been perpetrated and perpetuated by political prevaricators. And still, too many citizens are willing to be bamboozled over and over with not even a whimper of protest or just plain truth-telling about the detours around real societal issues. It shouldn't be any surprise, then, that here we are at a familiar juncture: the substitution of a secondary issue for the real issue of white racism.

As reported by Reuters, few politicians acknowledged the source of the S.C. tragedy, except for Hillary Clinton who spoke out in favor of actions beyond sympathy:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidates steered clear on Thursday of addressing the role gun rights and racial tensions may have played in a deadly mass shooting in South Carolina as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton called for the United States to face what she called the "hard truths" underpinning the tragedy."

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina also decided to act, signing a bill that calls for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the State Capitol, as a gesture of remorse and "renewal" and perhaps as a way to memorialize the nine African American Christians killed by a young man, Dylann Roof, connected to a white supremacist philosophy and activism. (For more on the history and reactions to this symbol, consult: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/06/22/416548613/the-complicated-political-history-of-the-confederate-flag)

As a symbolic gesture (removing a symbol of slavery and racial hatred), it may have broad appeal and some validity, and should receive a modicum of attention and praise. But, as a solution to the issue of race enmity and control perpetuated by a white power structure that has institutionalized racial denigration, it must be seen primarily as a diversion from the real issue of racism that has been eating away at our democratic ideals and system of government for over 240 years.

How does the removal of the Confederate battle flag change the fact of the more than double unemployment rate among Black citizens as opposed to white citizens? Or, how does such a gesture change other equally important anomalies in the state of South Carolina:

  • How does that gesture change the voter ID restrictions imposed by South Carolina to affect (mostly Democrat) voters who happen to be African American?
  • How does the flag's removal have any affect on the inadequate schools that African American children are attending in most of our cities? 
  • How does that gesture change the fact that over 50% of African Americans (mostly working poor) are living below the federal poverty level?
  • How does it change the fact that South Carolina is one of a shrinking number of states that still incarcerates children (disproportionately Black) in secure detention centers for status offenses before their cases are even heard in court? Research shows that incarcerating children — even for very short periods of time — increases the likelihood they will have further involvement in the juvenile justice and adult prison system.
  • How does it change the fact that only 8% of the businesses in Charleston are Black-owned when the percentage of African Americans in that city's population is 25.4%?
  • How does it change the fact that people of color are still (for the most part) able to live only in areas that are not known for racial diversity? 
  • How does it affect the millions of South Carolina residents, including persons of color disproportionately, who have need of adequate health insurance and adequate health care?
  • How does the symbolic removal of the flag affect the new Jim Crow system: the out-of-proportion incarceration of men of color (supposedly for drug use or selling), and the lesser disproportionate sentences for similar crimes of white persons (cocaine use or sales in particular)?
  • How does the flag gesture change the unwarranted profiling of Black persons codified in S.C. law in 2005: "SECTION 5. Article 48, Chapter 5, Title 56 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding: Section 56-5-6560.  (A) Any time a motor vehicle is stopped by a state or local law enforcement officer without a citation being issued or an arrest being made, the officer who initiated the stop must complete a data collection form... that must include information regarding the age, gender, and race or ethnicity of the driver of the vehicle."
Another writer echoes these sentiments when writing on this same topic (Juan Cole article dated June 23, 2015):

"Governor Nikki Haley announced on Monday that she would attempt to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse, recognizing the pain it causes the one-third of the state who are African-Americans (about a quarter of whites also don’t care if it is up or not.)

This step is a welcome one... But it is only a symbolic measure and South Carolina’s 4.8 million residents can only achieve greater racial harmony and civil rights through practical steps. Among the most pressing of these steps:

Congressional districts in the state should not be drawn by the legislature, elected on a partisan basis, but by an impartial panel. Nearly a third of the population there is African-American or mixed, but it is not proportionally represented in politics because of gerrymandering. Six of the seven US representatives are white Republicans.

South Carolina should expand Medicaid as part of Obamacare. 178,000 people there have gotten caught in the coverage gap, and they are likely disproportionately African-American. South Carolina health statistics are Third World, and the state needs to address this problem. Instead, the spiteful South Carolina legislature tried to nullify Obamacare.

Some 22 counties are low-education, with 25 percent or more residents having less than High School. African-Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged educationally. The state needs more funding for high schools. 
The welfare of all South Carolinians would increase with these steps."

In my opinion, this gesture of removal of confederate flags will not be a catalyst for improving race relations and resolving institutional racism any more effectively than some other past symbolic gestures:

affirmative action
Republican Party members of color in leadership roles, especially former chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele
statues of Martin Luther King, Jr.
the election of a Black man as President of the United States

We are dealing here primarily with a gesture that may have some substance as a memorial to the nine South Carolina victims, but is nonetheless a detour and diversion from the real issues at hand in regard to institutionalized racism. We hear that this gesture will help to improve race relations. It may seem that way, and improvements in individual relationships and understanding between Black and White are not to be dismissed. But, it will take more than removal of a flag to increase meaningful relationships between the races, or to undertake the arduous task of undermining and opposing racial discrimination that is embedded in many of our institutions and their policies. For instance, we must:

  • have face-to-face discussion and debate; engage and listen to the voices of minorities
  • elect more African-Americans to office (although the number of black public officials has increased dramatically since the 1960s, Blacks make up only a few percentage points of the one-half million elected public offices in the United States)
  • through businesses and labor unions, offer training, jobs and leadership opportunities to African-Americans
  • remove barriers to employment, entrepreneurship, home and business ownership, education, training, healthy lifestyles, adequate housing and increase opportunities for success in all these areas
  • demand equal justice and safety
  • demand widespread Community Review Boards to monitor police brutality, harassment and unwarranted arrest of African-Americans (mainly young men)
  • provide vista-widening opportunities for poor people and minorities to expand their goals and their horizons, especially for Black children and young people
  • volunteer in agencies, locations, institutions, centers, and programs that also engage African-Americans
  • encourage the establishment of pre-K education as well as after school activities for all children
  • support community centers in urban communities
  • encourage the roles of mentors, advocates, navigators, and champions in every possible instance where one-to-one encouragement and caring support is needed (and desired)
This is just a partial list of activities and institutional reforms that might be productive for creating real relationships and common cause for white people and people of color. But this list can claim no particular grandeur in terms of overcoming pervading obstacles and barriers of institutional racism. That is a subject that has been dealt with before in my Blog postings (particularly Jan. 16, 2014, Feb. 17, 2014 and June 22, 2015). However, none of these postings can satisfy completely because the subjects of racism and poverty go to the heart of who we are as a people, what we are as a democracy, and why we are here to begin with as human beings.

Let us look again at the very basic roots of institutionalized racism so that we can begin to realize the long-lasting commitment that it will take to combat these institutionalized demons.

The Very Basic Roots of Institutionalized Racism:
  1. Slavery & Jim Crow. Laws and customs embedded in our Constitution where Black slaves are seen as less than full persons and slavery is protected
  2. Language and symbols. "Black" is bad, evil, morbid. 
  3. Profiling and Stereotyping. "Black" as equivalent to ignorance, irresponsibility, inferiority, dependency, criminality. Aboriginal or ape-like.
  4. Racial Superiority. The belief that White people are inherently superior to black people; a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
  5. Racial Control. To maintain a superior society controlled by Whites, restrictions and limits are placed on those felt to be inferior to prevent "them" from ever gaining control of society's functions or institutions.
In light of these fundamental catalysts, we might better understand some dictionary definitions, beginning with Wikipedia:

"Institutional racism is the differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society. When the differential access becomes integral to institutions, it becomes common practice, making it difficult to rectify. Eventually, this racism dominates public bodies, private corporations, public and private universities, and is reinforced by the actions of conformists and newcomers."

"Institutional racism is distinguished from racial bigotry by the existence of institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures which place minority racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution’s racial or ethnic majority.
  • One example is public school budgets (including local levies and bonds) and the quality of teachers, which in the U.S. are often correlated with property values: rich neighborhoods are more likely to be more 'white' and to have better teachers and more money for education, even in public schools.
  • Restrictive housing contracts and bank lending policies have also been listed as forms of institutional racism.
  • Racial Profiling by security guards and police, use of stereotyped racial caricatures,
  • The under- and mis-representation of certain racial groups in the mass media
  • Race-based barriers to gainful employment and professional advancement.
  • Differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society can be included within the term institutional racism, such as unpaved streets and roads, inherited socio-economic disadvantage, and "standardized" tests (each ethnic group prepared for it differently; many are poorly prepared).
  • The actual lack of services and goods and resources that are afforded to white persons and communities: large grocery and department stores, adequate child care, adequate job opportunities, internet access, an adequate transportation system, adequate health care, etc.
Victory over institutional racism cannot be won without a persistent dogged approach to the factors that lie at the roots of these problems. There are no easy solutions, but at the same time, there is no time to waste either. We cannot put off the solutions and the efforts until some magical time when people will be more receptive or conditions more perfect for change. The time for action is now. Speak out and act out at every opportunity to expose institutional racism and personal bigotry.