White cops killing Black men; segregated public schools; endemic and systemic Black poverty and a national narrative that would have us believe that America has entered into a new idyllic era of "color blindness." Obfuscated and masked by layers of hypocrisy, carefully crafted pseudo-science, and a willing cabal of "experts" on race relations, it is admittedly, exceedingly hard these days to see the ugly under-belly of pervasive American racism and bigotry. For despite our best intentions racism is alive and well in America today as evidenced by the nasty, hateful public dialogue and dangerous rhetoric on the United States presidential campaign trail.
And too, as a consequence of the oppressive social climate it's now become an uncomfortable thing for progressive Blacks to speak about racism, segregation and bigotry since we're supposed to have crossed that hurdle, especially with the election of America's first Black President, Barack Obama. Shrewdly, these modern day custodians of American 21st century racism, who have re-packaged its old, cruder and vicious versions, now come bearing gifts and posing as friends of Black and Brown peoples. This helps to make Black people and some leaders feel guilty about unpacking and exposing the ugliness of American racism that is still here with us today -- old, enduring, dangerous and immortal like Count Dracula undead, non-living, but very much alive.
Here's how the new, modern racism goes. Nationally, America's political leaders, Black and white, Democrats and Republicans, applaud the nation for having moved beyond the stigma of racism. That's the opening gambit of "a safe public narrative." They point to a few Blacks, including President Barack Obama, as "proof positive" that the old days and heyday of the racist white bogeyman has ended.
For good measure they also throw in a few successful Hispanics to drive home the notion of color blindness. But here's the trick. The national conversation about the end of racism and the era of color blindness is exclusively driven, created and centered on a few success stories that are posited and spun in the white media as the norm, rather than the exception. These success narratives are specially designed to be told over and over again to hoodwink a community not noted for its critical thinking skills. Its "tokenism" in a modern business suit, made up to look "positive" and sold to Black, Brown and minority communities as the new beacon of "our success" that should be emulated and celebrated. Cable television programs specifically targeted to Black and Brown audiences exthol the success and achievements of Hollywood "stars," their jet-set, affluent lifestyles and the new Black members of the noveau rich and their millions of dollars earned from rap music or some other venture far away from the ghettoized neighborhoods of East New York, Brownsville or Sunset Park.
And with every new retelling and rehashing these "success stories" are embroidered a bit more to suit the audience and the time. The result is that Blacks and Hispanics soon forget the other real stories of crippling and stultifying poverty, chronic inner city drug addiction, hopelessness, sub-standard education and healthcare that are all deliberately designed and furthered to "keep Black people in their place" and to enforce and entrench the rule of the white few. From food deserts to vermin-infested housing projects, crime as the new "equal opportunity employer" these crushing socio-economic problems prevent Black and Brown communities from realizing their full growth potential.
But don't worry there's always TMZ, "Dancing with the Stars," or some version of "American Idol" to dull the senses of Black and Brown people who wallow in pride at seeing "one of us" on these almost all-white programs. The sublime message is this: don't worry about your plight, look, Gee, see? One of you "made it" and so can you? Its carefully designed and packaged mass escapism marketed as "hope" to people without hope, a kind of fairy godmother approach to the daily challenges of the poor barely making it just to survive. It is in essence cruel and inhumane treatment of Black and Brown peoples.
For every story of Black and Latino success there are 1000 more of failed hopes, unmet needs, and decaying neighborhoods. These are the real stories that are never told because they are not supposed to be relevant today. No, we must not speak and give voice to the conditions of an entire generation of children born in urban ghettos whose fathers and uncles are in jail -- victims of the two-tiered system of American justice -- one white and privileged, the other Black, Hispanic and racist. No, we must not speak about the fact that neighborhoods made dangerous by drugs, high unemployment, and lack of opportunities conspire to keep decent teachers from Black community schools and high-end grocery stores out of the area.
In the face of all this, Black youth are told that if they stay in school, study hard and apply themselves they will get ahead, as if the "get ahead" playing field was fair and level. And when Black and Hispanic youths fail they are told that they did not fight hard enough to resist the strong pull of the ghetto and did not apply themselves sufficiently. This kind of condescending approach by both Black and white liberals about whose fault it is that Blacks and Hispanics can't ditch poverty is based on the flawed neo-liberal conclusion that poverty is about individual choice, desire, a lack of intelligence, and not having the coping skills that other races (read white) have.
Fact is poverty is man made. It is a consequence of stratified society, artificially enforced and reinforced divisions, and exploitative economic relations. It is also about racist attitudes and relations of one group within society to another. In the case of America it is about power and control by white America and the resulting and accompanying notions of privilege and prestige, and the powerlessness and lack of value and self-worth ascribed to Blacks by that power/social relationship. To be blunt: poverty is a failing of American society.
Those who would peddle the false narrative of a color-blind society are fooling nobody. It's not hard to see the realities of American racism, poverty and segregation. For example, in liberal, Democratic New York City, all one has to do is look at the borough of Manhattan and compare it to Brooklyn. Both are two of the five boroughs that make up New York City. That's where the similarity ends. Manhattan is home to millionaires and billionaires, multi-million dollar condominiums, high-end restaurants, entertainment centers and an affluent largely white community. On the other hand, Brooklyn is Black, immigrant and home to some of the city's poorest communities.
According to Diaspora Community Services (www.diasporacs.org) in Brooklyn, endemic poverty is a daily fact of life - 48% of Brooklyn residents earn below the federal poverty level and 80% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch as reported by public schools. Unemployment in these communities significantly exceeds borough and city averages with 15.3% in Central Brooklyn in comparison to Brooklyn's 10.2%. Unemployment among Black males in these communities is even more pronounced at a staggering 18.3%.
North Central Brooklyn boasts some of the lowest graduation rates in the City with only 44% graduating high school. As high as 46% of residents in these communities live in subsidized or public housing in comparison to 18% for the borough as a whole.
At the same time, these neighborhoods are diverse and culturally vibrant destinations with a strong sense of community. The vast majority of households are of African American, Caribbean and Latino descent with a large immigrant population representing their rich cultures. They are proud, hardworking neighborhoods with strong ties to family, faith and culture.
And with all that vibrancy, pride and willingness to do well the deck is stacked against them. Its here in these communities that the NYPD enforced its Stop and Frisk policies that disproportionately targets Blacks and Hispanics, as if they are the only ones who commit crimes. It's here that the failed, racist "Broken Windows" NYPD policy is unleashed on poor, Black and Hispanic neighborhoods with devastating consequences.
And its here that cops kill Black teens at the drop of a hat and then these victims are demonized and stigmatized even in death by the mainstream media saying that they had "criminal records" as if this somehow justified "murder by cop." Chronic, instutionalized racism permeates all sections of the United States society in a unified, organized and enforced policy that says that Blacks and Hispanics lives are of little value. It's the same policy that allowed a white lawmaker to call America's first Black president a liar on the floor of Congress and to tolerate the utterly insulting language that white lawmakers use when referencing the president -- something that they would never dream of doing to a white president.
That is the manifestation of white privilege enforced by control and power across all segments of American society. White is right. It's never wrong. It's the narrative that celebrates a white-owned newspaper in New York that published a cartoon depicting the President of the United States as a chimpanzee and the belated realization by white politicians that they hate Barack Obama because he's occupying a place that they feel entitled to as of right -- the White House.
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