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Tag: "racism"

Lynching Mexicans

[ 20 ] February 20, 2015 |

When that great study detailing the numbers of African-Americans lynched in the South came out last week, I noted that its weaknesses included that lynching was not confined to the South and that lots of non-blacks were lynched. Those stories are often forgotten about, as is so much about American racial history that is not black-white. I was not the only person to notice this of course and historians William Carrigan and Clive Webb have a New York Times op-ed on the matter:

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

Some of these cases did appear in press accounts, when reporters depicted them as violent public spectacles, as they did with many lynchings of African-Americans in the South. For example, on July 5, 1851, a mob of 2,000 in Downieville, Calif., watched the extralegal hanging of a Mexican woman named Juana Loaiza, who had been accused of having murdered a white man named Frank Cannon.

Such episodes were not isolated to the turbulent gold rush period. More than a half-century later, on Nov. 3, 1910, a mob snatched a 20-year-old Mexican laborer, Antonio Rodríguez, from a jail in Rock Springs, Tex. The authorities had arrested him on charges that he had killed a rancher’s wife. Mob leaders bound him to a mesquite tree, doused him with kerosene and burned him alive. The El Paso Herald reported that thousands turned out to witness the event; we found no evidence that anyone was ever arrested.

While there were similarities between the lynchings of blacks and Mexicans, there were also clear differences. One was that local authorities and deputized citizens played particularly conspicuous roles in mob violence against Mexicans.

On Jan. 28, 1918, a band of Texas Rangers and ranchers arrived in the village of Porvenir in Presidio County, Tex. Mexican outlaws had recently attacked a nearby ranch, and the posse presumed that the locals were acting as spies and informants for Mexican raiders on the other side of the border. The group rounded up nearly two dozen men, searched their houses, and marched 15 of them to a rock bluff near the village and executed them. The Porvenir massacre, as it has become known, was the climactic event in what Mexican-Americans remember as the Hora de Sangre (Hour of Blood). It led, the following year, to an investigation by the Texas Legislature and reform of the Rangers.

Especially on the left, it’s really important to reiterate these points. There are good reasons why black-white relations still dominate our conversations about race as the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner remind us. But these same racist murders happen to Latinos as well. And while not in the big eastern cities that dominate the media cycle, Mexicans have been in this nation as long as African-Americans and have been subject to routine and systemic discrimination ever since the U.S. stole the northern half of Mexico to expand slaver in 1848. These stories have to be central to our racial history in order to fight for the rights of Latinos in the U.S. today.

Birth of a Nation

[ 86 ] February 18, 2015 |

100 years ago today, D.W. Griffith showed his racist epic film “Birth of a Nation” at a private White House screening for President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson called it “history written with lightning,” and said lightning strike sparked the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, which in its late teens and early twenties form became a gigantic nationwide organization of conservative white men marching and organizing against not only African-Americans but all sorts of perceived threats ranging from women with short hair and the theory of evolution to Jews and socialism. When it declined in the late 20s, it wasn’t because of federal oppression or a rejection of the KKK’s ideas. Rather, it was because of widespread corruption in the organization’s leadership, including the the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan’s trial for the brutal rape and murder of a teacher named Madge Oberholtzer on a train.

I was first exposed to Birth of a Nation as a college student. While I did watch it for a class my senior year, it was my sophomore year that I actually first saw it. I worked for the AV department in college and this was long enough ago that films in class were being shown reel to reel (the switch to VHS capability in classrooms was taking place while I was in college). One quarter I had the job of running the previews of the 100-level intro to film course for the professor. Saw a bunch of weird stuff–Un Chien Andalou, The Gold Rush, and Notorious are three I distinctly remember. But none shocked me like Birth of a Nation, as I had never heard of the thing. I never forgot the shock of what I was seeing.

And if you haven’t seen Birth of a Nation, it really is must viewing, both in spite of and because of its racism. As a film, it’s great. As social commentary, it’s repulsive.

Fun Facts About Ben Tillman

[ 22 ] February 17, 2015 |

I just finished reading Steven Kantrowitz’s book from 2000, Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy. Tillman, the South Carolina politician who became nationally famous for his public defense of lynching and secession and his use of violence and violent language in the Senate and during public speeches, was one of the most loathsome political figures of the Gilded Age, but also one of the most influential. A man from an elite plantation family, after the Civil War, he recast himself as a man of the people who could lead South Carolina whites back into the reinstatement of white supremacy, even though as Kantrowitz discusses, he never accepted poor whites as equals and really wanted to recreate the class and gender relations of the plantation world, as well as the racial relations.

Anyway, two pieces of trivia about Tillman. Which is less surprising?

1) Tillman’s older brother murdered a man in a fight over gambling in 1856. He was indicted for murder. His response was to flee and join William Walker’s invasion of Nicaragua to capture it, legalize slavery, and establish a relationship to the United States that would make bring it within the orbit of American slave owners.

2) Tillman’s personal attorney was Strom Thurmond’s father.

Remembering Lynching

[ 57 ] February 10, 2015 |

The Equal Justice Initiative has researched a new history of lynching, documenting nearly 4000 lynchings in the South, including attempts to find the precise locations where they took place. The hope is thus to memorialize these spots with historical markers and other forms of interpretation. That can be powerful–after all, if that tree right over there and that particular branch even once held the body of a lynched black man, well, that’s a pretty strong statement of how near the history of lynching is to us today. So I fully support these efforts.

It is totally understandable that this project is only focusing on the lynchings of African-Americans in the South. After all, it is run by African-Americans in the South. However, this is far from the full story of lynching in American society, even if it often gets framed that way. After all, Malcolm X’s father was possibly lynched in Lansing, Michigan (and even if it really was an accident, his family was severely harassed in several states). And the American West is full of racially motivated lynchings against Mexicans, Native Americans, and African Americans. Leaving these incidents out of the history of lynching is problematic because it reinforces the idea of racism as a southern problem and covers up a lot of horrible crimes committed in left-leaning places today. There are some attempts to alleviate this loss of public memory, such as this walking tour of lynching sites in downtown Los Angeles (I believe a reader brought this to my attention). That doesn’t mean the EJI attempt to memorialize these lynching sites shouldn’t go on, only that I hope there is equal attention paid to lynchings in New Mexico and Wyoming as in Louisiana and Alabama.

On Racist Monuments

[ 52 ] February 6, 2015 |

The question with what to do with racist monuments is a difficult one. I can certainly understand the desire to change or erase them. If I am a member of a traditionally oppressed group and I saw words like “colored” or “savage” every time I looked at a monument, I would be pretty mad about it too. As a historian, I can also certainly understand why people would want to keep those monuments up and interpret them and remember that America has a racism problem rather than erase that past. I’m definitely not sure the latter concern trumps the former.

Today in Republican Minority Outreach

[ 101 ] December 29, 2014 |

Republicans might as well just embrace it at this point:

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white nationalist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.

The 48-year-old Scalise, who ascended to the House GOP’s third-ranking post earlier this year, confirmed through an adviser that he once appeared at a convention of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization.

That organization, founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Post-Racial America

[ 49 ] December 13, 2014 |

Structural racism is obviously dead in this country:

White households’ median wealth ticked up to $141,900 in 2013, up 2.4 percent from three years earlier, according to a Pew Research Center report released Friday.

Net worth for black households dropped by a third during that time to $11,000. Hispanic families experienced a 14 percent decline in wealth to $13,700.

Whites have 13 times the net worth of blacks, the largest wealth gap that’s existed since George H.W. Bush was president in 1989. The ratio of net worth between whites and Hispanics now stands at more than 10, the widest it has been since 2001.

Much of the focus in recent years has been the growth in income inequality, with the Top 1 percent capturing most of the post-Recession gains. But wealth inequality is also troubling.

There are several reasons for the growing gap, says Pew, citing Federal Reserve Bank data.

Minority households’ median income fell 9% between 2010 and 2013, compared to a drop of only 1% for whites. So minority households may not have been able to sock away as much or may have had to use more of their savings to cover expenses.

13 times the net worth of blacks. Post-racial America indeed.

Trenchant Historical Commentary on Eric Garner’s Murder (II)

[ 17 ] December 7, 2014 |

Thurgoodmarshall1967

Thurgood Marshall:

Although the city instructs its officers that use of a chokehold does not constitute deadly force, since 1975 no less than 16 persons have died following the use of a chokehold by an LAPD police officer. Twelve have been Negro males […]

It is undisputed that chokeholds pose a high and unpredictable risk of serious injury or death. Chokeholds are intended to bring a subject under control by causing pain and rendering him unconscious. Depending on the position of the officer’s arm and the force applied, the victim’s voluntary or involuntary reaction, and his state of health, an officer may inadvertently crush the victim’s larynx, trachea, or hyoid. The result may be death caused by either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. An LAPD officer described the reaction of a person to being choked as “do[ing] the chicken,” in reference apparently to the reactions of a chicken when its neck is wrung. The victim experiences extreme pain. His face turns blue as he is deprived of oxygen, he goes into spasmodic convulsions, his eyes roll back, his body wriggles, his feet kick up and down, and his arms move about wildly[…]

The training given LAPD officers provides additional revealing evidence of the city’s chokehold policy. Officer Speer testified that in instructing officers concerning the use of force, the LAPD does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor suspects. Moreover, the officers are taught to maintain the chokehold until the suspect goes limp, despite substantial evidence that the application of a chokehold invariably induces a “flight or flee” syndrome, producing an involuntary struggle by the victim which can easily be misinterpreted by the officer as willful resistance that must be overcome by prolonging the chokehold and increasing the force applied. In addition, officers are instructed that the chokeholds can be safely deployed for up to three or four minutes. Robert Jarvis, the city’s expert who has taught at the Los Angeles Police Academy for the past 12 years, admitted that officers are never told that the bar-arm control can cause death if applied for just two seconds. Of the nine deaths for which evidence was submitted to the District Court, the average duration of the choke where specified was approximately 40 seconds.

Trenchant Commentary on Eric Garner’s Death

[ 19 ] December 5, 2014 |

Richard Pryor on police killing black people with choke holds.

In Sight

[ 69 ] December 4, 2014 |

A central argument of Out of Sight is that when people see horrible things, they are outraged, and thus corporations do everything possible to separate consumers from production so that they don’t see workers dying like at Triangle or rivers burnings like the Cuyahoga. Instead, when these things happen in Bangladesh, it might get the attention to people like me, but the general public basically doesn’t care and thus no sustained movement develops to force accountability on corporations.

Some of the same dynamics are at work with police cameras. I heard a lot of people last night express frustration that the murder of Eric Garner was filmed and the cop still got off scot free. And that’s really messed up. Police cameras are no panacea. But they are a tool. If Garner’s murder is not filmed, no one knows about it. The same dynamic worked with Rodney King’s beating over twenty years ago. The cameras open our eyes to the horrors of racist police violence. Requiring them is something we must do. But just because this stuff is filmed doesn’t mean that it will necessarily lead to more convictions of murderous police officers. There’s a whole infrastructure set up to protect these cops. Unpeeling one layer of this onion brings us closer to justice but doesn’t guarantee it, not when you have a justice system set up to let cops off and not when you have an overwhelming attitude among many white Americans that “these people” should just follow the cops’ orders. But when the cameras bring us out to protest, express outrage, and demand justice, that places pressure on the police and their supporters to clean up their act. If they react like jerks to this pressure, as so many have done in recent weeks, then we can build on that too.

So fight for the cameras. If it’s not for the cameras, people aren’t on the street last night and continuing to express outrage today. It’s just another dead black man otherwise, one of far too many, the vast majority of which die from police violence without any movement for justice arising out of it. Just don’t expect the cameras to lead to prosecutions of cops. Not yet. Even if that’s absolutely what should be demanded. There is much more pressure that needs to be applied at more pressure points first. But like the Triangle Fire and the Cuyahoga River Fire, or for that matter the Ray Rice video, the knowledge that comes from viewing horrible things leads to meaningful calls for change.

Meanwhile, a white cop in Phoenix murdered an unarmed black man last night. Just another case of racist police violence toward people of color.

The Will of the People

[ 207 ] December 4, 2014 |

Albert Burneko is speaking some truth. Because the American justice system is not broken. It’s working just as intended, to use violence against people of color. This is a system that goes back to slavery and has routinely both used violence as part of a state mechanism to ensure racial inequality and covered up for those using violence against people of color for any number of reasons, from slavery to lynching to cops wantonly killing red, brown, and black people.

The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.

America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.

Policing in America is not broken. The judicial system is not broken. American society is not broken. All are functioning perfectly, doing exactly what they have done since before some of this nation’s most prosperous slave-murdering robber-barons came together to consecrate into statehood the mechanisms of their barbarism. Democracy functions. Politicians, deriving their legitimacy from the public, have discerned the will of the people and used it to design and enact policies that carry it out, among them those that govern the allowable levels of violence which state can visit upon citizen. Taken together with the myriad other indignities, thefts, and cruelties it visits upon black and brown people, and the work common white Americans do on its behalf by telling themselves bald fictions of some deep and true America of apple pies, Jesus, and people being neighborly to each other and betrayed by those few and nonrepresentative bad apples with their isolated acts of meanness, the public will demands and enables a whirring and efficient machine that does what it does for the benefit of those who own it. It processes black and brown bodies into white power.

That is what America does. It is not broken. That is exactly what is wrong with it.

I’ve read a number of people, including in comments here, say this is really about out of control police more than race. That’s just not true. Yes, police can be out of control against anyone they don’t like, including white kids protesting. But the large majority of the time, the people suffering this violence are people of color. When it happens to white kids, you hear about it. Hearing about the routine violence against black, brown, and red people hardly ever reaches the national consciousness, although we are obviously in a period of an uptick of protest against it. From its very founding, the United States has been predicated on racism. We see it in any number of metrics–poverty, housing, sentencing guidelines, education, etc., etc. And we see it in police violence. This is a racist nation and it continues to be a racist nation. It has always used police forces to commit violence against people of color and it continues to use police forces to commit violence against people of color. Things have changed, slightly, but the fundamental issues of inequality in American history remain central to the nation.

And by the way, happy 45th anniversary of the Chicago police shooting Fred Hampton in his sleep.

Shorter Rand Paul: “Obama, Like FDR, Oppresses Minorities”

[ 45 ] November 22, 2014 |

The Only Progressive Alternative in 2016 points out how Democratic presidents oppress minorities. Just like FDR threw all the Japanese-Americans into internment camps, Obama is oppressing the white minority by allowing undocumented immigrants to go to school without fear their parents will be locked up when they return home from 5th grade or allowing immigrant business owners to apply for loans to fund their enterprises. The parallel is clear.

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