Monday, January 21, 2019

Lessons in Civics



I spent the better part of the day doing Yoga and trying to meditate to find inner peace.  This weekend once again seemed to do its best to distract and disturb the idea of what MLK Day was to mean and the intent of his message.

We have the story that has now evolved about the Boys and the Indian Drummer who all seem to be either lying, failing to communicate effectively or just trying to make some excuses, but once again the Adults in the room failed to circumvent, stop or intervene as the chanting, posturing and smirking what could have escalated into into something worse.

But that is alright because not one but two schools, one private the other the University of Oklahoma, filmed a blackface video which shows that the white and the privilege go hand in hand with America's future elite.  

The Women's March came and went like the weather and it I suspect has seen its end coming to a rapid close and will be back in the closet with the rest of the "resistance."

Today David Leonhardt wrote an interesting op-ed piece about how few Americans seem engaged when it comes to the Government Shutdown.  Well they were busy with competing Women's Marches, Right to Life ones, Black Israelites and Native American issues all on a massive weekend when Super Bowl Champions were being decided.  Bitch there are only so many hours in the day and days to a weekend. Pass the chili.

I live in Tennessee and this weekend we inaugurated a Plumber to the Governor's Office and he is about as right wing religious crazy as one could imagine in this state of red.  He of course pledged to God and swore for smaller Government so if that is the case may I start with stopping the incentive packages or corporate welfare being doled out to the biggest Welfare Queens that ever lived.  They don't drive Cadillac's however they fly private, way better and bigger to harm the environment.

The message of King is one that they preach heavily here and are also in denial about but there is no shortage of bullshit in the South as that is what they fertilize the soil with as it makes for great cotton or whatever they grow here.  I have no clue and don't care.

But I do come from Seattle the town that wears more t-shirts, bracelets, clutches more pearls and pretends that the history of racism was something done years before and they will march, walk, hashtag to stop it all while sitting in their very white neighborhoods with their highly capable  children going to very white schools and all possessing the intellect to at least insult you with multi-syllabic words.  In Seattle you drink the kool aid and it it like tea is too sweet and anyone who refuses is an instigator or a problem, in the South you are just a blessing.  Same diff but with an accent.

It is is easy to be liberal when you are in a comfortable chair with a good job and a source of income. It is good when you are white, educated and with few debts.  Your children and family are all well and well adjusted and you survive a crisis as you have access and availability to the resources needed to resolve it.  You are privileged when you are aware of the world outside but you are also safely insulated from it.

Until I moved here I did not get racism at all. I witnessed it and I never experienced it.  I have here where yes those of other races judge me by my race and assume the worst.  It exhausts you to think that skin color defines you.  But until I actually felt it I did not understand it as "racism" but as a misguided attempt to generalize and failure to know me.  But I felt as those faces of color must feel every day as prior to this my encounters with race were limited to neighbors and to students and my own ability to be outside but not inside actually living it.  As a result it enabled me to take that higher ground when accusations of racism fell into my direction. I used to believe that it was a card tossed like a penalty flag on a football field where not every penalty is noticed nor is always one but it was tossed as a last ditch effort to gain traction regarding an issue and but those on notice.  And I agree that times it was genuine, such as with regards to Police shootings, jobs and housing. But to me and to those around me we are not racists and we don't do anything to generate that I thought;  I used to feel pity when I heard about such horrific issues and when riots resulted, marches came and went I thought it was deserved as that showed a desperation which I felt I understood and could at least empathize.  And then I came here.   I questioned everything I had ever learned from living in Seattle in the most diverse area of the city, from working in public education, from living in Oakland and other diverse eclectic urban cities, from working and befriending colleagues that were not like me.  And then I moved to Nashville and I realized I knew nothing.  The urban cities of the West and East has a way of making discrimination wrapped in both prejudice and full out racism all taste smooth and bland like a nice vegan tofu dish that makes hate take on the flavor that surrounds it.  Coming here my taste buds got woke alright.

My first real experience with faces of color came from the schools. The Teacher who refused to let me take a bus as the neighborhood was not safe despite the fact that TSU is adjacent and I could easily pick a bus up midday without fear or delay.  What did it say about anyone who went to this school.   A school that shared the name of the Engineer who designed the African American Museum and whose legacy in building and in books that should be in the library shelves in said school.  Yet she did not know of this and she a face of color was schooled by this white woman who went from school to school sharing my knowledge of history like the markers that align every street corner and building throughout the city.   A place surrounded by history and yet its residents seemed to be utterly unaware of it.  That lack of knowledge was the first flag tossed and a penalty point noted.  I was now on alert that the game and play was not one that would lead to winning.

The next was in the behavior and attitude of the children.  I would later see the same demonstrated by the adults I encountered when I volunteered at the Frist Museum, at the YMCA, on the Bus and in the Symphony.  Each encounter was marked by a derision and nastiness that made me wonder how I presented myself to deserve such ire.   Even my Yoga teacher today said that I had been surrounded by evil since arriving here and I cannot disagree.  The next penalty flag was raised.  And they kept flying to the point I had to walk off the field as it was game over. 

From this I began to question my feelings about race and of course religion.  My politics have never changed but even that too I had to wonder what I brought from my years of leaning left and advocating such strong beliefs in being a Democrat and in Government.  A Teacher of History and Literature I know found myself back in school.  And here in the schools I finally faced what I had not realized, that public education is a dumpster.  The schools here in Nashville are dumpsters on fire and the children garbage tossed inside and utterly neglected and abused but of late as I see Teachers walk out across the country I realize that this is the state of the nation in our schools and I was not alone with my frustration.  However, Nashville is like nothing I could have believed until I came here, entered the schools, interacted with the children and the staff and came away hating myself and them even more.  There is an odd co-dependency and in turn social segregation and isolation that dominates the city more than any Confederate flag or statue could ever manage.   As the game was over there was time to reflect and to study the plans and options for the future and I realized I wanted nothing to do with the future here I had to learn how to cope with the present.  I think King understood that better than anyone that without dealing across the board at the current state of affairs change and growth is not possible.  He too spent a great deal of time alone thinking, his in a cell and mine in my apartment and when you have that much time to do so you either go crazy or learn a whole new set of rules for games not yet played.

 I knew then I had to learn how to forgive myself and that was the process that began in the last  half of the year and will carry me through the rest of this year as I prepare to leave.  I can do nothing nor want to.  I want to hate less and not feel pity either as both come from places of superiority and arrogance that I don't need or want.  I just want to accept this as fact and move on and hope they figure it out but I have no intention of doing more than being a passive observer.  And when I read this in the New York Times today, I realized I am the subject that Dr. King addresses in his speech about Northern Liberalism.  But alas I am not in the North and perhaps that is where I belong because maybe then I can actually do something with those who are more like me and want to make amends.  Wishful dreaming or hoping but it is better than nothing. And we cannot not do nothing.  I love the double negative it means exactly that we will do nothing and nothing will be done in my lifetime.  One already longer than Dr. Kings.

What King Said About Northern Liberalism

“The white moderate” was more of an obstacle than “the Ku Klux Klanner.”

By Jeanne Theoharis
Dr. Theoharis, a political scientist, is the author of many books and articles on the civil rights movement.

The New York Times/Opinon
Jan. 20, 2019


“There is a pressing need for a liberalism in the North which is truly liberal,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told an interracial audience in New York City in 1960. He called for a liberalism that “rises up with righteous indignation when a Negro is lynched in Mississippi, but will be equally incensed when a Negro is denied the right to live in his neighborhood.”

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s tempting to focus on the glaring human rights abuses, racist fear-mongering and malfeasance happening at the federal level. But taking seriously Dr. King’s critique of Northern liberalism means also calling out liberal public officials and residents who profess commitments to equality yet maintain a corrupt criminal justice system and a segregated school system. It means calling out Northern newspapers, along with Southern ones, to atone for their skewed civil rights coverage. And it means reckoning with the dangers of “polite” racism, as Dr. King warned, which still rings true today.

Dr. King visited New York City throughout the 1960s and called attention to its racial problems. In Harlem in 1963, he spoke to an audience of some 15,000 white people as City College’s commencement speaker. Fewer than 2 percent of the graduates that day were black, giving visual proof to his admonition that the “de facto segregation of the North was as injurious as the legal segregation of the South.”

The next year, in a TV interview after the Harlem uprising, Dr. King called for “an honest, soul-searching analysis and evaluation of the environmental causes which have spawned the riots,” which started after the police killed 15-year-old Jimmy Powell. Dr. King was nearly run out of town when he dared to suggest that New York would benefit from a Civilian Complaint Review Board to oversee the Police Department.

In 1964, Dr. King refused to condemn the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality’s plan to create a major disruption by stalling cars on highways that led to the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows. After all, the goal was to draw attention to rampant inequality in the city, which had long been unaddressed. “If our direct action programs alienate so-called friends,” he wrote to in a letter to civil rights leaders, “they never were really our friends.”

Indeed, mainstream newspapers lauded his work in the South but took issue when he brought the same tactics north. In 1967, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced the need for mass disruption in Northern cities to draw attention to longstanding inequalities. The New York Times criticized the idea as “certain to aggravate the angry division of whites and Negroes into warring camps,” part of the paper’s long history of deploring direct action on home turf.

Three years earlier, when 460,000 New York City students stayed out of school to demand a comprehensive school desegregation plan — making it the largest civil rights demonstration of the decade — The Times called the daylong boycott “unreasonable,” “unjustified” and “violent.”

After the Watts uprising, Dr. King focused on the racial dishonesty of the North which “showered praise on the heroism of Southern Negroes.” But concerning local conditions, “only the language was polite; the rejection was firm and unequivocal.” The uneven attention was clear, he noted: “As the nation, Negro and white, trembled with outrage at police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated and usually denied.”

Dr. King also highlighted white people’s illegal behavior that helped produced Northern ghettos: The white man “flagrantly violates building codes and regulations, his police make a mockery of law, and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services,” he said in an address to the American Psychological Association in 1967.

In his 1967 book “Where Do We Go From Here,” Dr. King noted the limits of Northern liberalism: “Negroes have proceeded from a premise that equality means what it says.” “But most whites in America, including many of good will,” he wrote “proceed from a premise that equality is a loose expression for improvement. White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap.”

That still holds true. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A. found that New York State’s schools were the most segregated in the nation. Low-income students of color languish in underfunded schools while wealthier students attend better-resourced ones. And white parents are still tremendously resistant to school rezoning, just as they were 50 years ago.

And discriminatory policing persists. Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Mission Accomplished” narrative, police officers continue to use stop-and-frisk in a way that’s racially disparate. Now, many of the stops simply go unreported. The Police Department, despite court decisions, continues to disparately monitor Muslim communities, and it has reportedly surveilled Black Lives Matter activists.

At the same time, many people have condemned the disruptive tactics of Black Lives Matter activists, claiming they should be more like Dr. King.

In April 1963, Dr. King sat alone in the Birmingham jail. He knew the rabid side of white supremacy very intimately. And yet he wrote that “the white moderate, who is more devoted to order than to justice,” was more of an impediment than “the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.”

For too long, order has been more important than justice. We can honor Dr. King’s legacy by taking uncomfortable, disruptive, far-reaching action to remedy the problems to which he devoted his life.


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