CHASING CITIZENSHIP looks at individuals whose words and actions challenged popular opinion, conventional wisdom, and political correctness in order to make America a more excellent union. The series celebrates the work of people who faced their most basic personal interests and willingly sacrificed them for the good of others. Background on the series can be found under the FEATURED SERIES menu. Occasionally, we take a look at issues by concentrating much of the discussion on rebuttal. This article features a YouTube video and reactions to it on the question of racism in our nation. Does the video prove that racism no longer exists in America? Or does the video illustrate a more practical lesson for humanity? Following the video are discussion points that examine how we often deny the realities of racism based on some very crude arguments. We conclude with a concrete application of the video for our daily lives.
The attorney chose activism in a most practical way. That is, when it matters in the life of an individual that some might consider among the invisible people. For this, the Good Samaritan is to be applauded.
What this Does Not Prove…
As striking as the exchange itself were the numerous viewer comments that followed the YouTube video. A common theme emerged where viewers referred to this singular event to suggest that racism in America is essentially a figment of black America’s collective imagination. Comments refer to such blacks who sound the alarm, “race baiters”.
To the contrary, this video alone proves nothing about the existence of racism or the lack thereof. Fundamentally, it captures four individuals whose lives intersection, but for a few minutes. Two black police officers that are stretching their authority. One conscious individual who happens to be white and a female. And an innocent black man caught in the crossfire of race, class, disability, and injustice. Consequently, numerous problems exist with the tendency of some to claim, “See, racism is dead“; and to therefore, call blacks “race baiters” for pointing out the realities of racism.
The Problem of Inconvenience
The past seven years have complicated thoughtful dialog about race. The election of President Obama gave conservatives an opportunity to thrust our nation into a post-racial narrative. One that President Reagan’s “colorblind” mythology has welcome for nearly 40 years.
Humans are constructed to delight in good news. We are rational beings and warmly embrace ideas, news, and developments that align with our aspirations. Patients rarely request a second opinion following a report of good health. And in like manner, for over the past 40 years, a constant war between forces that espouse an all is well narrative has been conducted against those who prophetically speak about matters of race. Reagan’s worldview emerged as a backlash to African Americans asserting their dignity during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement. The conservative president reflected the predisposition of a burgeoning post-LBJ right-politics, led largely by conversion of Southern whites. The Reagan years meant, among other things, that race was off-the-table. The 10-ton elephant was to be avoided as if it was no longer in the very center of the room.
Predominance enjoys the comforts of imposition, particularly when truth seek to cut against conventional thought. Counter perspectives must swim against raging societal currents that can leave one famous for future generations, but drowning during one’s contemporary time. This is not restricted to our times, but is woven into history’s most transformative moments, whether those moments define religion, science, literature, politics and government, international affairs, or matters of race.
Galileo, argued vociferously that the world was not flat and that Earth is not the center of the universe. He opposed his contemporaries and the power of the Roman Catholic Church – an act which landed Galileo in a cold prison cell. He is now revered in scientific literature. However, Galileo’s views ultimately landed him in jail and out-of-favor with his contemporaries.
An often-noted reference to power is, “The ability to define reality and have others except that definition.“
Inconvenience, however, works counter-cyclical to power. Challenging definitions. Pointing-out the fallacy, shortcoming, and inefficacy of established realities.
Since Reagan, the predominant politics relative to race took on mythical theme that race no longer mattered in America. Arguably, the most beloved conservative of recent decades shaped the new American narrative. Americans, including blacks, were expected to follow it or face formal and informal reprisal.
On the question of racism, the wedge between claims and acknowledgments runs across each generation to follow the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, VA in 1619. Each successive period has witnessed power defining the arrangements between blacks and whites as natural order, divine ordination, or just the way things are. The arrangement were formalized in the Constitution, normalized by Presidents from Lincoln to Wilson, and modernized in a post-slavery, jim crow era. Yet, observations of racism’s inherent evils have conversely challenged the notion of order, rejected God’s approval, and questioned the moral fabric of a nation that concluded the injustices were inexplicable social phenomenon. Power’s rebuttal has been predicable and full of blame; those who keep bringing up race are the real racists and should be dismissed in the public discourse.
The hostilities expressed — towards individuals who dare to speak about race — in the media, social media, and in this particular video are today an outgrowth of the ongoing rhetorical contest that pre-dates our union.
Similar observations of racism and reactions to those observations can be found as far back as slavery. Read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and consider Douglass’ sentiments about the peculiar institution and people who advanced it, down to the plantation overseer. Was Douglass a race baiter? Were Dr. King and Muhammad Ali race baiters for translating the groans and aspirations of black people in our nation? Surely, not. And neither are they race baiters today. Individuals who sincerely want to see a national (and international) brotherhood that transcends race.
The Problem of the “100 Percent” Rule
Sadly, society treats racism like a natural law. This treatment only serves to both hide racism and prolong its burdens placed on society. Natural laws posit that certain elements and their relationship with other elements are governed by forces in nature and are thus, universal. Laws, for instance, that govern gravitational force, genetics, matter (e.g., Ohms law), or the voltage-current-resistance relationship each serve to help us understand nature.
However, racism is not natural. Consequently, racism is not governed by natural law or what I call the “100 Percent Rule”.
Suggesting that a white female who intervenes to save a black citizen from over-reaching policing proves that racism does not exist imposes a natural law threshold onto an unnatural condition. Racism need no more to drive the sentiments of 100 percent of white Americans than does a waterway’s toxicity need to ravage the bodies of 100 percent of nearby residents. Both can exist without satisfying a universal threshold.
Was racism not a prevailing American social construct, simply because white men like John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison fought against the injustices visited upon blacks? Indeed, in Douglass’ case, was it not a white woman who taught the young man to read, which enabled him to teach other slaves? And did not Garrison, a white man, petition Douglass to be the spokesperson for the abolitionist movement? As such, do that the individual acts of some whites nullify the claims of a broader grievance? Surely, not.
In like manner, the video does not prove that racism no longer exists in America.
The Problem of Legitimacy
One of the cruelest dimensions of racism boils down to legitimacy. Namely, what is the worth of black American sentiments?
Our history is replete with answers that themselves reveal the deep-seated racism that has shaped our nation’s social arrangements. The Dred Scott case (Scott v. Sanford), for instance, demonstrates this point. There, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, in writing for the majority opinion, offered a discourse that reflected the illness of America’s meandering relationships with people of color:
It becomes necessary, therefore, to determine who were citizens of the several States when the Constitution was adopted. And in order to do this, we must recur to the Governments and institutions of the thirteen colonies when they separated from Great Britain and formed new sovereignties, and took their places in the family of independent nations. We must inquire who, at that time, were recognised as the people or citizens of a State whose rights and liberties had been outraged by the English Government, and who declared their independence and assumed the powers of Government to defend their rights by force of arms.
In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.
It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted. But the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken.
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it. This opinion was at that time fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race. It was regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics which no one thought of disputing or supposed to be open to dispute, and men in every grade and position in society daily and habitually acted upon it in their private pursuits, as well as in matters of public concern, without doubting for a moment the correctness of this opinion.
The residue of Justice Taney’s historical account remains in society today. That is, people of African descent must still navigate systems where their views are discounted, marginalized, and summarily rejected – irrespective of the empirical weight of those views.
This raises an existential question, particularly for whites who harbor resentment towards blacks that dare to discuss racism. Specifically:
With the evidence of societal racism that has followed the history of Africans in America, how is it that one readily denies racism’s stranglehold on the country because of a single act caught on film and published on YouTube?
The question asserts that racism forms the worldview of those who discount countless claims by blacks based on a single counterclaim by whites; in this case a counterclaim that the attorney’s actions prove that racism does not exist. Such a counterclaim is reminiscent of the asymmetric legitimacy reserved for whites in our nation. That black views are less worthy. Illegitimate beyond a prima-facie sense; unsubstantiated by overwhelming evidence. Invalidated by the most isolated anecdotes presented by whites.
Ironically, invocation of this video to confirm a larger narrative is emblematic of how deeply racism is entrenched in the American psyche as opposed to demonstrating in extrication.
The Problem of Traumatic Bonding
Some might argue that black police officers over-stepping their authority, demonstrates that situations like this cannot be rooted in racism. One hostile YouTube viewer wrote, “The cops were black you f _ _king ape.“
This type of response neglects the myriad dynamics of racism. Specifically, that racism is structural, systematic, personal, and interpersonal, generational and trans-generational. And blacks, including black police officers, sometimes find themselves internalizing racist sentiments and acting them out it – the latter being manifested racism. Such individuals are part of the structures and systems, reflecting an ethos that inculcates the environments in which they operate.
Dysfunctional sentiments and mistreatment, however, take on another dimension with those who are themselves, mistreated. Traumatic Bonding occurs as some captive and/or abused identifies with his/her captor or abuser.
A well-researched form of this disorder was labeled Stockholm Syndrome, based on Freudian theory, and advanced after the August 1973 Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden. There, hostages gradually began to work with their captors and during the subsequent trials, testified on behalf of the hostage takers
The world would learn more about this condition in the famous case of Patty Hearst. Kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974, Hearst later participated in SLA armed bank robberies.
Similar dynamics sometimes occur with rape victims that empathize with rapists, the former taking on the blame for the actions of the latter. Slavery produced similar black apologists and abusers. At the height of South African apartheid, such was also demonstrated. What was commonly referred to a negative outcome of “dualism” produced black South Africans that defended racial codes, perpetuating the evils of the apartheid system. While little is written on the topic, Hitler’s Third Reich enjoyed the services of some Jewish people. Every oppressive system known to mankind has witnessed the emergence of the “sell out”, the “turncoat”, or the “trader” – those who identify with, rationalize, take on the character of, and fight for the interests of the oppressor.
George Orwell’s’ Animal Farm not only takes a satirical look at evil regimes, but also presents the frailty of humans to participate in the very evils that we disdain. Black police officers are not immune to what Orwell observed.
How, Then, Can the Video Be Instructive?
Having spent considerable time refuting its misuses, we can focus on responsible ways to apply this video and those like it in a world that increasingly derives its cues from social media.
Ultimately, the video can serve as an example of how humanity finds itself inside specific situations. That is, perhaps, the clearer insight.
Whether at-home, when one decides to intervene when family members are speaking ill of a group of people. In the workplace, when decisions on hiring, pay, and promotion are made, and where racism is often cloaked in human resource management “rationality”. Or in the community, where arrangements and situations deserve one’s intervention, as was the case in the video.
These are must make a split-second episodes where we can either get involved or do what my later father cautioned against, “Turn one’s head and walk away”.
The Good Samaritan of the New Testament found himself in a split-second situation where a helpless individual had fallen prey to thieves. He could have stepped over the victim, for fear of his own life and well-being, but he rather chose to get involved.
Today, humanity is hanging on the balance of our split-second decisions. Do we speak truth to power in governmental close-door sessions or does political correctness rule the day?
Does the killer go free from a murder in your plain view, or will the one who unjustly took a life face justice because of your willingness to testify?
Will a friend travel wrong in drug addiction and ultimately die from an overdose, or will you risk the friendship by demanding that help be sought?
A more sensitive life observes opportunities for involvement on a daily basis. An engaged life accepts the opportunities.
Fundamentally, the choices presented to the woman in this video are our choices. And make no mistake, while we cannot individually solve all the pressing problems of modern society, we can individually solve a pressing problem facing the person or people in our very midst.
These are my thoughts. What are yours?
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