Black Lives Still Matter

IMG_0150Consider this:

The Dred Scott Decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, Woodrow Wilson’s segregationist policies within the Federal Government, all targeted in explicit language, the rights of blacks in the United States1. All state based anti-miscegenation laws included blacks whether or not they included other races or religions2. Throughout the history of the country, the gross majority of the time the federal government, or state or local governments have acted to restrict or exclude a race, it has largely been targeted at blacks or those with black blood in explicit language (albeit not exclusively, particularly in light of laws that restricted Chinese and Mexican immigration, interred Japanese citizens, etc.) The United States Census continued to use the term “Mulatto” until 1920 to protect whiteness in the population and vacillated between use of “color” or “race” until 19803; Even today, Black and White are still not broken down in the census except in their relationship to “Hispanic.”  Racism in the United States is built on the foundation of white superiority over black.

Now consider this:

The 15th Amendment speaks of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” even though its intent was to rectify a restriction that was aimed at blacks4; Executive Order 8802 (1941 desegregation of Federal Government) and 9981 (1948 desegregation of the armed forces) speak in general terms about “race, color, creed” even though they both only effected blacks and people of African descent (Native Americans were allowed to serve alongside whites as code breakers.)5 6 Brown v Board of Education was explicitly brought concerning blacks yet the ruling and the language of the decision speaks broadly to admit the plaintiffs to desegregated schools in the case on a “racially nondescriminatory” basis with all deliberate speed7. The voting rights act of 1965 although it was fought because of specific actions being taken against blacks includes the following broader less specific language:

“No voting qualifications or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”8

Time and again, the “solution” to specific discrimination aimed at blacks in the United States has not been specific to fixing that discrimination.  In 2005, 2008, 2009 Congress took baby steps toward acknowleding the government’s specific failure with blacks on this front by issuing first an apology for not passing anti lynching legislation9 and then issuing apologies for the United States’ role in the slave trade and the years of Jim Crow that followed the end of the Civil War.10  All of these congressional orders make specific reference to African Americans.  But this has been the exception to the rule.  Yet, when the Chinese Exclusion act was repealed in 1943 by the Magnuson act, the language was specific and spoke directly to people of Chinese decent11.  Somehow, whenever it comes time to fix something that is specifically aimed at blacks, white legislators get cold feet.  Even in addressing racism, black lives have not specifically mattered.

In medicine, one does not treat a sprained finger by putting someone in a body cast; One doesn’t remove the entire liver because someone has gall stones.  The goal in treating illness is always to be as specific and targeted as possible.  Rectifying the sickness of anti-black racism in the United States needs to be the same kind of specific surgery.  We cannot continue to speak or act in broad terms.  There is no shortcut, no blanket application to address black oppression because black oppression is unique; just as every other oppression that is experienced is unique.  What Black Lives Matter challenges us to do is address the specific issues surrounding black oppression without entering into the oppression olympics.  The movement tells us that we can look at the unique social location intersection that one group represents, whether that is race, color, nation of origin, sexual preference, gender identity, ability, or relationship status (or any combination thereof) and take the time to appreciate, uplift, uphold and defend each and every one of them.

Anti black racism is also not just going to “fade away.”  If the incidents at Sigma Alpha Epsilon in Oklahoma and North Carolina are any indication, young people are learning the language and action of racism just as their parents did before them12.  We are not “post racial;” If anything we are pre-racial for we have never been able to fully accept and explore concepts of identity with any sense of truth, honesty or equity.  We have only begun to explore who each of us really are.  Black Lives Matter is one step forward in that exploration.

#BlackLivesMatter

 

Footnotes

1. Dred Scott/ Plessy
2. List of Anti-Miscegenation Laws
3. United States Census Lists
4. Fifteenth Amendment
5. Executive Order 8802
6. Executive Order 9981
7. Brown v Board of Eduction Original Document
8. 1965 Voting Rights Act
9. US Government Apology for Lynching
10. US Government Apology for Slavery
11. 1943 Magnuson Act
12. SAE Under Fire

N-word Blues

Nigger is the only word like it in the entire global English language. Used in any part of the world, it brings up images and sentiments around oppression and otherization that are unique to the Black American experience. It has become a universal word that characterizes and summarizes racism in a way that no other slur does. Coolie, Kike, Spic, Dago…are vicious disgusting words, but they are not institutionalized the way “nigger” is; and this is not just within the borders of the United States, but it is part of the global consciousness. So much so that the liberal loving media has replaced it with the term I used to start this article… “N-word.”* The problem is that the “N-word” still means nigger, and frankly, it lets people off too easy. If you, as a liberal non-black person think it is difficult to read or say the word “nigger,” imagine what its like being the target of it? Think of this, we don’t say “S” word…we don’t say “K” word. There is a sick need somewhere in the global consciousness to maintain the meaning of the word nigger even if it is not used itself.

There has never been a movement to criminalize a word. Policing speech to that level goes directly against the Constitution of the United States. However, there is only one word, “nigger.” The use of this word, its place in the global consciousness and its place in language is like no other word. The word nigger has been a tool to justify and excuse institutionalized racism that has taken the form of a slow motion genocide.  There is a direct connection between this word and scores of lives lost. Those who would object to the criminalization of this word will immediately cry foul for their first amendment rights, but I would argue that the word nigger is not so much a word as it is a cultural pathology that is as damaging a pedophilia, rape and murder each of which carries a heavy legal penalty. To that end, I sincerely believe there should be a way to uniquely criminalize the word nigger in a way that reflects the unique way in which it perpetuates and undergirds institutional racism that is at the core of American culture.

As social media has evolved, so must our laws around communication. Hate groups use the word nigger as a weapon in their online tactics and they use it as a rallying cry. And despite some very gifted black artists and activists “reclaiming” the word nigger, I say to them, what is there to reclaim? As a black man, I never owned it in the first place and I don’t think the existence of the word nigger was ever justified. Let the racists have it.

Historically, the United States refuses to take ending racism seriously. Lynching was never criminalized. The voting rights act has been repealed, within my lifetime we lived under laws that forbade people of different races to marry. Time and again, US culture bends to the minds of bigots. This is crazy. What seems less crazy is taking away one more weapon from the arsenal of racism. But then the United States is weapon crazy. It should be no surprise that the “right” to the word nigger is guarded as closely as is the “right” to guns.

As long as there is a “nigger” there will always be a racist in SAE.

*I have used “n word” here for the sake of how social media works and to allow people to reblog this piece with less hesitation.

Please see this excellent resource: Jim Crow Museum: Nigger and Caricature