White Reform

*Warning: This post is mostly satire, aimed at challenging (and changing) pervasive and destructive narratives that are applied to people of color while ignoring and even downplaying violent behaviors in whites. While written in jest to expose the level of hypocrisy and hatred embedded within white supremacist ideology, something must really be done to dismantle a system that kills black and brown bodies around the world. We need a collective movement, comprised of various strategies, people, and ideas, including new, liberating theologies centered on the experience of people of color, immigrants, and women, that will shake the beast that is white supremacy to its core, freeing us all from it’s grip.*

I try not to listen to anything Donald Trump says. Everytime I do, I walk away with a severe headache and a profound sense of hopelessness for our nation. And so, for the sake of my sanity, I mostly tune his rhetoric out. This week, however, my strategy has proved to be futile as news outlets and social media focus in on Trump’s latest mumbo gumbo. The unfortunate target of his vile, hate speech this time? Muslims.

It is no secret that Trump has a deep disregard for people of the Muslim faith. On the campaign trail, he has expressed a desire to essentially stomp out Islam and those who are connected to it, in order to purge the world of ISIS. Since the San Bernardino shooting last Friday, where it is suspected that Muslim radicals engaged in a mass shooting that killed 14 people, Trump has only doubled down on his rhetoric going so far as to insist that Muslims be banned from entering into the United States.

In one speech, Trump targeted all Muslims to address the actions of a few. Although people from both aisles of the political divide are denouncing his actions, this is something that will likely yield disastrous results in the Muslim community – both in the U.S. and around the world. Missing from his speech, of course, was any action directed toward the other mass shooters in 2015. By some estimates, there have been 355 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, including one on the same day of the incident in San Bernardino, the shooting at Planned Parenthood several days prior, an incident in Minneapolis a few weeks ago when five people protesting the execution of Jamar Clark were shot, the mass shooting in Oregon in October, and the shooting of the Mother Emanuel 9 in June. Most of the suspects in these cases have been white men. And yet there hasn’t been any speeches, by Trump or others, calling white men in.

In addition to the mass shootings, there have been other ongoing acts of violence by white men in our society. In 2015 alone, 1,109 people have died at the hands of the police, exceeding 2014 numbers before the year has come to a close. Overwhelmingly, the officers in these cases have been white. And in 100% of these cases, no officer has been convicted – though more officers have been charged in recent years due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter and others raising this issue in the nation’s consciousness. Of course, these numbers do not take into account the number of people who have been brutalized by cops without death nor the number of women who have been sexually violated by police officers. Nor do these numbers consider the ways in which practices and policies – so often passed and implemented by white men – make life a living nightmare for communities of color and indigenous communities around the world, contributing to a slow, agonizing death of sorts that seldom makes the evening news but is just as deadly, and far more prevalent than guns.

Of course, not all white men are mass gunmen and not all white cops are would-be killers of black and brown bodies. Even still, these occurrences, suggest that there is something at play that goes beyond gun control and police reform. The deeper issue is the culture of violence that is pervasive among white men, violence that often goes unchecked because they are white men. Besides the increased presence of police cameras, which has not seemed to pay off like some said it would, police are not held accountable for their sins against people of color. And mass shooters, if they are white, get escorted to the nearest Mickey D’s and get off on mental health charges instead of having to seriously deal with the ways that they have terrorized the American society. Vigilantes like Zimmerman often go scot free, and if they are charged, it is often for a lesser charge in order to ensure that they are not actually punished for acts of terror and white supremacy.

How will a society, no a world, that is terrorized by angry white men find healing and wholeness? What can we do to ensure that these disastrous things come to an end, and that when they do happen, white men are actually held accountable for their actions?

I propose something called White Reform. In the same way that our country passes policies and programs to address problems in communities of color and indigenous communities, it is time that we flip the script and put white people under the microscope for once in order to get at these tenuous social ills caused by white supremacist ideologies that exploit the life and liberties of others to satisfy the blood hungry appetites of white men. Below, I have briefly outlined a few bold steps that can move us forward today:

  1. The government should start a new initiative focused on improving the outcomes of white men in our society. Call it, “My Whiter Brother’s Keeper,” if you like. Invest millions of dollars in the initiative and award local municipalities who come up with the best strategies for solving the white problem. Emphasize the need for mentorship in order to address the fatherlessness problem that exists in white single-parented households. Challenge and condemn promiscuity among white teenagers; blame white musicians and sexual icons for their role in increasing violence and other inappropriate behavior.
  2. Commission a report that will study the extent of the white problem and put forth a call to action that will outline tangible and measurable steps to get to the bottom of the culture of violence in the white community. Nonprofits should start hiring organizers who will work in the white community. Foundations should invest money to support the efforts of these nonprofits. Invent lots of programs, throw money at them, but make sure that the actual money stays in black and brown communities. Audit and scrutinize organizations run by white people because they might not use their limited funds correctly.
  3. Invest in social services and other medical interventions to figure out why so many white male shooters are mentally unstable since guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Conduct focus groups and listening sessions where people of color do all of the talking and are the experts, but be sure to have a few white people in the room who won’t challenge what is being said, to analyze the factors that contribute to the mental instability.
  4. Early childhood education, all education for that matter, must explicitly teach white children to not be racist. Teach real American history, lifting up the true narratives of American Indians and African Americans. Reveal this country’s practices and policies that have cut people of color and indigenous communities out of opportunity, and let children know that these practices have taken root not only in the south but in the so-called progressive north where liberalism and tolerance abound. School districts that have comprehensive lesson plans that yield results should be awarded with dollars to improve their education programs.
  5. White parents should send their children to inner city schools to make sure they get a good education. Simply being next to black and brown children will improve their life outcomes.
  6. Train educators how to handle white rage and misbehavior. If they teach in Minnesota or other Northern states, they should take note that the rage will be more passive in nature and appear less dangerous but it is just as harmful as in your face, overt racism. Social workers and psychologists must learn how to best work with these people. If all else fails, tell their parents they have a learning disability and insist that they take harmful drugs so that they sit still in class.
  7. Equip all of the suburban and rural schools with medical detectors and security guards. Ensure that no white student or adult walks through the doors without being screened to make sure they are not in possession of a firearm or other explosive. Do not tolerate the slightest incidence of misbehavior from white children; use suspensions as a disciplinary method.
  8. Universities should start offering White Studies at a bachelor and master’s level. The programs should emphasize the social ills created by whites living away from people of color for so long. Black and brown students should be admitted into the program as well. They should become the experts in White Studies, even though it is the lived experience and daily reality of whites.
  9. Take a paternalistic approach to all policymaking, programs, and other efforts aimed at solving the white problem. After all, people of color know what is in the best interests of whites and can even speak for whites if they have one white friend, family member, or grew up living next to whites.

Of course, not all white men need to be reformed. There are many, outstanding white citizens who are a testament to their race who are nonviolent, anti-racist, and simply fantastic human beings. Use these men to be the models for the rest of them. Bring them on talk shows, news outlets, and quote them addressing the white problem so that others in the white community can be influenced by their good behavior. However, use disagreement among these leaders in the white community as an opportunity to humiliate them and discredit their movement. Write articles and op-eds pointing out the inconsistencies in vision and approach as a means to justify their continued marginalization.

Is this plan discriminatory? Perhaps. But something must be done to get at the culture of violence exhibited by angry, white men. Our society must be rid of white oppressor behaviors that continue to steal from our children, rape our women, and kill our men. Contrary to white supremacist ideology, we must take a collectivist approach here and prioritize the needs of the community over one, lone individual. And until we have a handle on the problem, perhaps we should pass policy reforms that will keep white men from voting and achieving political power over people of color and indigenous folks. Relegate them to certain neighborhoods, separated from the rest of us so that they cannot harm others. And if they still do not get in line, threaten stricter social reforms, mass incarceration and deportation.  

Sterling, SAE, and the Myth of a Post Racial Nation

postracialVery little suggests that we live in a post-racial society. Yet here we are, having the same conversation again!

Remember Donald Sterling? It’s been nearly a year since the recorded conversation between him and his then girlfriend, business associate, acquaintance V. Stiviano (also known as Vanessa Perez), went viral. The conversation, first leaked to TMZ, shocked our worlds as Sterling expressed his absolute disdain for black people:

“Why are you taking pictures with minorities?” the man says in the recording. “Why? It’s like talking to an enemy. Hispanics feel certain things towards blacks. Blacks feel certain things toward other groups […] It will always be that way. […] It bothers me a lot that you’re associating with black people. […] You’re supposed to be a delicate white or a delicate Latina girl. […] You don’t have to have yourself walking with black people.”

Pretty racist, right?

Over the next few weeks and months, the American people continued to express their disgust with Sterling’s words. You would have been hard pressed to find, even among whites, people who supported what he said. In addition, a national debate ensued about what Sterling’s words did to the image that we project before ourselves and others about the United States being a post-racial society. How could we be post-racial if there was evidence of this nasty, vocal hatred of black people? The NBA, sponsors, and others who supported Sterling in the past, clearly not wanting to be mistaken for that guy, distanced themselves from him as quickly as they could.

The same level of reaction, however, did not take place when Sterling found himself at the center of several housing discrimination lawsuits in 2003 and 2006. In the first suit, Sterling was accused of forcing blacks and Latinos out of his rental properties, and the second suit, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, accused him of refusing to rent to African-Americans in Beverly Hills. While these actions, were significantly more harmful than his conversation with Stivano, they did not receive any wide-spread backlash until after news of his conversation broke. Indeed, the NAACP gave him two awards after the housing discrimination was long and well documented: he was given a Humanitarian Award in 2008 and a President’s Award in 2009. He was, however, stripped of the 2014 Humanitarian Award that he was due to receive after the incident.

Let us fast forward to present day 2015 – same story, different players. Once again, we expressed complete repugnance when a video featuring a racist chant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) went viral. The chant, which prominently featured the N-word and made awful references to lynching, landed the students who were apart of the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma in extremely hot water. Not only were they kicked off campus but the Oklahoma chapter of SAE was closed down and the two students who were most responsible for the incident were expelled. The public, except for maybe the hosts of Morning Joe, has once again been united in its virulent condemnation of the incident with statements being made by SAE at a national level, the president of the University, and even David Klinger, an associate professor at Seattle Pacific University and former police officer.

In one breath, Klinger expressed outrage over the SAE controversy (‘I’m appalled as a university professor to see students behave that way’) and in the next condemned Madison Police Chief Michael Koval’s apology to Tony Robinson’s family. Robinson was an unarmed black teenager who was killed by the police last week. As the details about the case continue to come in, Koval expressed sincere remorse over the situation – “life is sacred to me,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon Monday evening.

Klinger, however, took issue with Koval’s expression of human decency and respect for life. To Klinger, Koval jumped the gun in his remarks because he did not wait for all of the ‘facts’ to come in. For all intents and purposes, Koval broke the cop code, a code which is more prone to see black men as criminals before they ever see them as human. Yet, Klinger is notorious for his support of deadly force by cops when ‘reasonable.’ Vox.com picks up on comments made by Klinger after the shooting of Michael Brown in August:

“Constitutionally, ‘police officers are allowed to shoot under two circumstances,’ David Klinger, a University of Missouri–St. Louis professor who studies law enforcement officers’ use of force, said in August. The first circumstance is ‘to protect their life or the life of another innocent party’ — referred to as the ‘defense-of-life’ standard by police departments. The second circumstance is to prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect has committed a serious violent felony.

The logic behind the second circumstance, Klinger explained, comes from Tennessee vs. Garner. That case involved a pair of police officers who shot a 15-year-old boy as he fled from a burglary. (He’d stolen $10 and a purse from a house.) The court ruled that cops couldn’t shoot every felon who tried to escape. But, as Klinger said, “they basically say that the job of a cop is to protect people from violence, and if you’ve got a violent person who’s fleeing, you can shoot them to stop their flight.”

Klinger’s inconsistency between the SAE incident and the shooting of Tony Robinson suggest that he – as well as others – are much more opposed to explicit racial bias rather than implicit racial bias, even if the implicit racially biased act is more harmful. Glenn Harris, president for the Center for Social Inclusion, made the distinction between the two at a Convening on Racial Equity in August, suggesting that implicit racial bias happens at a subconscious, seemingly race-neutral level. For its relative invisibility, it is much harder to prove – at least from the vantage point of our country’s messed up legal system – when the discriminatory actions of a cop are racist than when someone verbally, as in the case of Sterling and SAE, uses defamatory language toward black and brown people.

In addition, Harris suggests that people react more viscerally to examples of clear, explicit racial bias. This reaction could be the result of what Dr. Christena Cleveland describes as the Cutting Off Reflected Failure phenomenon- a term coined by social identity theorist C. R. Synder. According to Cleveland, CORFing results when people, in order to boost self-esteem, distance themselves from others who compromise their identity (Disunity in Christ, 2013: 90). In both the Sterling and SAE incident, whites have distanced themselves as far away as possible from the accused.

In a paper released by the Haas Institute, “Addressing Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat in Education and Health Care,” authors john a powell et al suggest that the triggering of stereotype threat is also a factor here. Stereotype threat manifests itself when people are concerned that the actions of an individual will confirm a negative stereotype about their group. The paper states: “under prevailing moral norms, to be racist is to be immoral, and many white people are concerned that they may be presumed to be prejudiced or racist (Haas Institute, 2014: 32). So as not to be perceived as racist individuals who work in racist institutions who live in a racist country, whites are quick to denounce the actions of individuals who clearly still exhibit white supremacist ideology. Whites desperately want to believe that our nation is beyond this level of immaturity and inhumanity.

Unfortunately, however, our country seems to be more concerned about how we are perceived rather than our actual behavior. And so, while we work to protect our image from compromising individuals, our more implicit racist institutions and policies remain the same. In fact, the same people who decry racism over Sterling and SAE’s words are the same people who persistently ignore acts of systematic racism which prove to be significantly more harmful.

For more insight here, we must consider the way that wealth and power is built and maintained in this country. Sterling’s actions to exclude blacks and latinos from housing opportunities is a practice that is well-established in this country, a practice that has allowed middle and upper class whites to accumulate resources and at the same time has continually stripped wealth from communities of color and indigenous communities. Manifest Destiny, homesteading, the G.I Bill, redlining, restrictive housing covenants, and subprime lending are all examples of how policies and practices intentionally excluded communities of color and indigenous communities from housing and also stole wealth from their communities.

Similarly, the police force itself was established to control and suppress black and brown bodies and to make money off of those bodies. The convict leasing system, the war on drugs and mass incarceration are all clear evidences of that. Not only so, the issuing of fines and others fees often bring in revenue for local police departments. In his essay, The Gangsters of Ferguson, Ta-nehisi Coates reports:

“Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities.”

There are other implicit racially biased policies that continue to disinvest blacks and other people of color in this country. We must also consider the long-term effects of high unemployment rates in both the black and latino communities – those who do have jobs have largely seen their wages, after adjusted for inflation, stagnant over the last 40 year. We should also look at where health care services are placed, who has access to quality food and education, who is targeted by pay day lenders and cash advance services, and even which communities environmental hazards, such as the Keystone Pipeline, are placed. All of these and more suggest that there is a deep level of institutional and structural practice that continually exploits communities of color and indigenous communities for profit (capitalism is our god and its a greedy god at that!). This proves that the negative and sometimes deadly effects of implicitly racist policies need to be handled with the same level of urgency, if not more, as the explicitly racist harmful comments of the SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

It is great to see the level of support for black and brown communities when explicitly racist things are said. It is good to know that America at large thinks that those things are inappropriate and derogatory – it shows that we have made some level of progress in terms what is and is not acceptable in the last 50 years! But the greatest work that needs to take place in this country is around the policies and practices that continue to dehumanize, marginalize, and silence all communities of color and indigenous communities. If we truly want to be the nation that we imagine ourselves to be, this is where change truly needs to happen.