Tag Archives: martin luther king jr

In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Haunted by history

Trigger Warning: nuclear warfare, racism, genocide

The first Republican presidential primary debate will be held tonight at 6 pm Pacific / 9 pm Eastern. Much of the pre-debate analysis has so far emphasized the newly invented (and continuously updated) metrics for determining which of the seventeen major candidates could appear on stage and otherwise be as visible as possible. I won’t be able to livetweet tonight’s debate, and probably won’t even be available to offer any commentary at all while the debates occur, so I won’t be around to question and complicate that somewhat narrow focus on the debaters themselves. Instead, I want to ask a small thing of you while you watch it without me. Before the debate begins, meditate on two curiously coincidental anniversaries that fall on today of all days, and cast their long historical shadow on the current policy prescriptions of the Republican Party.

On August 6, 1945, the United States used the first atomic weapon ever used in wartime on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The vast majority of affected people were non-combative civilians, which by some estimates caused approximately 66,000 deaths in the initial blast. That fails to account for many of the deaths in the following months, form exposure and resulting poverty as well as from radiation sickness and related complications – but which are also estimated to number in the thousands.

The overwhelming nature of the death and destruction in Hiroshima (and later Nagasaki) is something that the United States has failed to fully grapple with, if the tantrum-like demands for a similarly apocalyptic war with Iran among some political figures is any indication. Instead, conflict and war has become almost an invisible backdrop of American life, shielding those who expect war without debate or question from criticism. US military deployment has become a perpetual state of being on multiple continents, seemingly without even a hypothetical end. As Guantánamo reminds us, this military infrastructure is often on other countries’ land, unwanted, and in some senses an occupying force. We have yet to fully break with this expansive militaristic tradition, but keep your ears peeled tonight to see how much the Republican Party’s major candidates want to reject the possibility of ever doing that.

On August 6, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) into law, securing most particularly the rights of Black citizens of the United States of access to the ballot box, but giving similar protections to various other systemically disenfranchised groups – namely indigenous and Latin@ communities. Since then, these guarantees have come under an unforgiving cynicism from conservative figures either coordinating with or directly a part of the Republican Party. The aims are at times quite transparent, particularly in the less official political circles, where talk of “demographic winter” makes obvious the racist fears underpinning a large swathe of the conservative movement.

As the United States steadily returns to being, among other things, a less White country, there have been a number of political responses. Chief among them has been to softly roll back numerical presence as a force within our democratic system, most obviously by resurrecting voter suppression tactics common in places where the White population was a minority or a much slimmer majority than electorally desirable. Jim Crow and related policies of racist political, social, and economic control have not been dismantled fully, but the specific policies of the Republican Party have become ones designed to maintain what has remained and reconstruct what parts of those have been dismantled. Listen to hear the new, politically correct (or not so much) those policies will be discussed tonight.

hiroshima also vra(Left – Hiroshima after the bombing, Right – President Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks after the VRA was signed. From here and here respectively)

So, on the night of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the 50th anniversary of the passage of the VRA help the phantoms those events raise haunt the Republican Party. As desires of military confrontation with Iran are raised, let the image of the shattered Atomic Dome rise in your mind. When talk of the need to protect the ballot box from voter fraud comes up, allow the pain of the tear gas used on those on the March to Selma pass over you. These are our ghosts, and we cannot will them away. Don’t help the Republican Primary brush them off either – either in how they talk about them, or refuse to talk about them altogether.

The featured image for this article is an drawn rendition of the Oglala Lakota’s Ghost Dance as performed at Pine Ridge in 1890, from here. There are many ghosts in US history.

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The year that class apparently stopped mattering

TW: classism, racism, nativism

2012 was a fascinating year, especially from a perspective within the United States. There’s a long history of residents of this country telling ourselves that we’re a classless society, or failing that a country where opportunity is ubiquitous and untainted by social and political biases. Last year, and particularly the presidential election over the course of it, seemed like something of an abrupt end to that, with Romney’s 47 percent video solidifying class as inevitably one of the salient identities and the post-election analysis often becoming fixed on how rapidly support for the Democrat Obama transformed into support for the Republican Romney at around $50,000 per year per household in most states.

romney in a pile of money

(It was also a golden age of photoshopped images of Mitt Romney, for obvious reasons, from here.)

This past year something else happened, however, particularly in how the media analyzed issues. In short, class completely disappeared from the conversation. In some cases, the absence of class in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about the issue, it seems important to add) was a force that could bias them to a certain view on government was something Fournier never broached in his article. While he could obliquely reference their class status as easing their launch into “public service”, he couldn’t imagine it as something that shaped their opinions, their experiences, and ultimately their politics. It’s not that the economic system is invisible, just people’s status (that is, class) that apparently was to his eyes and ears. Likewise, the result was that the differing positions held by poorer young people weren’t considered.

Fournier was just an undeniable example of this phenomenon. Earlier in the year, in fact, Obama’s State of the Union address reflected a similar disrecognition of how his language divided immigrants into those that worked desired jobs and hence were imagined to be “highly-skilled” and even “entrepreneurs” and those that, ostensibly, are neither of those things as a result of them being unwanted. The reality that many undocumented immigrants are badly wanted as laborers by US-based businesses, but precisely because they can be exploited economically and socially, wasn’t acknowledged in the slightest. Much like the high school students with less affluent backgrounds, their reality (and hence, their political interests and needs) were outside of the discussion.

This failure to consider how class intersects with nearly all political issues didn’t merely erase poor people from the discussion, but actively distorted a number of historical figures records while they were remembered this year. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, the class politics of a number of Black political figures were totally removed from public political memory, often as a part of otherwise remaking them into figures useful to White commentators. The former was done an additional disservice before his death, by BBC reporting that disregarded the economic reality of historical and modern South Africa, largely again by means of erasing the poorest residents of that country (who remain the indigenous Black communities) in order to make a political point that seemed stolen from White nationalists.

In a lot of formal and official discussions, 2013 was a year of class needlessly receding from the discussion, which often took any type of look at the beliefs, ideas, and even existence of the poorest people with it.

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