Monday, June 29, 2015

Lies we tell about black people

Last week we were talking about white pride. I think we deconstructed the history pretty well, and why that's a problem, but there are also some basic fallacies with regard to how it functions now. I want to get to that, but I am going to approach it via some specific areas of lies and misconceptions.

When we talk about racism lately, the discussion often comes from an incidence of police brutality, or other violence against black people by white civilians. It is very common for right-wing pundits and politicians to try and deflect by bringing up two issues. It then becomes common for people who listen to these pundits to go there too. I turn your attention to "Black On Black Crime" and "Absent Black Fathers".

It's completely reasonable to argue that those issues do not excuse the other issues, and that if one issue needs discussion it is right to focus on that instead of always trying to deflect to something else, but also, those are wrong ideas in people's heads.

My awareness shot up a lot after Trayvon Martin was killed. That would have been a stupid time to bring up black fathers, because he was going to his father's house. His father was there. That's been happening with a lot of these names and press conferences. Their fathers are there. Maybe the parents aren't together, but both parents are in the child's life.

So I started thinking about my own black friends - the ones where I know them well enough to know things about their family - and without counting siblings (there are some cousins in there), of ten family units the parents stayed together in seven (though three of those unions have one partner dead now), with one divorce (which did not end contact with either parent), and two where I am not sure. That's a higher percentage of lasting unions than with my white friends.

Now, you can tell me that I'm in the Pacific Northwest, and there is no way that's a representative sample, but two of those families are from the South and one's from Detroit, so, you know, it's not completely unrepresentative either. (Actually, the divorced family is from California, so make what you will of that.)

That is still anecdotal. Anecdotally, I could also tell you about a white woman who almost certainly refrains from marrying the father of her three children so she can continue collecting government benefits and that would not prove anything about white families. If we move away from the anecdotes, a recent study showed a slightly higher rate of involvement for black fathers than other races, especially in the area of homework.

So, let's talk about crime statistic based on race.

Actually, there are a lot of good articles about this, but here are the three key points.

1. Most crime happens within the same racial group. If I am a crime victim, the perpetrator will most likely be white. Years of enforced segregation have ensured that most of the chances we get to commit crime are on people of the our own race. To make black on black crime an issue without making white on white crime an issue is disingenuous, but also a pretty effective illustration of how society makes generalizations about races other than white.

2. That being said, black crime rates have nonetheless been dropping steadily, at a faster rate than the overall crime rate. Fox News and their ilk have been slow to give credit to black communities for this drop in crime, which has been happening because...

3. Many black people do care greatly about black on black crime, and they do outreach and hold summits and create programs to reduce it, with a pretty good success rate. In the areas that are still worse for crime, there are people working on it. We can say a lot of things about what structural factors are working against them, but that leads us into other areas, so for now let's just hear from Jon Stewart:

Right around the three minute mark, that's what I'm talking about.

The discussions are worth having anyway, because racism is an important issue. Effects of structural racism is an important issue, and should not be derailed. It still seems worth pointing out that the derailers are lying.

They may not know they are lying. I remember being taught that slavery disrupted the black family, along with welfare rules and the war on drugs. For liberals that should lead to sympathy for what society has done to the black family, where conservatives are less likely to make allowances, but neither side is seeing the actual picture. You can have the best intentions and a lot of compassion but still be the chump who swallows the party line.

Let's not be chumps. There's a lot of wrong information out there. Sometimes it happens on purpose, sometimes it may not, but it can only get in the way of real progress.

If you care, you need to question.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Band Review: The Elegant Mistakes

The Elegant Mistakes are a Rock/Alternative band from New Jersey.

One of the most interesting things for me was reading on their Youtube channel that the band consists of all teens, between the ages of 15 and 19.

The description appears to be from 2012, so they should all be older now, but it is impressive to hear their level of proficiency at that age. They have a clear and together sound.

There is sometimes a feeling that the music could be stronger, or delivered more forcefully, but that seems like something that could easily happen with experience.

They have five tracks on ReverbNation, with four original songs. There are also many performance videos on Youtube, including several covers, allowing you to get a good feel for the band and their abilities.

It's hard to know whom to compare them to in order to give an idea of their sound, though Natalie Merchant comes to mind. Performances include covers of Weezer, Oasis, Evanescence, Lenny Kravitz, Gotye, and Michael Jackson, so it's a fairly wide range. I would start with ReverbNation and focus on the original songs; I believe those are their strongest.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Band Review: The Undecided Majors

The Undecided Majors are a pop punk/alternative band from Destin, Florida.

The pop punk vibe is filled out nicely by the thrum of the guitars on tracks like "Cindy's Downfall/(Enemy of Mine) and "Weapon of Choice". I especially like the details on "No One Else". It was disappointing that I could only find five tracks.

The web pages could have more content, as if there is not a lot going on, but the band does still seem to play on a regular basis. It looks like the Twitter feed is the most frequently updated.

They're worth a listen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The problem with "white pride"

One of the most annoying obstacles to overcoming structural racism is that even talking about it makes white people feel uncomfortable. They feel accused of being personally racist, they want to point out that their own lives aren't easy, and they may feel vaguely threatened. Even now, with this simple paragraph written by a white person (me), some readers are probably thinking "Not all white people!", which is a pretty clear sign of missing the point.

I think it is pretty well demonstrated by two things.

Yes, the event has now been canceled, but the fact that the team would even announce it and think it was a good idea two days after the Charleston shooting is kind of mind-boggling, except for something else I saw.

It was a meme image, and I can't find a link for it, but linking to it would be kind of disgusting anyway. It asked...

How come
Black pride = ok
Mexican pride = ok
Asian pride = ok
Muslim pride = ok
White pride = Racist?

I have some thoughts.

Actually, my first thought was something like, Really? You're posting that now, a day after white pride murdered nine black people? In a church?

I don't think the people posting it are drawing the line directly. Probably because of the shooting, when people are horrified by the racism, and maybe decrying ignorant, hateful white people, then there is a feeling of defensiveness, and being beleaguered, and then it's "Why can't I feel pride?"

Well, you can. You can feel proud of your accomplishments and you can take an interest in your heritage and all of those things, but there are some specific things about "white" pride that are important to know.

"Whiteness" was not really a thing until about the last four hundred years. Before that it was more a matter of where you were from. You could be Dutch or French or Ethiopian or Japanese - the Armenians I have met have great cultural pride - but that was more a matter of location and language and government. It doesn't mean that the world was singing in perfect harmony, but it wasn't about skin color.

Once the American colonists started importing African slaves, and they were keeping them as slaves, not as indentured servants, and they were talking about freedom and liberty and all men being created equal, there started being complications, and the simple solution was to make black people count for less. Treating them as subhuman was very profitable, but wait; there's more!

If the black race is inferior, then they can become distasteful to the poor whites, who might otherwise find out that they have a lot of common. Then, instead of working together for equality for everyone, the poor whites will feel good about their superiority and then cling to it desperately, even when it's against their own best interests.

Once that's in place, racial superiority becomes super convenient when dealing with the First Nations people, and later when you have Asian immigrants coming to build the railroad. The anti-blackness at the root can be useful too, in that the brown people may feel good about their superiority to the black people, and more easily accept their inferiority to the white people. The benefits just don't stop! At least, they don't stop for the rich people who exploit them, because really, being on one of the higher low rungs in this sort of hierarchy isn't exactly living large.

So the legacy of "whiteness" is the legacy of having slaves to do your work, but then deciding that race is lazy. When slavery is abolished it is then using corrupt officers and false charges to make them prisoners who do forced labor. It means lynching people who are financially successful and saying it is because they're rapists. It means burning down black areas that are doing well, and redlining, and using drug policy for persecution.

The legacy of whiteness is deliberately slaughtering bison because they are an important food source - nearly driving a species and a people into extinction - because the constant treaty breaking and small-pox in the blankets isn't enough. It is a legacy that starts in America but with the spirit of colonialism spreads to other continents, so that even in Africa anti-blackness can be a thing. That is nothing to be proud of.

And because it has been such an ugly legacy, constantly devaluing other people, telling them that they are ugly and stupid, and inferior, that's where you get the other prides - as a reaction, and an attempt to reclaim what was stolen.

Pan-Africanism is new. There started to be some thoughts of it as a reaction to slavery, and then modern Pan-Africanism starts in the 1960's. It may not be a coincidence that it coincides with the American Civil Rights Movement. There are starting to be more efforts to unite various aboriginal peoples, but again, that's fairly new.

Unfortunately, as much as we can see the inherent falseness now, the legacy is rooted in pretty deeply. Uprooting it will take some work, and it will take open communication, where white people can accept that the legacy of whiteness is sordid and not take it as a personal indictment.

We'll get more into that next week, but for now, on a personal note, by all means explore your heritage. Enjoy it, and know that there will be issues with it too.

I am half Italian. I love my Italian family, and I feel parts of the culture in me. Italy has a bad track record for picking sides in World Wars. I'm not going to take that personally.

A lot of our family history is tied to Austria's constant attempts to take over Northern Italy. If you're Austrian, don't feel bad about that - you as a person never invaded me - you can feel good about Mozart and waltzes and The Sound of Music. Every country will have its good and bad things, including America.

And you shouldn't be ashamed of being white. "White pride" though, is something else, and that's something we need to be honest about.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Feeling safe

The pool party pictures hit me harder than they might have because of other things that were going on.

I had been thinking about was a basic sense of security. That came from reading about police harassment, including one man who was stopped 258 times, mainly for trespassing, except it was happening at his job and where he lived.

That sounded bad enough, but a friend directed me to the This American Life episode where they talk about Miami Gardens, and they talk to him and his boss:

It became more tragic then. There were a lot of people who were negatively affected by this, but what struck me most was for the man himself, how will he ever possibly feel safe again anywhere?

It reminded me of something I read long ago where children who were raised in war zones don't develop the same emotional skills and resilience. Those who had some time before the war and could remember that had those memories to sustain them. They knew a time of security. Never knowing that, their play is different and there is a heavier emotional toll. It's like, you know that post-traumatic stress can be bad, but what if it was only traumatic stress, all the time?

In light of that, it's something to consider in terms of common health issues among black people, and certainly in regards to this article:

Those things gave McKinney a context for me, along with the issues black girls face with their bodies being viewed as more sexual and less protected as covered in yesterday's post. There were three other things that all happened really close together that made it worse.

I live in the suburbs. In fact, I live in an unincorporated suburb where we don't even have city police - just county. I was downtown though, and talking with a friend who lives in the Portland city limits, and as we were talking she told me she sees the police hassling black kids a lot.

I know Portland, Oregon, in the liberal Pacific Northwest, is not supposed to be terribly racist. I'm not saying it couldn't be worse. For one thing, those kids are very unlikely to be killed by the police. They're also unlikely to feel comfortable, or like they belong or have value or have their community backing them up when they need it.

Then I read about Kalief Browder:

There was not reliable witness testimony or physical evidence, but because our courts are slow and prejudiced, he spent three years in Rikers, much of it in solitary, and he killed himself.

Maybe it was worse because I read the other article first:

That was in October, and he was still alive, and probably going to get some compensation from a settlement. He had a job, and was taking classes, but there was a sense of despair.

"People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back... Before I went to jail, I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and, now that I’m aware, I’m paranoid. I feel like I was robbed of my happiness.”

Kalief Browder killed himself on June 6th, the same day as the McKinney pool party. He probably did not know about it. I also don't know if she knew about it, but one of my girls attempted suicide on the 8th, and she is black.

She did recover. She says now that she doesn't remember why she did it. That could be true; disassociation has been an issue for her. I also know that the issues that she has are made worse by her eating disorder, because despite that fact that she is beautiful, and she is certainly not fat, she always feels a need to become physically less than she is.

I don't know that it's connected, but if she wonders about whether there is room for her in this world, it would be hard to prove to her that she is welcome.

It would have been hard to make Kalief believe that he could get his happiness back.

It is not surprising that Dajerria Becton is having PTSD symptoms after the pool party. I worry about that. I worry about how her friends will feel after trying to help her and having to run - if they are carrying around feelings of helplessness. I worry about how she will handle things in the future, knowing that asking for help could get the person she asks killed. And then a church got shot up.

There was discussion after that - black people are saying that nowhere is safe, and how do you teach your kids that, and white people trying to tell them that it's not that bad.

I would like to be able to say it's not that bad. Having no safe place is a horrible thing to think and feel. It's worse because it's true.

That cannot stand. This cannot be allowed to be.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Layers of ugliness

I am about to start something I feel inadequate for. I need to write about race.

When I am not writing about political and social issues, I am still thinking about them, but I always feel like there is more to know, and other people are saying the relevant things. I didn't think I had anything to say about Rachel Dolezal. I felt like I did need to say something about McKinney. Then I waited, and something much worse happened.

So I'm just going to try and say what I feel I need to say, and hope that it can be helpful to someone. Before Charleston I thought there would be six posts; now I don't know. I was going to start with layers of ugliness though, and that still feels right.

The picture was ugly. Seeing a cop straddling a black teenage girl in a swimsuit was ugly. Seeing the video, where he manhandled her, where he ordered her to get down when she was already down - no, she needed to be face-down - and seeing her friends try to help and be chased off with a gun, and knowing how easily it could have ended up with them dead, all of that was sickening.

It's been a while since I've mentioned this, but one of my big wake up calls to racism was reading stories about street harassment, and seeing that when you are white, it starts later and is less likely to involve touching. There aren't the same boundaries in place for women of color, especially if they're black. There is a long racist history going back to slavery for why that is. A lot of these problems have a long racist history.

(That's one of the things that made me mad with Dolezal's deception - she did not have to put up with that when she was a blonde freckled child.)

I was disturbed by picture and video. It was clear that the officer was out of control. Even his fellow officers made him put his weapon down and were able to speak to the other kids peacefully. That's nice, but they still didn't make Casebolt get off of the girl. They were too accepting of his violation as well.

That was ugly enough, but then I was reading more about how it started, and it got worse. Some kids of multiple races are having a party, and some white people say "Go back to Section 8 housing." That is an insult, and unfair, and offense was taken, including by one of the white kids who started getting lectured about the company she keeps. When a black friend defends her, the black friend gets slapped.

That's uglier. There is open racism, the assumption of poverty based on skin color, and physical violence, again with no boundaries respected on behalf of a black girl. It got worse.

Section 8 housing has a history in McKinney. There is a highway running through the town. To the East, McKinney is 49 percent white; to the West, 86 percent white. There have been lawsuits and blocks to prevent any affordable housing from going up on the West side, you know, because that brings in black people. (Even though there were residents at the party who lived there and were black, and there are plenty of white people in Section 8 housing.)

There are no public pools on the East side.

It gets uglier going past there too. America has a long history of not allowing black people to swim, from pouring bleach in pools to filling them with cement to selling them to private clubs - anything to prevent having to share that space.

Many black people don't learn how to swim. That probably raised the death toll from Hurricane Katrina.

There were people reminiscing on Twitter about not being able to swim, or how their parents made them learn to swim. One person wrote "Swimming feels like freedom," but it's a freedom that often isn't available enough.

The deeper you look, the worse it gets. Get used to that.

We still need to look.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Band Review: Moderne.

Moderne. is an alternative rock band from Huntington Beach, California.

Occasionally bordering on the moody, they are at their best with more energetic numbers, like "Tied Up" and "Quietly".

Distance & Distractions, their 6-track EP, will have been out for one year on Tuesday and has two music videos. The video for "Colorblind" gives a sense that this could be a good band in a show.

They do feel a little undeveloped, as if their next album needs a stronger theme, or a stronger producer, but if feels like they have potential.

It's worth noting that I was initially followed by a band called Meaning in Masterpiece, and then it redirected to Moderne., so this may be a time of transition for them as well. I believe they are worth checking back with. Also, the art in the "Colorblind" video is pretty neat and should be checked out anyway. When it's their turn for song of the day, we'll see where they are.