Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Post-racial" US and Canada, Part 3

In 2002, an Edmonton columnist wrote an opinion piece in reference to the television show Survivor, claiming that racism is a figment of Black folk’s imaginations. I countered that article with a detailed response proving the obvious falsehoods of his claim. Not surprisingly, that Edmonton paper declined to print any of my response.

The following is the first publication of what I wrote, placed online now to address the absurd claims of a “post-racial America” and to confront the rabid, sub-intellectual attacks on figures such as Reverends Jackson, Sharpton and Wright, which claim that the Obama electoral victory is proof that human rights activists who advocate for Afrikans in America are no longer needed.


I’ve changed the name of the writer to “Mr. Columnist” to avoid giving him any further undeserved press, and I’ve deleted the name of the paper the same reason.


***

Mr. Columnist either doesn’t comprehend much about race, or agrees with the elite agenda of network TV--namely, to obscure meaningful analysis of US race privilege in order to protect it.


Mr. Columnist claims that Survivor Marquesas denizen Sean Rector is a lazy lout who “plays the race-card” to distract attention from his own mediocrity, and quotes African-American columnist Jimi Izrael to buttress his argument. Mr. Columnist and Izrael conclude that Rector is a paranoiac obsessed with “perpetual victimhood.... It’s a lot of b.s.... The White man is not out to get you. You are your own worst enemy. [Racism] is an excuse.”


So Sean Rector is lazy and paranoid, blaming White folks for his own failures. Since Rector alone is insignificant, he must embody a predominant false self-justification for Black failure.


Mr. Columnist’ argument is astonishing twice--first, for its shallowness, and second, for its negligence with obvious and abundant contrary data.


Reality show contestants are chosen specifically to a) stir up given associations with the audience, e.g., the sexy contestant, the honest one, the industrious one, the infuriating one, etc., and b) have conflict among themselves.


So if Rector is a lout, he was chosen precisely for that reason--but reality-TV doesn’t showcase Black pluralism. The White audience knows that White folks have many views on many issues, and don’t need that explained by a pluralistic White cast. They likely do not understand that about Black folks, especially in a US so socially (while not legally) segregated.


Gervaise from the original Survivor remains the exception to the African males on reality-TV: the acceptable Black male, a joking, strong-bodied, intellectually-unthreatening, over-sexed buck-dancer, the “Sambo” who is unthreatening because he either doesn’t or can’t use his mind, and because he is always, always smiling.


[Note: I modelled the Brotherfly from From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain largely after Gervaise, and also after a similar fellow in E-Town.]


But Rector and angry Black males like him elsewhere on dramatic and reality TV are a different stereotype--”the coon”: the unhinged, urbanised Black male who spurns middle-class White norms and burns with resentment for White privilege.


Reality-TV doesn’t seek out sociologists or activists who can carefully explain their political analyses. Want excitement? How about a race-baiting fight from someone so “obviously” not a victim? Nobody likes an overdog. Look at The Great White Hype or the Rocky films: White America wants to see the uppity n----- knocked down once and for all.


So racism is “a lot of b.s.... The White man is not out to get you. You are your own worst enemy. [Racism] is an excuse”?


Tell that to Abner Louima, a Haitian man whom NYPD patrolmen raped with a plunger handle, tearing his colon and bladder before they forced the bloody instrument into his mouth, breaking his teeth. Three of the four convicted “peace officers” got off on appeal.


Tell that to the family of Amadou Diallo, the Guinean man shot forty-one times by NYPD when Diallo tried to surrender his wallet to gunmen he thought were trying to rob him.


Tell that to Marcellus Francois, the petite, clean-shaven Haitian-Canadian shot to death by Montreal’s finest, mistaken for a six-foot-plus dreadlocked suspect.


Racial disparity in arrest, detention, legal counsel, conviction, and sentencing, especially of the death penalty, are well-documented. Does Mr. Columnist live in a gated enclave without a TV?


Economic discrimination? Redlining--the illegal practice of financial racial profiling in which banks deny mortgages on the basis of where potential clients currently live. Ralph Nader concedes that after his successful legal battles against redlining, banks solved their problem simply shutting down branches in minority neighbourhoods. Jesse Jackson reported that in 1994, 30,000 mortgages were registered in San Diego. Of these, only 29 went to Africans. In the US, no capital, no credit, no future.


Columnist Sean Gonsalves writes that a “University of California at Berkeley study found that the value of lost income to Black Americans because of discrimination between 1929 and 1969 alone comes to about $1.6 trillion”. Imagine if the wealth of that very narrow span could have been invested: what a difference for a Black America devastated by job flight, by the attack on the social sector and by the prison-industrial complex!


Health? From Reuters: “African Americans continue to receive poorer quality healthcare compared with their white peers, and racial stereotyping by American doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers is at least partly to blame.... Black patients are less likely to receive potentially life-saving treatments [and] were more likely than whites to receive less-desirable treatments, such as limb amputation... or removal of the testes in the case of prostate or testicular cancers.


Other Reuters headlines include “Study Finds Racial Differences in US Cancer Care” (March 8, 2002), “Poorer Care for Blacks Found in Medicare HMOs” (March 12, 2002), “Race May Be Factor in Young Patients’ Chronic Pain” (March 18, 2002) and “Death Risk Higher in Black Ovarian” (March 15, 2002). Mr. Columnist evidently hasn’t bothered to do the most cursory fact-checking.


How about environmental racism? Daniel Wigley and Kristin Shrader-Frechette explain that for the US, “In 1987, the most significant determining factor in the siting of hazardous waste facilities, nationwide, was race.... [T]he Environmental Protection Agency took 20% longer to identify Superfund sites in minority communities and... polluters of those neighbourhoods paid fines 50% [smaller than] polluters of white communities.”


Well-documented political disenfranchisement? Black voters in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election were harassed and threatened by police and blockades; boxes of Black votes were left uncounted. (1 million black votes didn’t count in the 2000 presidential election,” Greg Palast, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004 June 20.


I guess it’s all in our head. Thanks, Mr. Columnist!


Jimi Izrael’s columns are frequently self-obsessedly cute, it’s no surprise his remarks wouldn’t bother to address the measurable complexity and toxicity of White American privilege. Izrael destroys his own credibility by saying that Rector is not sufficiently “suburbanised.” And Mr. Columnist’ column violates an axiom of responsible journalism--”to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”


Mr. Columnist doesn’t expose the race-baiting set-up of Survivor, but plays along with it; doesn’t recognise that Rector’s complaining and laziness are symptoms of the problems of White race privilege in the US, rather than the cause; doesn’t truly address how his own position as a handsomely-paid White columnist in Canada has ill-prepared him to understand the experience of millions of Africans in the US who live with the daily threat and life-long reality of social, economic and political racial marginalisation and the psychological burden that entails.


I wonder how often Mr. Columnist has addressed White males’ self-justifying excuses which claim that employment equity, affirmative action, feminists, coloured people, immigrants and other causes account for their own lack of success. I hear these comments all the time, all the while that corporate boardrooms, academies, police, the officer corps, editorial staffs, legions of major stockholders, and the leaders of IMF, World Bank and most of the G7 remain strikingly White.

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