Archive for Sunday, September 23, 2007

Denial doesn’t alter discrimination

September 23, 2007


This week, it is 50 years since the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army took nine children to school.

American soldiers sworn to defend American soil and American interests had to descend upon an American city with bayonets fixed to protect American children from a mob of American adults screaming blood and murder at their attempt to attend an American school. Because, you see, the adults had pale skin, and the children's skin was dark.

From the vantage point of half a century, it seems an absurd drama. You shake your head at the fatuity of the adults in the old news footage, their mouths twisted, fists clenched, eyes alight, and you marvel that they were driven to such a fury, such a madness, by so innocuous an event. You wonder what in the world they could have been thinking.

But of course, that's an easy one. They were thinking they were right.

We always expect evil to look different, obvious. We are always anticipating the pointed ears and the pitchfork, the black stovepipe hat and the Snidely Whiplash mustache. The truth, however, is that evil is rather banal. You might pass it five times a day and never recognize it for what it is.

The pale men and women who took to the streets of Little Rock, Ark., in 1957 would have been, in the overwhelming majority, Christian people. They paid their taxes. They helped the poor. They visited the sick. They held hands over hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance. They were decent folks, except they had this evil belief that people with dark skin were of a savage, yet simultaneously child-like, lower order and that if anyone sought to mix pale and dark, pale must resist by any means necessary.

If you had suggested to them that this was wrong, they would looked at you askance, maybe even laughed, and wondered what was wrong with "you." Because they knew they were right, knew it in their bones, knew it in their Bibles, knew it with certitude, knew it beyond all question.

Five decades later, there is a starkness, a black and white purity, to the issues argued those tense days in Little Rock streets: inclusion versus exclusion. It is enough to make one nostalgic. After all, after affirmative action, after busing, after O.J., after Cosby, after Imus, there is little starkness, much less purity, to the conflict between pale and dark. All is complexity, all is gray.

Or maybe that's just the self-deluding conceit of a generation that is pleased to think of itself as enlightened beyond history, pleased to look back on past events and tsk-tsk the behavior of the poor, benighted souls who lived through them.

Yet in Jena, La., six American children with dark skin were charged with attempted murder after jumping a pale child whose injuries amounted to a black eye and a concussion.

In Tulia, Texas, 38 mostly dark-skinned people were convicted of drug dealing on the perjured testimony of a pale cop known to describe dark people with a racial slur.

In Paris, Texas, a dark-skinned girl who shoved a teacher's aide was given seven years by a judge who had earlier given probation to a pale-skinned arsonist.

All this not in 1957, but now.

Yet, it has become common for some pale Americans to deny that these and other inequities have anything to do with skin tone. That's an absurdity we left in the '50s, they say. We are beyond that. There are no pale Americans and dark Americans. There are only Americans. They wish dark Americans would understand this and get over it already.

And it's the darnedest thing. If you suggest that they are wrong, they will look at you askance, maybe even laugh, and wonder what is wrong with "you." Because they know they're right, know it in their bones, know it in their Bibles, know it with a certitude.

Know it beyond all question.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 6 months ago

Informed says: "Yes, right_thinker, the slavery and lynchings are over, but can you honestly say the segregation is?"

Apparently, according to the article, honestly and "beyond all question." (Now, off to Jesus Camp....)

-- a pales-by-comparison American

Hong_Kong_Phooey 10 years, 6 months ago

You've got to love it. A well-respected, thoughtful, pulitzer prize winning columnist who happens to be black writes that racial injustices are still occurring on a daily basis in this country, and you get replies from people like "right thinker" and "setting the record straight" (I whose ruler do you set that record straight?). Seriously, thank you for your enlightened responses. The reasoning that the end of slavery and public lynching's equates to there no longer being the belief by anyone that racial inequities exist is, truly, one-of-a-kind. How one could divine from Mr. Pitts' article that "It's ALL about race..." is bewildering.

However, I'm sure that you are not alone. I'm sure that there are other, likely "pale" Americans, who have just as pale a definition of equality and freedom as you two. They just haven't posted yet, or they are afraid to, for fear that their fellow posters will see them in their true light.

Slavery and lynching's were commonplace when racism towards dark-skinned Americans was "acceptable". Now, it is not out in the public. It's discussed in hushed voices over a beer at local taverns. It's made light of by mostly white fraternities when they have theme parties like "Pimp's & Ho's". It's concealed in the rhetoric of those that proclaim sarcastically, "It's all about race."

toefungus 10 years, 6 months ago

Hey, the upside of global warming is that we all will have dark skin one day.

mick 10 years, 6 months ago

Cry me a river Leonard Pitts. Isn't that what you said when whites complained about black on white racism?

fliesinyoureyes 10 years, 6 months ago

Charging someone with a crime does not make them a criminal.

The 6 American citizens who have been charged with a crime are GUARANTEED DUE PROCESS. No one can deny that a CRIME OF SOME SORT was committed.

We are denied access to the offical evidence, so how can we be so passionate and all-knowing about the case?

We are making a mockery of the judicial system that Martin Luther King gave his life to change.

Godot 10 years, 6 months ago

Will someone please give Pitts a scholarship for a course in basic sentence construction and grammar? I do not understand why the editors continually give him a pass, unless it is because there are so many errors in his writing that need to be corrected that they do not know where to start.

deec 10 years, 6 months ago

Uh, a white kid did beat up a black kid in Jena, and also drew a gun on him. That perpetrator got probation. The black victim was charged with theft of a firearm for taking the gun away from the white kid. By attacking the columnist for pointing out the racism still existent in our system, you fail to address the point of the article. But that's typical right-speak, isn't it? Attack the messenger, not the message.

mick 10 years, 6 months ago

The mind tends to find what it's looking for. If you have a victim mentality then you're going to find myriad examples to support your prejudice. It is a self-perpetuating mindset. What are the fruits of this victim mentality? For one thing it absolves one of any sense of personal responsibility.

Confrontation 10 years, 6 months ago

I love being pale! Of course, it does have its drawbacks, such as: I have to wear sunscreen unless it's dark outside, it's easier to see a pimple, and I'm constantly accused of hating non-pale-skinned people.

Bradley Menze 10 years, 6 months ago

Jason Whittlock had a great column about the Jena 6 business last Friday in the KC Star.

workinghard 10 years, 6 months ago

Confrontational-African-Americans also wear sunscreen and believe it or not, tan and sunburn. Powershopper- Kennedy school, 11 years ago, 3 white kids ganging up and hitting black kid during recess time. Black kid went to teacher for help, she said "they're just playing", white kids continued. Parent complained next day, white kids never punished. What it means is you're just not there to see it and you never hear about it.

mom_of_three 10 years, 6 months ago

That's probably the best thing Jason Whitlock has ever written.

Godot 10 years, 6 months ago

Dubya45, thanks for the tip about Jason Whitlock's opinion piece. Now, that is good writing, as well as good analysis.

person184 10 years, 6 months ago

right_thinker (Anonymous) says:

Look, I've never seen racism like I've seen in St.Louis' various inner-city areas. Sneers and jeers and you are expressly NOT welcome in their neighborhood, it's in their manner of speaking, words, actions and expressions. And you all know from LJW on-line, an award-winning forum, that I'm a very likeable person.

So very true about STL. Things are very tense there and there is a lot of animosity toward the pales. I lived, worked, and went to school there during the OJ trial and it was a very crazy place to be after the verdict. I was used to the racisim coming the other direction so it was a shock. To be clear, it is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. However, this does not erase racism in the true sense...against a group that has historically gotten the raw end of the deal, economically and judicially. It's better but it's not gone. So even though articles such as these irritate you , Rightie, you know not what it's like to walk in their shoes and cannot assure anyone that this is a thing of the past. What's happening here is that the people in power are the racist ones, unlike the ones in St. Louis, who have no real political power.

camper 10 years, 6 months ago

Anybody remember what happened in Jasper Texas a decade ago? Jasper is not far from Louisiana.

kugrad 10 years, 6 months ago

The undercurrents of many of the posts by rightthinker, Kozakid, Mick, Powershopper and others are very clear. Pitts hits a nerve, your knees jerk. You temper your words because you know you will cross the line if you say what you really want to say, but the message still comes through loud and clear: Blacks don't accept personal responsiblilty for their problems, Blacks are a group that can be easily discussed as a group - you know they're all the same, Blacks don't face any problems white people don't face - they just like to play the victim because they are too lazy to accept responsibility for their problems, everything that every happens to any Black also happened once to a white guy so what's the big deal, Leonard Pitts is just another racist Black, you know they all hate white people (and George Bush too, probably because he's white), heck some of my best friends are black (well, not really but I knew a black guy once) so why do they get mad when I take a wrong turn and drive my SUV through a really impoverished neighborhood - I mean it's their fault it's a slum - why don't they respect their property more? I mean we named that street Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd at taxpayer expense!

Yep, ya'll are in denial, just as Mr. Pitts described. You are both his target audience and personification of the very problem he describes. You sound to me like racists who like to rationalize your racism away - i.e., Your conclusions are just the result logic. You have applied your sterling intellects to the issues and this is just the way things are.

Do you honestly believe Blacks do not face more significant racism in the USA than Whites? Are you really that sheltered? Have you no contact with anyone outside of white suburbia? Are really that ignorant, or you are just plain stupid.? I can't believe the subtext of your posts. Racism is dripping from your comments, but you are blind to it because you don't belive such a thing is possible. Kind of ironic how Pitts describes the racists of the past as good church-going Christians who just couldn't conceive of the truth about themselves and others. He pegged ya'll.

Godot 10 years, 6 months ago

kugrad, what did you think of Jason Whitlock's op-ed in Friday's KCStar about this situation and who is in denial about it?

workinghard 10 years, 6 months ago

Could you please give some proof that you are not a racist please? Read your other post on Respect for all and one would sure get the impression that you are. You would also appear to be a little in denial. Not having read much of Pitts work, I can't comment on it, but yes claims of prejudice are abused (yellow house), but prejudice is still alive and well.

workinghard 10 years, 6 months ago

Sorry powershopper, just the same as one white person does not speak for all white people, one black person does not speak for all black people. By the way, does she think there is no more discrimination or prejudice?

kugrad 10 years, 6 months ago

Godot, I looked it up and read the article. I thought it was really good. My only complaint would be that focuses most of the attention on only one participant in the beating and waits until the very end to mention the overblown nature of the charges that were initially filed. I get the impression that, without the outcry, those attempted murder charges would still be in play. Other than that, I tend to agree with him.
I think there is a reason broader than the media and guys like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton that has made this hit a national nerve. The amount of racism that is still alive and well is shocking. Remember when Yahoo had chat boards? I think they took them down because of all the racist posts that flooded every story - I'd estimate50-60% were either intolerant of some race or religion. When people are behind a computer keyboard and anonymous sometimes we can see what they really think. It can be really ugly. It was a good column, but Whitlock's not pushing what some posters here are selling. Anyway, thanks for the heads up on the story. I saw it mentioned but I don't get the Star and I probably wouldn't have googled it if you hadn't asked about it.

Godot 10 years, 6 months ago

KUgrad, thanks for your post,.

Nature, itself, is exclusionary. In humans, we might call it a 'tribal experience." Without a doubt, racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in our democracy, as it exists in every culture in the world. I would suggest, but am open to criticism, that the older the society, the more susceptible it is to racism and/or tribalism.

I think the attempt in the US to blend races and cultures will go down in history as the most noble, yet deeply troubled, effort, ever, to bring people of different races and cultures together in one nation under the ideal of democratic/socialist government.

The challenge is great in the face of the historically and scientifically proven adage that "birds of a feather will flock together."

We face the threat of societal failure if we do not motivate every "flock" to take responsibility for its own while contributing to the nation as a whole.

We all have to work together to keep our nation from falling apart.

deec 10 years, 6 months ago

There were also fights in and near the school, including one in which a black student was attacked by a group armed with beer bottles at a party predominantly attended by whites. (Only one person in that assault was criminally charged, and he with just a misdemeanor.) In another incident that took place on 2 December 2006 at the Gotta-Go Grocery, a convenience store, a white Jena graduate reportedly pulled a pump-action shotgun on three black high school students when they left the shop. The three teens managed to wrestle the gun away from the man (who was injured in the process and was treated at a hospital for his injuries); they were later arrested and charged with second-degree robbery, theft of a firearm, and conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery. Accounts differ as to what happened in that incident, the white victim asserting he was attacked and robbed by the three teens, and the black teens asserting they were guilty of nothing more than defending themselves against a man with a gun. According to The Jena Times, eyewitness accounts provided by those unrelated to any of the four involved parties supported the victim's story." So how does this contradict my point? Also, for the "chocolate" commentator, I am 1/2 Czech, 1/4 Irish and the rest mostly German. I just have my eyes open and don't feel it necessary to ignore the racism inherent in our culture.

jonas 10 years, 6 months ago

Powershopper's in a bi-racial relationship! That MUST mean that anything he says in regards to race is well-informed. Especially that stuff that ends in enlightened terms like "num nuts."

Racism still exists. Pitts talks about it too much. But that's what sells his columns. It's his forte.

If we're going to talk about predictable one-trick ponies, when is the next Cal Thomas article going to be published?

kugrad 10 years, 6 months ago

Godot, sometimes I think it bears remembering that, for all our troubles, the USA is not anywhere close to the most racist nation on earth, we're not even in the top 10. We have a LONG way to go, but at least we are going.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.