The many forms of racism in the U.S.

From the November-December 2018 issue of News & Letters

by Robert Taliaferro

Demonstration in Sacramento, Calif., against the police murder of Stephon Clark on April 5, 2018. Protestors vowed to “Be in the street until charges [against the police who murdered Clark] are filed.” Photo: Black Lives Matter Sacramento.

The Trump administration, and many of Trump’s far-right supporters around the country, have found a way to weaponize both racism and xenophobia in a manner that makes the two concepts seem—almost—socially acceptable in some enclaves of America.

Racism comes in many forms. There is the blatant racism that is prevalent in movements like the Alt-Reich and other white nationalist organizations who do not hide their politics. Then there are those subtle brands of racism that we see nearly every day but don’t seem to notice, until it is brought to our attention by way of some tragedy or video on the internet or the nightly news.

A nine-year-old child, for instance, is traumatized by a white woman who calls the police and accuses him of sexually assaulting her after his backpack accidentally brushed across her butt; another young Black child is challenged with a call to the police because she was selling water without a license to raise money for a worthy cause.

THE PERILS OF LIVING WHILE BLACK

The recent killing of a Black security guard who was just doing his job but who was seen by the police as simply another Black man with a gun; or the murder of a Black man in his own apartment by a white cop who alleges that she thought he was breaking into her apartment.

The challenge to a Black man trying to enter his own apartment and being harassed by a white woman with demands for his ID, and elsewhere, a Black woman being challenged in the same manner by a white woman who questioned the Black woman’s residency at a college she attended.

We could go on and on listing such events, especially of young Black men and women being murdered by police and civilians with impunity, it seems, all because they are living while Black or brown.

There are some far-right critics and Tea Party supporters who say that too much is made regarding the trials that Black people face. But those critics were never followed around a store by a security guard, or given an escort through a town by the local police, based on the color of their skin; they have never been looked at with disdain when they ask to use a bathroom in a Starbucks, or go to cash a coupon in a pharmacy and have that coupon challenged, based on their skin color.

RACISM DWELLS IN PRISONS TOO

Let’s not forget—or ignore—that microcosm of society that often is hidden from the mainstream—prisons. Sometimes it’s very subtle: “It’s too dark in this cell hall,” one white inmate said, using that as a reason to request a change to a different cellblock. He wasn’t talking about the lights; he was talking about the number of Black and brown prisoners.

Then there are more aggressive forms from the use of the N word to blatant and outright comments and actions of obvious prejudices openly displayed.

This racism is not limited to prisoners; it is institutionalized by the prison staff in how they handle disputes between Black and white prisoners, siding with the white prisoners regardless of the evidence. Premium prison jobs are often assigned due to race, with more desirable jobs going to whites.

We cannot attribute all these problems to Trump, but he is like a magnifying glass over a piece of paper on a sunny day. The more sun focused through the glass, the more certain the paper will be consumed by flames.

We just completed a contentious midterm election where Trump’s nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric was as much on the ballots of many states as a particular candidate. Despite Trump’s loss of the House of Representatives, the fundamental aspects of racism, xenophobia and intolerance exist at a grassroots level, and until that is weeded out of the American consciousness, those aspects will always be a weapon that some will use to attack the right to be treated equitably in all aspects of life.

If freedom is the right to do and perform what does not harm others, then it does not give one the right to instigate acts of intolerance based upon half-truths and lies, nor does it give one the right to use bully tactics to promote one’s agenda, especially when that agenda is capricious in nature.

America…pay attention…your country’s future is at stake!

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