America’s Racial Divide is Experiential: Black Lives Matter AND Support for Police are Not Mutually Exclusive by Thomas Martin Saturday


To hear Republican hyper-conservatives tell it, Black Lives Matter values Black lives over all others, and has twice now supported the assassination of police officers on duty. This does not comport with reality.

First, we must all think and realize that throughout all of American history not only have white people controlled those of color via slavery, genocide, discrimination, and placing the supreme value on those with less melatonin in their skin, but that assumption of real white supremacy is still with us.

Let’s look at some of the highlights or rather the lowlights that is our legacy, amidst all that is so good about our democracy and the progress the United States continues to forge.

John Rolfe noted in his diary in 1619 that a “Dutch man-o-ware” brought to the new colony 19 Africans as slaves, which he wrote were “neggars,” and they were bought as such. This is not a Disney film with sweet lovers Rolfe and Pocahontas. And Pocahontas was not Elizabeth Warren. The need for cheap labor to till first tobacco, and later cotton and rice would fuel slavery and making a racial distinction of skin color furthered that.

In addition white supremacy would help justify the things that were done to the slave from leaving Africa to, if they survived, entering a life of brutal servitude. Some 250 years would have to pass before a great civil war for the Union and for emancipation made a change. But the Reconstruction Era white terrorism in the South made that emancipation problematic at best. Lynching morphed into Jim Crow Segregation and that was not broken significantly until the end of America’s Civil Rights Years with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Jamestown Colony also was busy moving the Powhatan Tribal nation further away from white settlement. The Powhattans were already in the area and had been for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. The name of the tribe was bequeathed by whites who did not know what their name was John Smith or not. White settlement would eventually decimate the tribe as would white settlement in the Massachusetts Bay Colony would the Pequot Tribal Nation the First Thanksgiving or not.

Yes, it’s true that in Massachusetts and in emerging white New England the scalps of indigenous people brought bounties with them with the intent of encouraging white men to kill Native-Americans so that they would not trouble that white settlement.

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act which is precisely what it sounds like. Native-Americans were moved from all over the nation to locations west of the Mississippi against their will so that areas could be cleared out of native populations. The Cherokee’s in Georgia filed suit in Federal court to protect their lands. On appeal they won in the United States Supreme Court. Jackson defied the court openly; an obvious impeachable offense, but a compliant Congress who did not value red lives did nothing.

What transpired was best illustrated by the Trail of Tears, where into a bitter winter found thousands upon thousands of indigenous Americans walking ill fed, ill clothed, all the way to what would be Oklahoma with thousands dying along the way and escorted by the U.S. Army. Here it was thought they could live undisturbed. But in the 1890’s with white settlement an Oklahoma homestead rush into that area again deprived many Cherokee’s of that land too. Those same Cherokees who had both a spoken and written language, due to their red skins and possession of lands white land speculators wanted, were seen as inferior savage beings. Still want to keep Jackson on the twenty dollar bill? My money is on Harriet Tubman.

In 1857, the nation was told by that same Supreme Court, but with no John Marshall to lead it, that black people free or not were not citizens of the United States, and had no rights a white man was bound to respect. Further, slaves were property and as such slave holders could not be deprived of that property when they went into free territories like Nebraska and Kansas under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing due process. Never has that amendment been more misused and misapplied.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting nearly all Chinese immigration to the United States and the first immigration restriction in our nation’s history. Chinese immigration had been sought when we had the first continental railroad to build. Chinese workers were almost worked to death and many died like flies blasting though mountains. On the other end it was the Irish who sometimes were referred to as “Black Irish” as Roman Catholics they were suspect. Their poverty also invited the worst sort of exploitation. So next time you go out West and celebrate the “Golden Spike” of 1869 remember how it was done. Oh, and with inter- continental railway lines came the slaughter of the immense Buffalo herds of the Great Plains. It served the additional purpose of depriving the Plains Indian tribal nations from their main food source and helping to drive them into Reservations that literally destroyed their culture, dignity and way of life.

We took our white supremacist show on the road into Cuba and especially into the Philippines between 1898 and 1903. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who had dark skins were killed indiscriminately. We became an imperial power in those years. A black regiment with white officers serving in the Philippines, the 24th Michigan, took note that we were killing blacks there too, much as they were lynched and terrorized at home. They mutinied. Simple self-respect and a desire not to have innocent blood on their hands led them to it. The unit was reassigned amidst more than whispers in Congress that it reflected how blacks fought.

Latinos given the derogatory sobriquet of “Wet Back” a swipe at how some may have come into the U.S., have always helped us pick our fruit, vegetables, and other crops that after the Industrial Workers of the World featuring so many bindle stiffs traveling in railroad cars to pick crops folded at the end of World War I when the FBI and Palmer Raids rooted them out as undesirables,and deported them or jailed them if white, the nation turned to Latinos to do the dirty work. Labor leaders César Chavez and Dolores Huerta gave hope and dignity to so many.

We do remember better now the housing of Japanese Americans, who were citizens of the United States already, being sent to camps in the remote West as we did not trust them to be loyal. Not only did Native-American code talkers help us win World War II, but Japanese Americans aided us in the Pacific to help us understand what we heard coming from Japanese lines in the Jungles and on so many windswept Pacific Islands. Interrogation of the few Japanese prisoners taken was a gold mine of intelligence wrought from Japanese Americans efforts in World War Two. A whole Japanese-American infantry brigade fought in Italy and Southern France and won a hugely meritorious battle record and a whole lot of casualties, many of them wear dead. It was an amazing display of loyalty to country even though the white majority were not respecting their citizenship rights at all.

Alright, so what about Black Lives Matter? The slogan that is their name simply tells the nation the truth. That black lives matter every bit as much as white ones, yet that is not how they are valued by the white majority in the United States. Despite the fears engendered by Donald Trump that so many people of color are running around on the loose and are rapists, drug dealers, murderers and thugs who won’t work, must be on welfare to live, so many deeply rooted racial stereotypes determine far too much in influencing how whites perceive of, then treat racial minorities.

Experientially, people of color in the United States then and now have been subject to racial stereotyping, hyper-segregation, and a whole litany of assumptions about how they are not as good as white Anglo-Saxons. Much of Trump’s appeal is to that segment of our people who still harbor the deepest racial hatreds and prejudices.

I would ask my white readers to think. That might be something novel to a few. How many of you live either in black neighborhoods, or in places where there is a rough balance between various races is the norm? Most of you should have said you did not live in such communities. For this is a demographic fact. Red-lining and ongoing racial prejudice has conveniently walled off black communities, Latino communities, from those where some 95% and more are white. So it would be difficult for most white people in America to comfortably and constantly interact with their brothers and sisters of color. They may be willing to but they do not so interact.

Most of us in the white majority of course do know people of color at the office and more rarely where we worship or in sport stadia where we watch talented athletes or entertainment figures. In my case I have black friends. I’ve worked alongside people of color. I’ve fought for them, and most importantly with them in the lead, and my church is totally mixed race from side to side and top to bottom. I am getting tutored as to the lives of these people and I find their experiences do not match my own at many points. That is white privilege. With our white skins we do not carry all the baggage of racial misperceptions and assumptions we even subconsciously make all the time.

And people of color have the same difficulty, and they carry with them an experiential reality that is the exact reverse of that of the white majority. Perceptions and racial stereotypes influence how we behave far more than any of us, no matter our racial makeup, would care to admit. We’ve all heard perception is reality

Only the reality of the black experience with police is deadly, dangerous, and unpredictable. And many times police use far more force to simply give a black person a traffic ticket. Ever notice how the taillights on black owned autos keep going out all the time? Not to mention all the unarmed black people shot down in the street automatically as a reflex action.

New research by Multicultureal Education Professor Robin DiAngelo at Westfield State University is groundbreaking. She has written an important monograph study of this problem, and has coined a term to define what is going on in the white majority: white fragility. She defines it as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behavior such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.” Her book, What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” is a real epiphany for white people who are trying to grapple with the situation that leaves us facing such a racial divide in this nation. It is akin to that which followed the American Civil War, and where Horace Greely called the divide between Union and Confederate as “the mighty chasm.”

Tonight in the aftermath of actual Black Lives Matter people of color telling their stories to America at the Democratic National Convention of 2016, pay close attention to how much of white America responds to actual testimonies from Black people who were harmed or who lost a loved one to excessive force from predominately white police officers with demonstrations of white fragility DiAngelo has identified so often.

A journal article provocatively, yet prophetically accurate DiAngelo wrote was titled “Why White People Freak Out When they’re Called Out about Race.”

The wide disparities between what most white people experience in their daily lives throughout with little or no discrimination , unless they are LGBTQ, is the essence of white privilege. DiAngelo tells us that white people have a real sense of entitlement and that the news media, our culture, and their daily experiences reinforce white supremacy even if they most often themselves are not out and out racists and bigots .

So let me predict that while many whites will respond with empathy to Black Lives Matter at the DNC tonight a disturbing large group, including so much but not all of those who support Trump, will be chiming in about how dangerous BLM is and that all lives matter. They will blame the victim or deflect our attention from what is really going on in our nation. Look for white defensive moves in comments to the press all over the place. So let’s await it and see the white reaction where they “freak out” yet again about Black Lives Matter when too often today they simply do not matter nearly as much as white lives do. BLM is not suggesting for a moment that black lives matter more. But the racial truth of our racial divide will put white fragility on full display.

So what about Blue Lives Matter and that Thin Blue Line who protect us from the real criminals, and some who in reality may not come home to their families after their shift ends. While police officer deaths in the line of duty are at a low, the high profile assassinations of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge by two madmen highlights what a difficult job police have to do, and how dangerous it can be.

I find it remarkable that so many white conservatives play the zero sum game with these two situations black people face, and that police officers face. Can we not multi-task here? Why can’t we support both BLM AND our Thin Blue Line that makes our democracy as President Obama said in Dallas “possible.” I’ve got two Chicago Policeman in my family, who served and protected that community, that city in the 1920’s and 1930’s. One even retired in California and watched all the great movie stars come and go from his post at the entrance to Paramount Studios. His favorite was Rita Hayworth. Film buffs would tell you to watch the movie Gilda to get the reasons why. I worked in law enforcement for five years from 1980 to 1985 in the Police and Security Department of the University of Wisconsin, so I comprehend the whole and not just one part of the equation..

Black Lives must Matter just as much as white lives, not more, and the service our police officers do so well for the largest part every day ought to be appreciated more, and were an officer to need assistance we should not hesitate to provide it.

Yet, the racial divide in America is real. It is deep and it is rooted in our common historical experience as a people, however divergent those historic experiences have been. So I must challenge you to as Lincoln did the nation amidst civil war to “comprehend the whole,” and not just one facet of the intersection of Black Lives Matter with policing in the United States.

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