Friday, April 13, 2018

Seeing the world in "black and white" filters out the history others have faced in this country

There was a recent 60 Minutes segment hosted by Oprah Winfrey, discussing a new monument in Montgomery, Alabama in remembrance of the lynching of blacks (nearly all male) in the country, coming on the heels of a “landmark” study by the Equal Justice Initiative on the subject, although what it considers “equal” is matter of legitimate discussion. A graphic of all the locations where the lynchings occurred is provided, indicated with red dots; the vast majority of the “dots” were situated in the South. What is “surprising” is that the West and Southwest was fairly free of indications of lynching. Why is this “surprising”? Because it would be very red if that “other” part of history was given equal treatment. I am speaking of course, of the exclusion of other groups targeted because of their racial and ethnic characteristics; if they had been, these areas would certainly have been equally “red.” 

I am no more willing to grant blacks “exclusive” rights to “victimhood” than I am to white women, although their presence in the mainstream media is such that they are the ones who make that determination, and the excluded have no voice. As I’ve mentioned before, a few people have not ignored violence perpetrated on others, such in the book Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928, written by William Carrigan and Clive Webb. In a New York Times op-ed in 2015, the authors noted that many other racial and ethnic minorities were targeted for violence—Native Americans in particular—but in sheer numbers, “Mexicans” were lynched in near “equal” terms to that of blacks. Carrigan and Webb noted that 

Americans are largely unaware that Mexicans were frequently the targets of lynch mobs, from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century, second only to African-Americans in the scale and scope of the crimes. One case, largely overlooked or ignored by American journalists but not by the Mexican government, was that of seven Mexican shepherds hanged by white vigilantes near Corpus Christi, Tex., in late November 1873. The mob was probably trying to intimidate the shepherds’ employer into selling his land. None of the killers were arrested. 

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming. 

Unlike blacks in the South, “Mexicans” were often “extra-legally” lynched with the collusion of law enforcement (the Texas Rangers were particularly infamous in this regard), and because these incidents often occurred in sparsely-settled areas, the local newspapers—even if they felt “morally” responsible to report them, and the reality was that they seldom did—were conveniently absent, so surviving records tend not to be specific on detail outside the 547 cases. But what is not in “doubt” is that the sheer scope of these extra-legal killings call into question why this country continues only sees the world literally through “black and white” eyes, to the exclusion of all others. 

And it isn’t just about the past, but in regard to police shootings today. It seems that every time a black individual is shot by police, it automatically is subject to scrutiny, and this scrutiny on occasion does reveals questionable and often unnecessary use of lethal force. But one mustn’t read too much into police shootings of blacks; according to federal crime statistics, they commit nearly half of all violent crimes in the country, yet according to The Guardian, of the 713 civilians killed by police in 2015, “only” 184 were black—just over 25 percent of the total. Native Americans are actually killed by police at much a higher rate than blacks, while whites were much more likely to be killed by police in raw numbers, just under 48 percent; Hispanics were just over 14 percent of these shootings, but many believe the numbers are open to question, since police often “mistakenly” identify Hispanic shooting victims as “white” in their reports in order to avoid accusations of racial-profiling (remember that the media referred to George Zimmerman as “white” for months before he became a “white” Hispanic). 

But if we takes those numbers as they are, and Hispanics are (slightly) less likely than blacks to be the subject of police in violent confrontations, this would tend to give the lie to Trump and Sessions’ claim that Hispanics (especially immigrants) are a “violent” demographic. Yet we still must hear the right-wing The National Review  hypocritically whining that it is now “racist” to talk about Hispanic gangs. No it is not; it is “racist” to talk about Hispanics as a “violent” group generally, which is what Trump, Sessions, Ann Coulter and most on the right seem to believe. This falls under the purview of what Indian Dinesh D’Souza defended as “rational discrimination,” meaning that a general attitude of prejudice toward a group was “justifiable” if it could be “rationally” determined that said particular group was more “prone” to what stereotypical paranoia dictates, thus to be "safe" one could act in accordance with their fears without being accused of being "racist."

The question of why Hispanic victims are ignored while white females and blacks are provided as much rope as they want has find answers far afield. Al Jazeera America (it always has to be some news organization outside the U.S. mainstream to tell us these things) informs us that even organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that focus on hate crimes is sometimes blind to the past civil rights struggles of Hispanics: “’Police violence on African Americans hits a deeper resonant note because of our history,’ said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the SPL Center. ‘The oppression of African Americans goes right at the core of our history.’” It is interesting to note that the reason why there are hundreds of cities and towns in the U.S.with Spanish names (and that of six states) doesn't seem to be of interest to most Americans, given that this is a "core" of our history no one wants to "explore."

Because of this tendency toward single-sightedness in racial matters, the story goes on to note that “The legacy of slavery and segregation fueled the civil rights movement and created a well-oiled organizing machine from national advocacy groups to black churches that continue to fight for the rights of African Americans.” Even Hispanic leaders seem blind to the long history of discrimination and violence against “Mexicans” in the past, allowing blacks almost exclusive “rights”:

“‘State-sanctioned murder of African Americans is an old powerful issue,’ said Roberto Suro, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California. ‘It isn’t a matter of these incidents alone sparking this outrage. It’s more than that. It’s symbolic of lynchings and other killings that have been an instrument of suppression in the past. These incidents gain force because they speak to a whole range of other considerations.’” This apparently requires denying one’s own history. We have seen this kind of denial before—in Nazi Germany, when many Jews wishfully believed that once Germans were “satiated” with discrimination and violence, things would return to “normal” for them.

The problem is that Hispanics are supposedly more “focused” on immigration issues, and do not have a “galvanizing” figure like Al Sharpton to “mobilize protesters and attract inevitable media coverage in an instant.” Police shootings of Hispanics is a serious issue according to Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, but no matter how often Hispanic leaders talk about it, “It seems to revert to black and white … How the hell do you break through that black-white way of looking at policy issues?” Good question—and the “answer” requires that the media allow more Hispanic commentators on the airwaves, and are allowed to speak their minds from their perspective, and not just pick out some token who is  safely  “conservative” and won’t upset the black-white “balance.” Despite what many people think, Hispanics are not “uneducated”; in  a Pew Research report, it was noted that high school drop-out rates had declined to a third the level since 2000, and 35 percent attend or attended college. A lower bachelor degree rate is largely due to the fact the fifty percent attended 2-year community colleges, higher than other groups. And to quote from War’s 1975 song “Why Can’t We Be Friends”—“Sometimes I don’t speak right, but yet I know what I’m talking about.”

In a story from Cosmopolitan (a women’s fashion magazine—I told you can only get relevant information in regard to this issue from “outside” sources) we are told that “Part of the reason cases involving Latinos don't receive the same attention, says Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director of Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, is because Latinos are never truly seen as Americans but always as foreigners. As a result, ‘If police kill a Latino, it's only a Latino that was killed. Latinos are not generally perceived to embody larger social problems like racism or institutional abuse of power,’ she said.” Yet both the Trump administration and many states under the control of Republicans behave as if Hispanics do “embody” something “bad” that must be wiped-out; only racism and the institutional abuse of power can explain this.

Last year a Colorado man who neighbors knew to harbor anti-Hispanic hatred, carrying a rifle about and making threats, walked into a Walmart, and shot three Hispanics dead. Police claimed it was just a “random” shooting, and media made no further comment on it. If the man had been making threatening comments to people who were black, and then walked into that Walmart and shot three black people dead, the police and media would with 100 percent certainty call this a “hate crime” and act accordingly. With 47 million Hispanics who are U.S. citizens treated like second class, if citizens at all—and not just from the Trump administration, far-right Republicans and the extremists in the right-wing media with their constant barrage of fear and hate—only a complete hypocrite or fool can believe that this is only about illegal immigrants. And the media is biggest hypocrite of all, by the way it distances itself from acknowledging or discussing something that also defines what this country is.

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