In spite of this evidence, why are so many white Americans not persuaded by the surging reports and uploaded videos of police killings? Perhaps the answer may be related to another social phenomenon. Although African Americans make up only 12 ½ percent of the population of the United States, they account for 37 percent of prison inmates sentenced to more than one year. Although whites and blacks use illegal drugs at relatively the same rate, the US judicial system imprisons black men nine times more frequently than it does whites. Over 30 percent of the nation’s African American males between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine are under criminal justice supervision according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
What does this say about American society? And how can so many disturbing facts go unnoticed by the general public? What American society needs to understand is that these phenomena are part of a historical trend and institutionalized prejudice that is well understood within psychological and socioeconomic arenas.
I. Psychological Factors: An Unseen Reality
In the 1960s, Lestor Luborsky conducted an experiment that tracked eye movements of people viewing photographs. He discovered that if a photo contained images that people found morally objectionable or threatened their world view, their eyes would not even stray once to those images. Since their eyes never saw the images, how did they know not to look there? In reference to this study, social researcher Derrick Jensen commented in his book The Culture of Make Believe, “our decisions to not see (are) made entirely on the pre- or unconscious level.” He later concluded that the reason why so many people fail to understand or recognize racism is “in nearly all circumstances we each know precisely where not to look in order to have our worldview remain unthreatened and intact….So long as vision remains constricted, hatred can often remain invisible.” In society, there are those who do not see but can, and then there are those who cannot see because of institutionalized and learned systems of prejudice.
Understanding Direct and Indirect Racism
In 1918 an eight-month-pregnant woman named Mary Turner was lynched (murdered by an angry mob of whites) in Valdosta, Georgia. Ordinary citizens left their homes in a rage to give her the justice they felt she deserved. Her crime? She told a news reporter that her husband had been wrongly accused (not by authorities but by the lynch mob) and murdered by whites and that he deserved to be “avenged.” This was enough to make her their next target. She was later hanged upside down from a tree. They doused her clothes with gasoline and burned them off of her. Then used a hog-splitting knife to open her belly. Her infant fell to the ground, and cried briefly, until someone crushed its head with his heel. The mob then shot her hundreds of times.
Thousands of black men and women were lynched in the United States in the first twenty years of the twentieth century alone. It is interesting to note that in the aftermath of lynchings like the one that killed Mary, her husband, and their unborn, hundreds of black people quietly and quickly evacuated their fine farmland leaving it ripe for new white tenants, including those who never held a knife, gun, or rope. This is just one of many prime examples of how the social structure became racially stratified through violence and how white families indirectly benefited over the years. As documented as it is, society often forgets how easy it was to create genocide and reap the benefits of stolen land, labor, or wealth from blacks, Indians, and other minorities. Much of this social stratification still lingers and its complete correction has yet to see fruition. More importantly, to understand the social conditions that lead to such atrocities, one must not look away from the larger picture.
Origins of White Supremacy: What came first?
Racial hatred is not historically unique to the United States nor exclusively perpetrated by white Caucasians. Many empires have enslaved rival groups and whomever else found themselves on the wrong end of a sword (or legal system). From an anthropological point of view, ethnocentrism likely predates racial hatred and could possibly be responsible for early racial inequality in early antiquity. As the demand for labor developed in feudal societies, slave classes became part of the social structures and often consisted of ethnic and cultural outsiders. Aristotle once wrote, “Humanity is divided into two: the masters and the slaves; or, if one prefers it, the Greeks and the barbarians, those who have the right to command; and those who are born to obey.” Many cultures around the world had their own unique social symbols to identify and justify who the “obedient” class was. In India’s caste system, Untouchables have for thousands of years been identified by birth or caste certificates. Still today, many ‘Dalits’—as they are often referred—face lynchings, rapes, murder, and labor discrimination in Hindu society. Such social stratifications are meant to preserve the dominate group’s monopoly over land resources. When the Roma, or Gypsies started moving to Europe around 1000 AD, the Europeans responded to them as vermin and vile, brown creatures. Gypsy hunts in Europe foreshadowed Indian hunts that took place later in America and Aborigine hunts in Australia.
Ethnocentrism (or racial supremacy) goes hand in hand with whichever racial class happens to be dominate. However, it was only as recent as the 16th century that White European supremacy began to manifested itself on the global stage. It all comes down to power and whichever group holds the power creates the social structures that restrict control of capital and societal privilege. Since Europeans amassed much of the world’s capital in recent centuries through their exploration and expansion, white supremacy just happened to be (and still continues to be) the unconscious flavor of choice in the current social model.
Criminology and Justifying Racial Violence
The historical development of racial hatred follows an almost unbroken pattern. First, as any criminal psychologist would agree, the perpetrators of any mass murder consider themselves the real victims. Secondly, in a sense they are the victims. For if one believes they are entitled to something that belongs to another (land, body, labor, etc) and that person resists appropriation or threatens the perceived entitlement, it is easy to understand how the racist killer could feel victimized. All hate begins with loss of privilege or fear of losing such rights, even if the alleged rights were based on exploitation and inequity. Thirdly, nearly all victims of genocide are first demonized through propaganda to stir up retribution for the loss of superiority. The result is Jews victimized Germans and were responsible for nearly everything wrong in the world. According to Nazi propaganda, Jews were alleged kidnappers of baby Aryans for sacrifice. Nazi propagandist, Julius Streicher wrote “You must realize the Jews want our people to perish.” Conspiracy theories credited “a Jewish plot” for the explosion of the zeppelin Hindenburg in Lakehurst, New Jersey. In the United States, Woodrow Wilson once blamed blacks for the violence against them stating “white men of the south” were “aroused by the very instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes.” The mass genocide of Native Americans throughout the American West was, too, not without hysterical myths about their savagery. The scientific explosion surrounding the Darwinian notion of natural selection inevitably led to an explosion of scientific racism, which declared that nonwhites were genetically inferior and thus destined to be superseded by whites.
Motives Behind Racism
Motivations for atrocities often vary. Sometimes it is overreaction to a real or perceived injury. When whites were still settling California, Indians killed a white trapper for attempting to rape a Mattole women. The local white settlement became enraged. Captain Greer, commander of militia in charge of exterminating the Mattole, later said of the ensuing massacre, “We fought and killed quite a lot. There was no resistance; they simply hid as they always did.” Sometimes the atrocities are committed with a sense of contempt. Andrew Jackson called Indians “savage dogs,” and said attempts to eradicate them were futile until soldiers knew “where the Indian women were.” Sometimes the motivation is greed, as in a San Francisco Argonaut editorial on the US’s colonization of Philippines. “We don’t want the Filipinos. We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but unfortunately they are infested by Filipinos. There are many millions there and it is to be feared their extinction will be slow.” Sometimes the motivation is simply business as usual, as in the 1984 Bhopal, India disaster where Union Carbide’s efforts to cut costs in standard safety procedures resulted in an avoidable explosion that killed more than eight thousand people, or in the 1870 Northern Pacific Railroad construction that cost the lives of thousands of Chinese railroad workers and many more Native Americans who resisted the encroachment on their land by treaty. Sometimes the atrocities are committed out of a strong sense of benevolence—though underlying ethnocentrism—as in residential school systems for Native Americans and First Nations throughout North America. In the late 1860s, government-funded, church-run schools were established to ‘educate’ and ‘assimilate’ First Nations and Inuit children. In 1920, Canadian federal legislation required all First Nations children aged 7 to 15 to attend. Duncan Campbell Scott, who was deputy minister of Indian Affairs, explains the purpose of residential schools to the House of Commons in 1920, “I want to get rid of the Indian problem…Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed…” Aboriginal children were separated from their parents and brought to residential schools where they lived for many years. Thousands of students died at residential schools in the US and Canada. Disease, fires, accidents, abuse, and suicide were among the main causes. One survivor of the residential schools system reflected, “Today I understand quite a few words in my language. But every time I try and talk it, my tongue hurts…I ran into another woman who went to residential school with me…She asked me if I remembered how they would stick a needle in our tongue if we got caught talking our language… Maybe that’s why my tongue hurts whenever I try and talk my language.”
It is important to note that whenever minorities resist their exploitation, the white majority are always the alleged victims. For centuries, by right and title as a white man, one had a claim to a black man’s labor. Any black man’s labor. According to Derrick Jensen, “Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized. ….When the rhetoric of superiority begins to fail, force and hatred wait in the wings, ready to explode.” What happens to whites that blaspheme against white supremacy? Ten thousand men, women, and children from Omaha broke Will Brown out of jail and hanged him because they believed (incorrectly) that he had assaulted a white child. When the white mayor of Omaha tried to stop them, he too was beaten to death.
II. Socioeconomic Factors: Was Hatred the Motivation For Black Slavery?
It is a little known fact that between 1609 and the early 1800s, as many as two-thirds of white colonists had been forced to come over to North America as slaves. Since white slavery was prevalent at roughly the same time as black, some historians such as Michael A. Hoffman use this to delegitimize black social injustices, as though the suffering of poor whites somehow negates or diminishes the suffering of members of other cultures and races. As Jensen confirms, “Showing that one group was made miserable in no way lessens the misery of any other. It can, however, point out the rationale for exploiting one or another group. A culture in the name of commerce, religion, history, or science has subjugated, exploited, and/or destroyed every other culture it has encountered. All who defend or look the other way are merely less direct in their racism.” When England claimed North America, King James I basically created a large estate by granting it to the Virginia Company of London. To profit from the land, the company’s shareholders found slaves to harvest cash crops. As true with black and Indian slaves, white slaves were regularly subjected to whippings, rape, torture, and murder. Conditions were so harsh that 80 percent of indentured servants died within their first year. The owners used fictitious debts or such petty crimes as stealing food, to maintain permanent control over the lives of their servants. Would-be indentured servants were acquired from taverns and fairs, while ship captains bribed judges and indebted prison jailers to secure prisoners who could be indentured. Prisoners were sold at auction for various terms and years. At the request of the Virginia Company, a bill passed in 1618 legalizing the capture of children eight years or older to be transported as slaves to America. Judges received up to 50 percent of the profits for the sale of children. It is estimated that tens of thousands of poor people throughout Great Britain were sold into slavery. Even after England abolished slavery in 1808, children were still the cheapest exploitable labor. Society virtually considered them expendable as many factories employed them to clean smoke chimneys, even hot flues. For many years, this was the common practice throughout Britain’s industrial age. If the reader is already drawing parallels to today’s for-profit prisons, hold that thought because the penal system is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how much American society has inherited.
Looking back, did western society hate children? If the answer is “no,” would anyone be able to tell the difference in early industrialized society if the answer were “yes?” As Jensen explains, “More atrocities are committed in the name of economics than even in the name of hate.” In this context, it is obvious that the Portuguese pioneering the black African slave trade was not motivated by hatred. Perhaps it is a small wonder few today understand what racism truly is. Once again, society is looking away.
Black Slavery Unified White Society
In 1832, proslavery philosopher Thomas Roderick Dew saw black slavery as the common unifier for society. “We believe slavery, in the United States, has accomplished (unity), in regard to the whites…” He argued that slavery in the American South acted as a great equalizer among members of the white race. So long as racial differences could be emphasized, poor whites would forget the rich whites who exploited them as surely as they exploited blacks. The poor historically perceived others on the bottom of the social latter as the source of their misery, and the misperception continues to this day. According to Jensen, “The near ubiquity of this misperception is not the product of mass stupidity on the part of members of…the population who fall prey to it, nor is it part of a fiendishly clever plot by the rich to consistently keep the poor at each other’s throats instead of their own. It is a manifestation of the selective blindness that besets us all. We have been trained, from early on, to be able to perceive only certain threats, to perceive only certain forms of hatred, contempt, violence, and to perceive only certain sorts of people as even potential perpetrators of horrible crimes.” Still today popular culture is affected by the unquestioned assumptions that make education what it is, and that determine the words that are chosen. The social psyche manufactured via movies, books, newspapers, and television teaches that one kind of violence is violence, and another kind of violence is not. As a result, Clive Bundy and his armed militia who occupied federal lands in Oregon are not culturally labeled as terrorists, while a little brown boy in Texas who brings a clock to school does. It is no wonder that so often members of those groups that share common interests end up scapegoating each other, instead of looking together at the people and organizations exploiting them both.
How the Irish Became White
A million Irish men, women, and children died in the infamous potato famine between 1845 and 1850 due to their practical enslavement by Great Britain—their corpses lying in fields, with streets, according to a contemporary observer, “black with funeral processions.” The first poor Irish immigrants were hated and despised for competing in an already tight job market. Having a long history of resistance to British exploitation, the Irish seemed like natural allies to other exploited groups, notably the nonwhite working class. However, according to Noel Ignatiev’s book, How the Irish Became White, instead of attempting to bring down the system, the Irish in America decided to try to join the upper, or at least middle, classes. They made sure at the very least to disassociate with the most oppressed class. They cared little for political theory, abolitionism, revolution, or worker solidarity. With the lives of their children involved, they used every advantage at their disposal, including their white skin. According to Ignatiev, “Black workers, already being driven out of artisanal trades by prejudice, and squeezed out of service trades and common labor by competition, could find no refuge in the manufacturing area, and hence were pushed down below the waged proletariat, into the ranks of the destitute self-employed: rapickers, bootlacks, chimney sweeps, sawyers, fish and oyster mongers, washerwomen, and hucksters of various kinds.” As a convenient ‘divide and conquer’ scenario for the rich, nearly the only jobs open to blacks were those made available when whites went on strike, which enraged whites to attack them as strikebreakers. During strikes in 1852, 1855, 1862, and 1863—to continue the example of their white role models—Irish longshoremen fought black workers who were brought in to replace them. Oftentimes, blacks were sought out at their place of work, and terrorized away. For example a primarily Irish mob attacked and murdered the black employees of a tobacco factory in Brooklyn and burned down a black orphanage in the Five Points riots during the Civil War. As Ignatiev solemnly demonstrates, it did not take long for the Irish to become white.
South Africa’s Apartheid
Much like United States, South Africa also shares its origins of hate in economic power. The laws of apartheid were drafted and implemented at the request of large mining companies, such as DeBeers, to explicitly serve their interests. Mines could only be held by whites and were worked almost entirely by blacks. Since a free market in labor could have driven up wages, this led to the Pass Laws of apartheid. Constricting native movement after 8:00 pm, and mandating under threat of flogging, all native workers to carry signed passes to be shown anytime “to anyone who may demand it.” Once again, the laws were not passed from any overt hatred, but for reasons of economy. African workers began to be confined to company compounds for the extent of their employment. Given that most natives lived off the land, and thus did not need to sell their labor, the government passed poll, hut, and even dog, taxes to force them off the land and into the mines. Since the natives had not previously been part of a cash economy, they had to go into mines to earn money to pay taxes. The Masters and Servants Bill gave legal right to beat nonwhite employees. The death rate in the mines fell between 8 and 10 percent per year, translating to 8,000-10,000 killed in mines just in 1899. The rest is history. If it can be concluded that racial exploitation is then a product of natural succession of ethnocentrism used by upper classes and elites to consolidate and perpetuate their economic control and power, when does racism manifest into outright hatred and lynch mobs?
III. Historical Factors: The KKK’s Origin and Social Influence
The Klu Klux Klan sprang into being almost overnight after the South’s defeat in the American Civil War. It sent forth 100,000 members to try men without courts and inflicted penalties for their loss of privilege, sometimes capital ones. The Klan was so thoroughly organized and effective means of grassroots citizen vigilance that the commanding officer of federal troops in Texas reported, “Murders of Negroes are so common as to render it impossible to keep accurate accounts of them.” In the weeks foregoing the Presidential election of 1868, at least 2,000 people were killed or wounded by Klan violence in Louisiana alone. It is worth repeating the words of President Woodrow Wilson who later rationalized the killings: “The white men of the South were aroused by the very instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of government sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes.” The Klan continued their acts of terrorism. Church meetings and political gatherings of African Americans were broken up, guns were confiscated, followed by lynchings, rapes, torture, and castrations. Between 1868 and 1871, conservative figures estimate Klan murders at no less than twenty thousand. To simply blame the KKK would be to miss a deeper point. Though federal troops broke up the Klan by 1871, the social conditions that gave rise to such violence were left intact.
Manifestations In the US Legal System
Since most blacks were terrorized away from the voting booths, elected legislatures began passing laws that legitimized black disenfranchisement. Lawmakers in many states used voting tests (whereby, before blacks could vote, they had to answer such questions as, “How many windows in the White House?”), poll taxes, and property qualifications (having already passed laws barring blacks from owning land). In states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida; roughly 95% of blacks were eliminated from voting rolls by 1890. The political aims of the KKK were eventually achieved legally. Today in some states, nearly 25 percent of African Americans do not have the right to vote due to drug related felonies that disproportionately prosecute them. Felony disenfranchisement accounts for 13 percent of African Americans nationally. As of 2010, about 25% of the total US adult black population had a felony, while 6.5% of adult non-blacks have a felony conviction. And when a black defendant and a white defendant are convicted of murders with similar aggravating circumstances, the black defendant is significantly more likely to get the death penalty.
Economic Downturn and Public Relations: The Unholy Alliance
The Klan was nearly bankrupt after WWI, and would have gone so, had its leader William Simmons not come into contact with one of the pioneers of the embryonic public relations industry, Edward Young Clarke. Clarke convinced Simmons to allow the Southern Publicity Association to be the Klan’s sole marketing agent, and, soon enough, turned it into the grandfather of all multilevel marketing plans, a pyramid scheme tapping a nearly unlimited reservoir of uncertainty, fear, bigotry, and hatred. He hired what he called ‘King Kleagles’ to oversee recruitment in each state. Recruitment was handled by ‘Kleagels,’ who went door to door selling memberships in the Klan for ten dollars each. The Kleagle kept four dollars from each recruit, and passed the other six to his King. The King kept a dollar, and so on, up the scale. In order to sell memberships, the Kleagles were told to appeal to the fears of targeted communities. Kleagles in communities where a lot of recent immigrants lived emphasized that the Klan “stood for 100 percent Americanism and would never allow the country to be taken over by a pack of radical hyphens.” The Klan no longer burgeoned, but exploded. In less than a year, eleven hundred Kleagles were soliciting across the country. Klan violence grew apace associated with elections, with robed Klan members intimidating blacks, Jews, Catholics, socialists, and others into not voting. People liked what they heard. They liked what the Klan represented. By 1923, at least seventy-five U.S. representatives owed their seats to the Klan. Warren G. Harding, was sworn in as a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the Green Room of the White House, using the White House Bible for the oath. Klan violence became so prolific that is was not prosecuted in cities like Atlanta where an attorney later stated, “Everybody in the courthouse belonged to the Klan, virtually every judge, the prosecuting officers….If anybody gets an indictment against a Klansman or the Klan itself…I am going to write out a pardon immediately.”
The KKK taps a vein in US culture, a vein of rage that waits always to explode. It is important to note that the framing conditions in the culture that not only make this rage inevitable, but make inevitable, too, the turning of this rage onto inappropriate targets. By 1924, 10 percent of Indiana’s residence were Klan members. David Curtis Stephenson declared, “ I did not sell the Klan in Indiana on hatreds—that is not my way. I sold the Klan on Americanism, on reform.” The Klan’s use of conspiracy theories and overt nationalism was quite successful. According to the Klan, Catholics were going to take over the state. “The sewer system beneath Notre Dame was filled with guns and explosives, ready for the coup. The pope himself was planning to move the Vatican to Indiana.” The KKK flourished when the end of World War I brought the soldiers home to find jobs that no longer existed when the wartime economy ceased, and folded with the end of the recession. Jensen points out that, “The fact that Germany’s post-World War I depression lasted much longer than that in the United States goes a long way toward explaining how the Klan—so much stronger than the National Socialists in the mid-1920s, and banging essentially the same drum—fizzled, while the Nazis did not. Shifts in economic conditions had more to do with the downfall of the Klan than any fundamental changes in the hate-inducing competition and exploitation on which capitalist culture is based.” If prisons are indeed a reflection of society, the racial component is very disturbing. In prisons, it is in the interest of guards and administrators for prisoners to be at odds with each other. As one guard told the Christian Science Monitor, “Inmates dramatically outnumber guards, so the prison has a vested interest in keeping the inmate population divided against itself rather than them.” In short, racism in America has and will change its manifestations to keep up with the times. Racial division just so happens to be a convenient mechanism of control.
Chinese Migrant Workers
Now that it has been demonstrated that racial hatred is a reactionary phenomenon to lost economic privilege based on exploitation, it is time to test the same formula in a different case study. In 1850, Chinese workers were welcomed, desired, even renowned, in great measure due to their reputation as being strong, highly competent, hard-working, and reticent. In other words, they formed the perfect labor force for owners of capital. Chinese men were crucial to the construction of the transcontinental railroads. What made Chinese labor exploitative is that their crews were paid less than white crews and under dangerous conditions. Whenever they attempted a strike for better safety conditions, their food supply would be cutoff. No one will ever know how many Chinese died building the Central Pacific, but by 1870 some twenty thousand pounds of bones had been gathered from shallow graves along the tracks and returned to their homeland. Many thousands more of the dead remain in unmarked graves throughout the West. The reward on completion of the line was unemployment for the living, and although there had been fair resentment toward the Chinese by white Americans before, it then turned to hatred. Tens of thousands of workers were suddenly competing for jobs in an already competitive market. The resentment became all the worse when they showed signs of success everywhere they went. Even when the Chinese did not take jobs from white Americans, they drove down wages and working conditions.
Next, the Chinese were demonized. Chinese women were viewed, as were black women, as a lustful threat to manhood, and Chinese men were viewed, as were black men, as threats to white women and children. “No matter how good a Chinaman may be,” wrote Sarah E. Henshaw in Scribner’s Monthly, “ladies never leave their children with them, especially little girls.” The great irony is that all of this demonization of Chinese as destroyers of white morals occurred well after whites—the British Empire—had used guns, warships, and economics to turn generations of Chinese nationals into opium addicts. Then finally, Chinese immigrants were lynched. They were hanged, burned alive, castrated, mutilated, and scalped. Their homes were burned. The homes of those who employed them were also burned. In once instance, twenty-eight Chinese men were massacred in Rock Springs, Wyoming, 1885. All were burned alive and mutilated.
Contemporary Racial Biases and White Privilege
Social theorists familiar with black sociology see the stifled black upward social mobility in lower-class ghettos as a result of transient family life, job ceilings, crime, and institutional racism. According to E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie (1957) the new black middle class signaled its arrival on the American scene in 1900. Members of Negro ‘high society’ “boasted of mulatto forebears and snobbishly considered a light complexion and family background based on white ancestry better than the darker skinned black proletariat.” Frazier argued that the social psychology of the black bourgeoisie, especially during the pre-civil rights era of the 1940s and 1950s, was based on fear of losing status. As a result, many maintained expensive homes and cars beyond their means. Frazier criticized Negro business as a “social myth” divorced from the realities of the black bourgeois jobs as white-collar workers. Despite occasional success stories and the support of the Negro press, black achievement in business was relatively insignificant. “The black bourgeoisie clung to its delusion of wealth and power to escape frustrations as a social class.” Malcom X’s Autobiography recalled how his father favored him over his brothers due to his lighter complexion, and further cited how he and his friends used to conk their hair to look white, and black women wore platinum-blonde wigs as part of their social outings. In the climate of Social Darwinism’s theoretical influences in sociology. W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro, was critical of the black social patterns such as crime and prostitution, which he criticized the genetic approach to social theory and blamed the social problems of the African-American community on the environment and the moral depredation of slavery, not innate racial inferiority.
Not only does racial stratification exist in America today, it has seen further worldwide expansion through US globalization. Instead of bringing foreign workers into the factory, factories have simply moved to the foreign workers, sometimes sustained by the infamous sweatshops and child labor there. In some cases, if the foreign workers strike, so will death squads led by whomever multinationals keep in power in that region. Outsourcing also has the added benefit for when the companies are criminally negligent in whatever deaths may occur—like in Bhopal—that the management will not be tried in the US. As Jensen points out, “Hatred felt long enough and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred. It feels like economics, or religion, or tradition, or simply the way things are.” A connection can be drawn here with the lack of prosecutions for US war atrocities as well.
Furthermore, white supremacy still exists in the current social psyche, and it too is a global phenomenon promoted by non-white and white societies alike. It has reached every culture and continues to distort racial self-images and self worth. From North America and Europe to Africa and the Far East, white skin and Caucasian features are favored above all other skin tones in the business and marketing world. In Korea, people there commonly get plastic surgery to narrow the bones in their face to look more Caucasian. Black celebrity models often whiten their skin, as it proves beneficial for their careers. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, two identical résumés were sent out for job applications. The only differences in the two were the names: Greg and Jamal. Résumés with the most black-sounding names received the 50 percent fewer callbacks while having the same qualifications. According to an FBI hate crime statistic, in 2012; 293,800 “bias-motivated criminal incidents” were reported by forty-six states and the District of Columbia. Of these, 46 percent were motivated by racial bias. White supremacy is so ingrained into mainstream culture that most are unaware of the very social symbols they attach to class.
Derrick Jensen refers to television as “cultural genocide. It is the great homogenizer.” The purpose of the commercial media has always been to sell fear because it breeds insecurity, and then consumer culture offers any number of ways to buy a way back to feeling secure, however momentarily. People are fed these images of what everyone is supposed to look like: sulky lips, perky breasts, buns of steel, everlasting youth; even white. It is not possible to internalize again and again these images of what is beauty and what is desirable without having that affect one’s self-perception. [serving as legal provocation for the Civil Rights Movement) It modifies the very basics of personality and distorts sexuality. In her book, Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, Helena Norberg-Hodge studied the impact television had on indigenous cultures. In the Ladakh, part of the trans-Himalayan region of Kashmir, the arrival of television changed their value systems because idealized stars make people feel inferior and passive. The effects of television on indigenous communities are both immediate and insidious. In the 1980s, television was introduced into Dene and Inuit villages in the far north of Canada. Jerry Mander interviewed members of these communities. “People weren’t visiting each other anymore” a Dene woman said. “It was hard to get the kids to do anything. The women weren’t sewing anymore, either, and the woodpiles were too low.” Another said, “The social relationships of the people and the language and learning of the kids changed overnight. What they started learning best was all the stuff that’s in those commercials from white society.” Television and movies project power structure of western society, and by projecting it, perpetuate it to make it seem normal. Once viewers have become familiarized to a certain type of story, they become indoctrinated with stereotypes. Jensen concludes, “Television serves the interests of those in power by distorting our psyches and diminishing communities. Advertising makes us hate ourselves.”
Why Our Political System Fails To Resolve Racism
Tyler Fischer did a master’s thesis on Richard Nixon’s politicization of television during the revolutionary year of 1968 and measured its influence as a precedent in modern political campaigning. Nixon’s cult of personality in the television age to mediate and mobilize polarized demographics in society is defined as “Nixonland.” Nixon achieved his political success by subtle exploitation of Confederate nationalism. As Fischer writes, “Nixonland was established in 1968 through the polarized and demagogic presidential campaigning of Richard Nixon, symbolizing the premature end to America’s process of racial reconciliation.” Nixonland’s law and order motif, which derived from a conservative status quo, was implicitly accepted as more valuable than civil rights. It can be argued that Nixon’s style survives in current political campaign rhetoric of both parties. Fischer argues that Nixonland was “premised upon an artificial solution to society’s civil unrest because it was not a social solution to the conflict but rather a politicized solution that was framed to attract the electoral support of a simple majority.” Nixon deflected the central issue of racial tension by redirecting the debate from the social level to the legal and federal level of “states rights” reflected in his southern strategy. Fischer also credits the birth of the television era and its influence: “Television fills in the holes of our fragmented reality. For most people, television is their picture of reality.” Fischer concludes “It appears the politicization of history within the visible dialectic of the ‘culture wars’ of the 1960s constrains modern American political discourse based on the public debate over the opposing perceptions of the event rather than the factual content or substantive character of the event.” Denial by social conservatives of Nixon’s politicization of the white backlash from the 1960s continues to be a force within the Republican party in spite of the 2013 “autopsy report” that recommends the party needs to appeal to more minorities if it ever expects to win nationally in the future.
The social conditions for America’s racial inequality can be explained by psychological, historical, and socioeconomic factors. Racism as a social phenomenon did not originate from hate, but is rather just one of the many social side effects of Capitalism. The first slave traders didn’t HATE Africans. The incentive of slavery was economic. Once ‘black’ slavery was institutionalized to “unify the white race,” violence against blacks was viewed in terms of preserving the social order. Genocide and atrocities were not committed out of overt hatred until white privilege was threatened with competition within the labor force. Racism in American culture was further exacerbated with the birth of Edward Young Clarke’s PR campaign, which combined fear and nationalism to market the Ku Klux Klan as a traditionally American fraternity. These in turn influenced political institutions to further suppress black participation in the political process. Due to Nixon’s deflection of racial issues and premature conclusion to civil unrest, politicians today continue to demagogue racism in America. Although the United States no longer has many lynchings, even in cases where a black man murders a white man, mobs allow the state to do the imprisoning or executing. The current penal system imprisons and disenfranchises minorities by legal means what the KKK strived to achieve. As black social mobility continues to be hindered by white privilege and the war on drugs, the very economic structure responsible for its social conditioning continues to create atrocities abroad in nonwhite countries. In the 1980s U.S. backed troops in Guatemala killed ten thousand people per year and systematically dispossessed one million of the nation’s four million Indians. The U.S.-backed Shah in Iran killed thirty thousand people. US backed commandoes assassinated union leaders in Columbia. Between five hundred thousand and a million people were murdered at CIA urging and with CIA assistance just in Indonesia during the late 1960s because the Indonesians did not vote the way the CIA wanted them to. Similar stories can be told in the Congo, Guatemala, Iraq, Chile, etc.
One cannot expect different results today from the very institutionalized socioeconomic structure that engendered slavery. Today, multinationals are responsible for the enslavement of countless millions around the world. According to Kevin Bales’ Disposable People, more people are in slavery today than in any time in human history. Everyone in the industrialized world probably has slave products at home. These same corporations are also responsible for the 1400 toxic chemical accidents per year in the United States alone due to criminal negligence —all in their efforts to minimize costs and maximize profits. As Jensen points out,
“Rarely do we see explorations of the systemic use of police and prisons to maintain current social order. If prisons were really about public safety, those responsible for the three hundred thousand preventable cancer deaths per year would be behind bars. And if prisons were about protecting property, those who looted the Savings & Loans would be serving terms proportionate with the amount they cost the public. It is entirely possible that we have the wrong population in solitary.”
Instead of demagoging prejudices or deflecting the issue of race inequality, politicians should tackle the socioeconomic conditions that create racism. Law makers might consider eliminating some of the causes of crime: the gap between rich and poor, child abuse, and an oppressive working class reality that needs to be neutralized through the use of drugs.
This analysis does not suggest that nonwhites do not hate, nor that they do not commit atrocities. To do so would be hypocritical. By and large black culture does not wield the same sort of power as does white culture, making on a social scale white hatred far more dangerous. Therefore, racial hatred is often the result of a perceived threat to white privilege. Since white privilege is imbedded in American culture, most racists are unaware of their own racism. Until the social conditions of racism are commonly understood and engaged, it is unlikely that a majority of social conservatives will be persuaded to support any meaningful social action. The facts may continue to be that part of the photograph so many happen to subconsciously stray their eyes away from.
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