Today’s guest blog post is written by AAA member, Dr. Melanie Bush. She is Associate Professor and Department Co-Chair for the Department of Anthropology & Sociology at Adelphi University.
In December 1951, a petition was presented to the United Nations entitled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People.” In 1964 Malcolm X argued for taking the U.S to the world court and UN for human rights violations. In 2008, the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination issued their findings on the U.S. with 46 substantive recommendations.
When we look at the state of affairs in US society today, with an unarmed 17 year old African American male followed and shot, and the killer set free; when courts decide that there is no longer need for monitoring voter rights despite undisputable evidence of Black disenfranchisement; when mass incarceration is the “new Jim Crow” (Michelle Alexander), and when politicians unabashedly defend a program that terrorizes young black and brown youth through a stop and frisk program that not only finds 9 of 10 of those stopped completely innocent, it targets between 4-7 times the number of young people of color than white youth despite equal drug use; where on every possible social indicator, communities of color come up on the short end: foreclosures, income, wealth, health status, health insurance, education, etc. isn’t it time to recognize the systemic nature of the racist hierarchy and do something drastic?
What is the climate in which this is acceptable? As Malcolm X said, this is not a violation of civil rights; it is a violation of human rights. It is not a Negro problem it is a human problem.
I would further this argument by saying it is a WHITE problem.
Let’s get real. As just one example, the Pew Research Center recently released data showing sad but unsurprising divergent perspectives about the verdict. Of African Americans, 78% report that the trial raises important issues about race that need to be discussed; 28% of whites say so. Public opinion surveys consistently demonstrate that whites believe that racial inequality is a thing of the past. Indeed a Tufts University study in 2011 found that whites now believe they are the primary victims of racial discrimination. It’s true that younger whites tend to be more aware of the realities, but still minimally so.
So what does this have to do with white folks?
First of all, most brown and black folks understand, and recognize these realities. They have to –they live it.
As white folks, we have the luxury and the privilege to ignore, deny, pretend, soften, moderate, believe that we are nice people who never do bad things so these systemic patterns have nothing to do with us, and we can be horrified but do nothing. We can reap the privileges of a system that continuously provides us with benefits of the doubt, second chances, and be allowed to believe it’s all solely because of our individual effort.
It’s time for a change. We have the privilege of education, of access to people, to networks, to publishing, to institutions. With humility we can make a difference and we must.
This fight need be one that stands against a system that tolerated and continues to tolerate the murders of Emmett Tills, Vincent Chins, Manual Luceros, Shaima Al Awadis and countless others.
It is time to connect this struggle with the treatment of black and brown people all over the globe. It is time for ALL of us to speak and act against drone strikes, war, imprisonment, the economic assault of global sweatshops.
We must unite with grassroots organizations that are fighting for change and get involved. At the very least, let us support their work; recognize that our future is intimately interconnected with theirs.
My heart and my mind were mute from grief, sadness and bewilderment. But it is past time for us to take responsibility in every way we possibly can. How can we tolerate a world that is so unsafe, where young Black men are preyed upon? If we do allow that to occur, what does that do to our own humanity?
As Robin DG Kelley said, this verdict was rendered not because the system failed, it happened because it worked. For 500 years, the entire system has been firmly dedicated to an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; with predators and threats almost always black, brown and red. The very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor and contain populations. Kelley continues: “If we do not come to terms with this history we will continue to believe that the system just needs to be tweaked or that the fault lies with a fanatical gun culture or a wacky right wing fringe.”
ANYONE can act on this racist ideology and stand for this racial hierarchy. It is more likely those who personally benefit however, for some who don’t, identifying with the dominant group provides a sense of superiority.
And anyone can stand up against it.
We must confront the notion that it’s just two ways of viewing a situation as if they are equal. One validates the murder, incarceration, stop and frisking, impoverishment, of young black and brown men and increasingly women based on presumed criminality, cultural and intellectual deficit, and the other stands for humanity and dignity.
Anthropology as a discipline is not exempt – See President Mullings, Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology. Every one of us can do something about the issues she raises in this statement. In our sections, in our classrooms, in our memberships. Most particularly white members of AAA can take on responsibility for making change happen.
Isn’t it time?
For information about racial justice work being done by whites see e.g: Catalyst Project; Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ); White Privilege Conference.
See also: Black Youth Project, Project South, Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Domestic Workers United, Dream Defenders, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, etc.
For commentaries: http://dubois.fas.harvard.edu/trayvon-martin-commentary, YES Magazine, Ricardo Levins Morales, Colorlines, Black Commentator.
Filed under: Advocacy, Anthro in the Media, Commentary | Tagged: human rights, Melanie Bush, race, white privilege | 3 Comments »