Category: Race and the Law

Probing the subtleties of white racial bias

By Alan Bean

I came across two columns this morning making the case that white people can be riddled with racial bias without feeling any particular ill will toward racial minorities.

In a guest column in the New York Times, Ta-Nehisi Coates uses a grotesque incident of racial profiling involving academy award-winning actor Forest Whitaker as his jumping off point.  The deli employee who accused Whitaker of shop lifting, and frisked him on the spot, claims to be a “good person” without a single racist bone in his body.  Coates doesn’t argue with this self-assessment, but disputes the assumption that racism necessarily involves a conscious dislike of a particular racial group.

In modern America we believe racism to be the property of the uniquely villainous and morally deformed, the ideology of trolls, gorgons and orcs. We believe this even when we are actually being racist. In 1957, neighbors in Levittown, Pa., uniting under the flag of segregation, wrote: “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” (more…)

The Lion and the Hyena

By Alan Bean

I received this graphic from a Facebook friend.  I clicked on “like”.  My friend probably wondered why.  I’m not sure.  Something about the image appeals to me.  The “conservative” is literally lionized, an invisible force for good.  The “liberal” is a scavenger, an impostor, a hyena attempting, in this case unsuccessfully, to feast on the carcass when he didn’t make the kill.

I have often felt like the hyena in the picture, a hapless liberal do-gooder confronting  the conservative juggernaut.  Nonetheless, I feel compelled to mouth off several sentences too many.

Some conservatives would reverse the image.  They see themselves as a lion surrounded by a pack of liberal hyenas.

These savanna fantasies obscure more than they illuminate.  “Liberal” and “conservative”, two grand words with a goodly heritage, are now debased currency.  When liberalism is associated with superficiality, debauchery, and profligate sentimentality, who wants to be a liberal?  When conservatism becomes a code word for racial bigotry, intolerance and privilege, who wants to be a conservative? (more…)

American slavery persisted until the Second World War

By Alan Bean

You need to read Douglas A. Blackmon’s article on 20th Century slavery in the American South.  The evidence, contained in thousands of letters preserved by the National Archive and the NAACP, is irrefutable.  But Blackmon says that’s just the beginning.

Dwarfing everything at those repositories are the still largely unexamined collections of local records in courthouses across the South. In dank basements, abandoned buildings, and local archives, seemingly endless numbers of files contain hundreds of thousands of handwritten entries documenting in monotonous granularity the details of an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century.

We will never know how many African Americans were forced into lifetimes of unpaid servitude under appalling conditions, but Blackmon, who has researched and written a book on the subject, says the numbers are staggering. (more…)

Guns don’t kill people . . .

By Alan Bean

“Guns don’t kill people,” David Cole says, “indifference to poverty kills people.”

So long as the consequences of gun violence are born by poor black males, Cole believes, the nation will not pass meaningful gun regulation laws.

There are two obvious responses to Cole’s argument.  It has frequently been noted that most of the cities with high rates of gun-related homicide already have strict gun control laws.  But this only underscores the need for national legislation that discourages people from importing guns into urban neighborhoods.

The second quibble is even more obvious: if poor black males are using guns to kill one another that’s on them.  The only solution, this argument goes, is for young black males to use firearms more responsibly. (more…)

Winkler: The Secret History of Guns

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school, wrote this piece for the Atlantic in September of 2011.  The National Rifle Association has been roundly vilified in recent days.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter of the innocents, an organization that opposes even the mildest attempt to regulate the sale, ownership and use of firearms comes off as insensitive and out of touch.

But why is the NRA so adamant on this issue?  And has it always been so?

Winkler argues that until the late 1970s, the NRA gave a grudging blessing to gun control legislation, especially in the wake of the wave of political assassinations in the 1960s.  Historically, he says, gun control enthusiasts have been primarily motivated by a desire to keep guns out of the hands of black people and that was especially true when leaders of the Black Panther Party made the most of their right to tote weapons in public.

But by the late 1970s things had changed.  Ronald Reagan, once a proponent of legislation designed to limit the right of the Black Panthers to carry guns in public, had changed his tune.  His new position was remarkably similar to the current policy of the NRA.

What accounts for this dramatic shift?  And why have proponents of gun rights, black and white, taken a dim view of government and law enforcement?  It has frequently been argued that the NRA is a racist hate group, and it is certainly true that the organization’s membership is overwhelmingly white and rural.  But listen closely to the rhetoric of many gun rights people and you will hear a distinctly anti-government message.  These people fear their government and insist on the right to arm themselves against it.

In short, American conservative have moved from the law and order rhetoric of the 70s and 80s to a new form of anti-government paranoia.  Is this largely a function of having a black man in the White House?  Is it a legitimate response to the kind of authoritarian overreach represented by the Patriot Act?  Or might it be an complex combination of a multitude of factors?  Those wishing to pursue this question should read Mr. Winkler’s remarkably evenhanded essay and the book he has written on the subject.

The Secret History of Guns

The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.

By Adam Winkler

THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. (more…)