Category: white racial resentment

Land’s apology doesn’t impress Black Southern Baptists

The Reverend Dwight McKissic

By Alan Bean

Stories can bring us together, and they can drive us apart.  Unfortunately, narratives related to racial justice almost always reveal a yawning gulf between white and minority perception.  I have never seen a single narrative separate America into polarized camps like the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman affair.

Richard Land, the head of the ethics division of the Southern Baptist convention, recently apologized for remarks about the Martin-Zimmerman case that have enraged Black Southern Baptist leaders.  The Rev. Dwight McKissic, the Arlington, Texas pastor calling for Land’s ouster, isn’t buying what he calls a “non-apology-apology“. 

  • Land hasn’t apologized for calling Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson “race hustlers” and “ambulance chasers” because they responded to requests for help from Trayvon Martin’s parents. 
  • Land hasn’t apologized for accusing President Barack Obama of ginning up support in the black electorate by commenting on the Martin case. 
  • Land hasn’t apologized for suggesting that black males deserve to be racially profiled because black men are statistically more likely to engage in acts of violence. (more…)

Richard Land’s Trayvon problem deepens

By Alan Bean

Update: Richard Land has issued an apology for the remarks referenced in this post.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says he is the victim of a media mugging.  First the Nashville Tennessean characterized Land’s incendiary comments on his own radio show as a “rant”.  Now a Baylor-based blogger claims that the Baptist ethicist’s rant was plagiarized.

Many of the words that he uttered during his radio show were taken VERBATIM – yes, WORD-FOR-WORD – from a Washington Times column penned by conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner. Kuhner’s column titled “Obama foments racial division” was published on March 29.

Land has apologized for failing to give proper attribution, but continues to lash out at the liberal media.  This brief excerpt from an article in the Nashville Tennessean will tell you what the Southern Baptist spokesman is so upset about.

Some consider statements made Saturday by the convention’s top policy representative on his national radio show a setback. On Richard Land Live!,Land accused black religious leaders — whom he called “race hustlers” — and President Barack Obama of using the shooting death of an African-American teen in Florida for election-year gains.

“This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that’s been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson,” Land said on the show.

And, on Obama’s statement that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, Land said: “The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires.”

The Rev. Maxie Miller, a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting, was incredulous when he heard about the comments.

“At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist,” Miller said. “But I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated.”

Richard Land claims he should be immune from charges of racial insensitivity because he had a large hand in drafting the SBC’s official apology for slavery and Jim Crow.  According to the Associated Baptist Press, the 1995 statement read in part: (more…)

The American vigilante myth

By Alan Bean

In an illuminating weekend piece, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday addresses America’s love affair with the lone wolf vigilante.  “Of the countless stories we tell ourselves,” she writes, “the American myth of the solitary enforcer of justice may be the most tenacious, beloved and — as the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin has so grievously demonstrated — distorting.”

In the movies, the vigilante takes the law into his (occasionally her)  own hands because “the system” has dropped the ball.  If they can’t get me some justice, the vigilante thinks, I’ll make my own.  This stark sentiment drives the narrative arc of dozens of blockbuster Hollywood films every year.  “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Dirty Harry asked forty years ago, and thousands of films are resolved in similar fashion.

For every lone wolf hero there must be a corresponding villain, a punk, a thug, a gang of thugs, or the favorite of prime time television dramas, the pathological serial killer.  In this sense, Hornaday writes,  “the fatal encounter” in a gated community in Florida, “played out like an all-too-real clash of iconographies: Zimmerman’s idea of the property-defending hero Standing His Ground vs. the hoodie-wearing youth who has symbolized menace and urban violence in everything from “The Wire” to last year’s comic teen-thugs-battle-aliens satire “Attack the Block.”

The racial dynamics shift from plot to plot, but the man who takes the law into his own hands is normally white and middle class while the punks and thugs, regardless of race, are heartless incarnations of evil.   We can’t know if Zimmerman’s pursuit of Martin was racially motivated, Hornaday says, but he clearly saw himself as a stand your ground vigilante protecting his neighborhood from the forces of evil.

The American gun culture is inspired by a similar iconography.  Charlton Heston’s “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!” applause line worked because his audience identified with the man-against-the-world hero trapped between human evil and an unresponsive and bureaucratic system.  This may explain why Zimmerman ignored the request to remain in his vehicle.  “If you want the job done right . . .”

But, as Hornaday points out, the real world never adapts to the cathartic demands of a Hollywood script:

It’s easy to understand the enduring appeal of the vigilante archetype, whose hard-charging moral certainty jibes perfectly with this country’s sense of exceptionalism, not to mention the narrative constraints of a 90-minute action movie. It’s far more difficult to reconcile complicated reality with the simplistic, comforting fictions we crave.

Here’s the big problem.  American’s on both sides of the black-white color line are traumatized.  A sober reading of American racial history does little to enhance the self-esteem of white people, and this is particularly true of the civil rights narrative.  White Americans can face the simple facts of our national history, or we can feel good about ourselves.  There’s no third alternative. 

Maybe that’s why Hollywood has a hard time telling civil rights stories that don’t involve white protagonists.  White people want to feel good about themselves, but history keeps getting in the way.

At the same time, it’s hard for black Americans to reckon with history and come away feeling good about their country.  Whether we’re talking about the era of slavery or the Jim Crow period, the same question arises: Do I want to be part of this country?  An affirmative answer is possible, but only with conditions attached.  At the very least, the truth of the historical record must be acknowledged. 

So here’s the problem.  Black America has a therapeutic need to tell a story that white America needs to ignore.  That was then, white folks say.  “That is now,” black Americans reply.

Which explains why the Trayvon Martin case divides public opinion along racial lines.

Hollywood’s vigilante myth gives white Americans (the majority of movie goers) a therapeutic myth they can live with.   If we can’t talk about us, let’s talk about me.  How we explain the dramatic spike in gun sales following the election of Barack Obama.  Why did a black man who avoids the race issue whenever possible stir such profound emotion in so many white people?  “I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure,” our black president says, “that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”  What could possibly be threatening about that?

America is a nation with two foundational dreams.  There is the Manifest Destiny dream of steadily expanding white hegemony, and there is the Nation of Immigrants and Opportunity dream of radical inclusion.   From the beginning, these two conflicting narratives have been fighting for the upper hand.  The Civil War was simply the most bloody encounter in an ongoing war. 

Even when the president talks about American greatness, everybody knows he’s evoking the Nation of Immigrants narrative.  Obama doesn’t denigrate the myth of white hegemony; he doesn’t have to.  His mere existence constitutes a ringing denial of an old, old story that dare not speak its name.

We are drawn to the Americam vigilante myth because we can’t talk about who we are as a nation.

The demands of the 90-minute movie plot and the therapeutic needs of the majority of movie fans combine to give us a narrative that celebrates radical individualism.  We can’t talk about who we are as a people without making everybody uncomfortable.  So Dirty Harry singlehandedly rids Los Angeles of punks and Mr. Heston dares the government to pry his firearm from his cold, dead hands.

George Zimmerman is the product and the victim of the American vigilante myth.  We can’t escape his fate unless we decide what makes America exceptional.  Is it the ability of white patriots to enforce their will on inferior races; or is it our ability to move from apartheid to radical inclusion?  So long as we avoid the “us” question, the lone wolf vigilante will fill the void.

The Tea Party’s gravitational pull

By Alan Bean

Theda Skocpol (pronounced “Scotch-poll”) teaches sociology and government at Harvard University, hardly a hotbed of Tea Party conservatism.  But this nuanced account of the radicalization of the Republican Party carries her well beyond the breathless hysteria of the liberal blogosphere.

In her quest to understand Tea Party conservatism, Skocpol encounters three distinct movements with a common interest in driving Barack Obama into public life while pushing the Republican Party as far to the right as possible.

At the grassroots level, she finds, Tea Party people tend to be older, white conservatives who have no beef with big government programs like medicare, social security and generous veteran’s benefits; they just hate to see tax dollars squandered on the undeserving: welfare recipients, the undocumented, and losers who sign up for mortgages they can’t afford.

Secondly, there are the elite conservative lobbies and think tanks with a traditional small-government, pro-business agenda that want to slash government spending while eliminating many of the social programs grassroots conservatives endorse.

Finally, these uneasy bed-partners are being lionized and galvinized by an energized conservative punditocracy: FOX news, talk radio, and a growing right wing internet culture.  This adoring media attention exaggerates the cohesiveness of the contemporary conservative movement while extending its influence and elevating its stature.

These three expressions of Tea Party activism are at odds on many issues, Skocpol says, but their combined influence is radicalizing the GOP.  It is now impossible for a moderate Republican to succeed at the presidential level.

Will the 2012 election be a repeat of 2010, or are different forces at work?  Will America elect a movement conservative, or has the GOP veered too far from mainstream America? (more…)

The other L-word

By Alan Bean

Since Ronald Reagan rode to power on a wave of white racial resentment, programs designed to benefit America’s marginalized citizens have been treated as a political pinãta by conservatives and avoided as a liability by . . . well, non-conservatives.  No one dared identify as a liberal.  The L-word had become toxic.

There is another L-word: “legalization”.

Unless you are a big fan of Ron Paul, you have probably never been exposed to a compelling argument for legalizing drugs.  Libertarians support the legalization of drugs because (a) they don’t think the government should regulate hardly anything, (b)drug prohibition, like the prohibition of alcohol, is a futile attempt to repeal the law of supply and demand, and (c) our counter-productive war on drugs eats up billions of tax dollars.

Today, at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, three of America’s leading authorities on the drug war wrestled with the other l-word.

Michelle Alexander told us she was inching toward support for drug legalization but remained on the fence.  The author of the most successful criminal justice reform book in the history of publishing is committed to ending the war on drugs and the policy of mass incarceration.  Should legalizing drugs be part of the program?  She’s still thinking about it. (more…)

“The Power to Make us One”: Heather McGhee’s One-People America

By Alan Bean

heather.mcghee – Netroots NationI recently heard Heather McGhee speak at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor conference in Chicago. She began with the obvious fact that America was not created to be one people, or one public.  Some folks were clearly part of the culture; others were not.  The primary dividing line was skin color.  Up until 1965, she reminded us, American immigration policy was built around strict racial quotas.  People of African descent were practically excluded altogether.  People from Eastern Europe were also subject to severe restrictions because they were considered ‘ethnic’.

That all changed in 1965.  In the wake of the civil rights movement, mainstream America was embarrassed by the undisguised racism implicit in the nation’s immigration policy.  The rules changed in fundamental ways.  Now, when you walk through an airport, you see every conceivable shade of skin color and you hear a wide variety of accents.  We have become, in a few brief decades, the world’s most audacious experiment in cultural diversity.

(more…)

Thinking and shouting in Chicago

By Alan Bean

Three Friends of Justice people are attending the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago this week.  Melanie Wilmoth and I are here, as is the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, Friends of Justice board member and associate pastor at St Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas.  Speaking of Methodists, a contingent of 40 United Methodists from across the nation, led by the indefatigable Rev. Laura Markle Downton, are in Chicago for the conference.  These are the folks who recently convinced their denomination to divest from for profit prisons.

I was bone weary when we entered the old fashioned elegance of the Drake Room for evening worship, but I left pumped and inspired.  The highlight of the evening was a stunning sermon on the familiar story of Daniel in the lion’s den from the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.  Watson preaches in the traditional black style.  In the final ten minutes, brief bolts of organ music punctuated every phrase.  “I know it’s late,” he assured us, “and I ain’t gonna keep you long.  And I hope you know that, coming from a Baptist preacher, that don’t mean nothing.”

Dr. Watson didn’t just preach in the old time fashion, he interpreted the scriptures in the old time style, literally.  If God could deliver Daniel, the preacher told us, God can deliver you. 

Normally, this would bother me.  Isn’t this Daniel in the lion’s den thing just a folk story?  I mean, it didn’t really happen, did it?  And didn’t the author of the story refer to King Darius when it should have been Cyrus?  And can I really believe that if somebody threw me into a den of hungry lions I would emerge unscathed?

I wasn’t the least bit bothered by Dr. Watson’s straightforward exegesis, and I’ll tell you why.  So long as the preacher gets the application right, I don’t really care what school of biblical interpretation he follows.  Watson talked about the lions of mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement.  He compared the steadfast obedience of Daniel to the grace Barack Obama has shown when the lions in his world insisted he produce a birth certificate.  When Watson came to the part where knaves use flattery to appeal to a king’s vanity, Watson talked about black politicians who don’t realize they are being used until the game is over.

The story of Daniel, like so many stories from the Bible, is about remaining faithful in the face of oppression.  Black America understands that message.  Earlier in the day, Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine and the founder of a nationwide mentoring program for at-risk children, told us about her visit to one of the fortresses on the African coast where, for centuries, men, women and children waited for the slave ship to come.  In graphic detail, she described the horrors of the middle passage.  She said African Americans need to teach these things to our children and, if we have forgotten, to ourselves.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that makes white Americans profoundly uncomfortable.  All of that stuff happened so very long ago.  It was awful, to be sure, but why talk about it in polite company; it’s divisive, it just stirs things up.  I didn’t own any slaves and none of you have a personal experience with slavery so . . . let’s call the whole thing off. 

Black America needs to talk about the stuff white America needs to forget.  Or maybe we too need to remember, we just don’t know it yet.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright gave the benediction tonight.  Yes, that Jeremiah Wright.  Barack Obama’s former pastor.  The guy who enraged white America by suggesting that America’s chickens might be coming home to roost.  I was riding in a van with several black passengers when the towers fell in Manhattan.  Their reaction mirrored Wright’s.  Black and white Americans live in two different worlds, experientially and religiously.

There are plenty of white folks who share the ethical commitments of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  We oppose the war on drugs, we think mass incarceration has been a disaster, and we want to address the conditions that foster violence and joblessness in poor urban neighborhoods.  But you would never hear a white person who believes these things preaching like the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson.  Most white progressives would be offended by biblical preaching.  If religion must be referenced at all, let it be generic religion, devoid of narrative content.   None of that Jesus stuff. 

White progressives (with a few blessed exceptions) associate words like Jesus, Bible, prayer, salvation and deliverence with the religious Right.  And, to be fair, the religious folk you see on the television and hear on the radio rarely reflect the kingdom priorities of Jesus.

Unlike their white counterparts, black progressives can, to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Freddie Haynes, think and shout at the same time. “If you think,” he told us, “you will thank.  Think about how great our God is and you can’t help but get your shout on.”

Why do white Christians have such a hard time mixing kingdom ethics with shouts of praise.  I’m not sure, but the world would be a better place if we got over it.

Newt plays the race card

By Alan Bean

When Newt Gingrich calls Barack Obama the “food stamp president,” is he making a crude appeal to white racial resentment, or is he taking a race-neutral stand on economic policy?

To put the question another way, are we witnessing a return to the racially coded Willy Horton ads that brought George H. W. Bush back from the political grave? 

The NPR story below gives both sides of the debate but, like most news coverage, substitutes he-said-she-said quotations for a nuanced discussion of the issue.  Tali Mendelberg’s The Race Card is the definitive work on racial coding.  Mendelberg notes that American politicians are no longer able to use race in an overt fashion.  Since the civil rights era, he says, the idea of equality is too firmly established in American social life for overt appeals to white supremacy to work.  This creates the impression that racism has no meaningful place in the political game, but such is not the case.  White Americans are racially biased, but they also embrace the ideal of full racial equality.  This is why racial coding can be highly effective. (more…)

Progressives should be wary of Ron Paul

There is a lot to like about Ron Paul.  He opposes the war on drugs; he is anti-war, and he doesn’t like the Patriot Act.  Who could ask for anything more?

If you believe Adele M. Stan, progressives should be asking for much, much more.  Ron Paul’s libertarianism may overlap with the progressive agenda at important points, but it flows from a entirely different source.  Stan associates Paul with the anti-civil rights John Birch Society as well as the modern Reconstruction movement.  My research has reached similar conclusions.

Progressives contend that we’re all in this thing together; Libertarians say we’re all on our own.   Progressivism is consistent with religious altruism; libertarianism logically tends toward the moral nihilism of Ayn Rand. A philosophical difference that great can’t be mended with duct tape and baling wire.  Friends of Justice endorses a Common Peace Agenda that embraces the legitimate rights and needs of all people.  We aren’t satisfied with simply ending the war on drugs or reducing the size of the prison population; we seek what Martin Luther King Jr. called The Beloved Community. 

Those in search of the common good must choose their coalition partners with great care.  We don’t have to agree on every point, but we must be working toward the same broad goal.  What kind of America are we trying to create?  AGB (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)