We've still got racial issues in this country. It's been more than fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement, which should have been plenty of time to heal any wounds created by slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed. Some say the election of a black man as President is a true indicator that we have become a post-racial society. We would like to believe we are living in a post-racial society where white folks and black folks get along, for the most part, with the obvious exception of a few "radicals".
Racists are often portrayed as poor, uneducated, and misguided in the media, and their actions are shunned by those who consider themselves middle class or greater, and certainly those who consider themselves Christians. You will have considerable difficulty finding a middle class Christian white person who feels they encourage racist activities or attitudes. No one ever views themselves as racist.
The question is: If you prefer to spend time with people of your own race, does that make you a racist? Certainly not. There is a big difference between your personal comfort level in social settings and racial issues. If you don't perceive racism in your own lifestyle and activities, does that mean it doesn't exist?
If you don't perceive racism in the everyday world in which you work, live and go to school, does that mean it doesn't exist? Certainly not. Just because you don't see racism doesn't mean it isn't there, sadly, you've been trained since childhood to only see one side of the story. Don't worry, I was trained the same way because I am a product of the same system.
I have recently become aware of these issues by doing research about movements like Black Lives Matter and others. There are groups who have written volumes on issues such as white privilege, structural racism, the "school-to-prison" pipeline, criminal justice reform, reparations, and a host of other topics that I, as a white man, never knew existed. I had never seen anything about it on TV until I heard Dr. Cornel West talking about poverty on C-Span one weekend.
Obviously these discussions have been happening in the black community for more than 20 years and nobody told us white folks to attend the meeting. Now, it seems, white folks can't understand why we're currently having all sorts of protests and riots. I'll try to give you this white guy's perspective on the issues, limited as it may be.
What they're saying is more than a call for the end of police brutality. They're asking for recognition and elimination of the structural racism which is causing damage to our black families, black communities, and limits opportunities to those black Americans who wish to improve their current situation.
This should never garner the response of "all lives matter" (and certainly not "white lives matter" or “blue lives matter”) because this indicates the speaker's lack of recognition and understanding about the underlying issue of structural racism.
Structural racism encompasses all of the institutional barriers to prosperity which have existed in our governmental policies both at the federal and state level. Some examples include the original Social Security law that did not include agricultural and domestic workers, which comprised the vast majority of occupations held by black Americans. Federal mortgage regulations have historically denied black communities access to financing while triggering housing booms in predominantly white communities.
Federal funds are given to states to support education, but those funds are allocated based on the amount of property tax paid to the state, so that poorer and predominantly minority communities get less financial support than wealthier, predominantly white communities. Denial of basic financial services and financial security, along with an insufficient public education system, have created a cycle of poverty in our black communities which is difficult, if not impossible, to escape.
Let's start with the first issue, police brutality, by offering some solutions to be mandated at the federal level to ensure that all local and state law enforcement officers are held to the same standard. Cameras provide the best method of recording the public's interaction with law enforcement, so we should mandate that all officers wear body cameras at all times while on duty.
Cameras should also be located on all police vehicles with at least one facing forward and another showing the vehicle's interior while suspects are being transported. Any holding facility or processing facility should have cameras in every cell and hallway so that movements can be tracked at all times. We should also allow unfettered filming of public actions by the police by anyone at any time.
We also need to remove authority from local judges and hand-picked grand juries when an unarmed suspect is killed by a law enforcement officer. Charges should automatically be filed against a law enforcement officer who kills an unarmed suspect. If the killing was justified, then the officer has nothing to worry about. If a law enforcement officer is found guilty of murder or a hate crime, I believe that person should be sentenced to life in prison without parole. We must insure we are holding all our law enforcement officers to the highest standards, and prosecute those few bad actors who damage the reputation of our nation's finest.
Structural racism, or institutional racism, is a much broader subject that forces us to address how our banking system operates, how voting rights differ from state to state, how different states use the same federal funds for different purposes, how white Americans view themselves and other races, the difference between white privilege and class privilege, the school-to-prison pipeline, and most importantly, poverty.
I had never heard of white privilege until recently. I've lived almost a half century as a white guy who hears the term "white supremacy" and thinks of skinhead Nazi folks or members of the Klan. White supremacy has always been a term associated with violent extremists until recently.
This is one of the primary reasons why white people recoil in disgust when the term “white supremacy” is used by those who want to end institutional racism. No self-respecting white person considers themselves a white supremacist, so the discussion of racial differences in our society grinds to a halt as soon as this term is used.
That's why I titled this section as white privilege so the white folks reading my book wouldn't skip over it and miss the part that applies to them. Most white people have never heard of white privilege and have never thought about how it applies to their own lives. Therefore, most white people have never considered the negative effects of white privilege or how it damages our society and economy.
If you'd like to learn more about this subject but prefer a professional opinion, I'd suggest "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh or "White Like Me" by Tim Wise.
Most white folks feel like we live in a post-racial society where prejudice exists only in the minds of the extremists and separatists. The election of a black president only solidified this opinion, and provided the opportunity for many white people to pat themselves on the back for being so progressive.
White privilege is never mentioned in our history books, although Jim Crow laws have been described as a method of controlling voting and elections. Therefore, it is very easy for the average white person to feel like everyone born in this country has the same opportunities for success and happiness.
Our history books have traditionally minimized the role of black Americans by only discussing the disadvantages of being black in America, instead of detailing all of the advantages of being white in America. This teaches white people to see racial issues as "their problem, not ours" and say "I just don't understand what all the fuss is about", an opinion that is often reinforced by the predominantly white media outlets.
This implicit conditioning results in an unconscious racial bias that affects everyone's ability to get a job, borrow money from financial institutions, buy a house, get a promotion at work, educate their children, provide security for their family, or obtain basic medical care.
There are no solutions that will eliminate the problem of racism. Racism will always exist on some level, but that does not prevent us from fixing the problems of structural and institutional racism. We cannot eliminate all of the racists but we can modify the system in which racists operate, creating opportunities that did not previously exist.
This is the key to dealing with our racial issues: Give every American the same opportunity for success, health, and happiness by modifying the policies and institutions which have historically been subject to implicit racial bias or structural racism.
We should start by improving education through increased funding to our public school system, provide access to basic financial services by expanding our credit union system, reduce incarceration rates by implementing criminal justice reform, restore all human rights to felons who have completed their sentences, increase safety and security in our targeted communities, require all states to implement the Medicaid expansion to provide basic healthcare for working poor families, provide child care for working families living in poverty, and move toward our targeted poverty rate of one percent or less.
If you've never heard of the school-to-prison pipeline, or if you're not exactly sure how it works, here is a simple summary: Public schools in poor neighborhoods get less federal funding because states divide these funds based on the amount of property tax paid to the state, granting more money for public schools in wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods. Under-funded schools tend to have higher dropout rates, higher teen pregnancy rates, lower literacy rates, and generally do not meet the minimum standards for providing a solid basic education.
A majority of the students who attend these schools, therefore, will never have the opportunity to obtain the education necessary to get a job that will allow them to break the cycle of poverty. Unemployment rates are usually higher in poverty stricken areas, so opportunities for potential employees who do not have an adequate education are almost nonexistent.
Crime rates are always highest in those areas stricken with poverty and high unemployment. As crime rates rise in a particular neighborhood, the police presence also tends to increase, which fuels the arrest rate to even higher levels. Mandatory minimum sentences and our failed plea bargain methodology have created a massive number of incarcerated citizens who now are forced to re-integrate into a society which does not welcome those who have been convicted of a felony.
Let me put it in simpler terms for you. If someone gets caught with a bag of marijuana that costs less than a tank of gasoline, they will be convicted of a felony which will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They will no longer be able to get a living wage job, never be able to obtain school loans or grants, never be able to act like a normal member of society, and never have the opportunity to be an equal member of a community. The school-to-prison pipeline ensures that most children who are born into poverty will remain in poverty their entire lives.
Criminal justice reform is a relatively broad subject, but we need to focus on changing those policies which are creating astronomically high incarceration rates and stunting the growth of our economy. We should start by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders.
We must remove marijuana from the federal drug schedule and allow states to decide legality. We should eliminate the plea bargain. We should improve the quality of court-provided legal representation for criminal defendants. We should increase the use of alternatives to incarceration such as monitoring, improve community corrections systems to minimize recidivism, and minimize the frequency or severity of probation and parole violations by increasing the swiftness and certainty of judicial responses to such violations.
We must reverse the trend of militarization of our local police departments. We should also restore all basic civil rights such as voting, employment, education, as well as our constitutional rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to those non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences.
Confederate Battle Flag
I live in Mississippi, the only state to feature the Confederate battle flag as part of the state flag. Many people see this as a symbol of hate, oppression, racism, white supremacy, as well as a host of other negative stereotypes. It is impossible to argue against this opinion, however, many white people still believe the flag is a symbol of "heritage not hate". I probably should give the average white Mississippian’s definition of "heritage not hate" since the media only selects those folks with the least intelligence to interview about support of the flag.
The American dream usually includes a successful life for yourself and your family. Everyone wants their kids to be better off than previous generations, to keep the family moving up the social structure, and to have their kids make plenty of money so they can start successful families. The stereotypical white parent wants their child to grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer, since those occupations generally carry the most respect and highest salaries.
Mississippi parents have limited choices of where to send their kids to college if they're hoping for a doctor or a lawyer. The University of Mississippi, also known as Ole Miss, is basically your only option if your child wants to attend law school or medical school, unless you can afford out-of-state tuition. Ole Miss had historically used the Confederate battle flag as a symbol for the university, especially the Ole Miss Rebels athletics programs, until a few years ago.
This recent association between the Confederate battle flag and the University of Mississippi had lasted for a century, thereby conditioning generations of white Mississippi residents to see this flag as a symbol of higher education, as well as the opportunity for upward mobility and greater social status.
Sending your child to Ole Miss is validation of your ability to raise a successful child who is moving on to bigger and better things. Seen from this perspective, it is easier to understand the idea of "heritage not hate". The problem with this perspective is that it ignores the original purpose of incorporating the Confederate battle flag into the state flag.
Very few people in Mississippi know the history of their state flag, including the details from the flag's designer or the reasons why Mississippi seceded from the rest of the United States. When asked, many white Mississippians will say Mississippi joined the Confederacy in support of states rights versus the oppressive power of an out-of-control federal government, and the state flag is supposed to reflect a belief in the sovereign power of individual states.
The actual facts are as follows: The designer of the Mississippi flag, William Thompson, was quoted in the 1870's as saying "As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race" and he hoped the flag would be "hailed by the civilized world as the white man's flag."
This closely paralleled the views stated in the Mississippi Declaration of Secession which stated "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. It's labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an impervious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun."
The Mississippi Declaration of Secession also complained that the Union "denies the right of property in slaves", "nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free state" as well as "advocates negro equality, socially and politically."
Do I think Mississippi lawmakers will change the flag any time soon? Definitely not. It was only a few years ago when Mississippi officially abolished slavery, so I don't think they'll get in a rush to change the state flag. It also doesn't help that the majority of elected lawmakers in Mississippi's legislature are graduates of Ole Miss Law School.
Wal-Mart announced they would no longer sell items containing the Confederate battle flag, triggering one Mississippi man to bomb a Wal-Mart store in the City of Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley.
In February 2016, Mississippi legislators celebrated Black History Month by killing 12 different bills focused on changing the flag. At the same time, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant was signing a proclamation declaring April to be celebrated as Confederate Heritage Month, complete with extra paid holidays.
These announcements were made the same week as Mississippi Department of Health’s warning of dangerous lead levels in the public water system of Jackson, the state’s capitol and largest city, based on testing done in June of the previous year. The City of Jackson’s population is predominantly black and more than 30% of Jackson’s residents have incomes below the poverty level.
The State of Mississippi has spent tons of money on consultants and professionals to advise them on the best way to grow Mississippi’s economy, and everyone agrees tourism is the key to Mississippi’s future economic growth. Our state’s support of this emblem is hindering our development of tourism, our film industry, and television revenues generated from college sports activities. The State of Mississippi is losing millions of dollars in revenue every year due to support of this emblem, dollars that could be spent on our poorly funded public school system or replacement of the water lines that are poisoning our children.
John Conyers, a black Congressman from Detroit, introduced a bill to study slavery in America including it's long-term effects and any "appropriate remedies" that might be recommended. This bill, known as HR 40, doesn't assign blame or allocate taxpayer dollars toward payment of reparations, it merely asks that we have a discussion about slavery and how it has affected the descendants of both black and white Americans. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a discussion.
Representative Conyers was unsuccessful in getting our elected members of Congress to even consider a simple discussion about the issue. He tried again the following session and failed. Congressman John Conyers has introduced this bill at least two dozen times and our Do Nothing Congress continues to be afraid of a public discussion of our nation's history.
Since he first introduced this bill, several presidential elections have taken place with the election of both white and black presidents, and yet Congress continues to refuse having a simple discussion about slavery.
I believe we should pass HR 40 to begin the discussion. Personally, I think the odds are against the payment of reparations, but let's begin the conversation by agreeing on a strategy. The first part of the discussion determines if slavery had long-term effects on the descendants of slaves. Second, we need to decide if our federal government is guilty of a violation of law. If found guilty, the next discussion formulates the appropriate remedy for the victims. Once the appropriate remedy has been determined, then we begin the monumental task of establishing who is eligible to receive payment.
Those in favor of reparations will get past the first step fairly easily. It doesn't take a PhD in sociology to know slavery and racial discrimination created long term effects on black Americans.
The next step gets considerably more difficult when we decide if our federal government is guilty of a violation of law. Opponents of reparations will argue that slavery had been in existence for thousands of years, slavery was socially acceptable in advanced societies around the world, and slavery was not illegal in the United States, so our government was not complicit for allowing slavery.
Opponents will also argue that slavery and racial discrimination are two different issues, so if you do not find our federal government guilty of a violation of law for condoning slavery, then your application for reparations is based solely on racial discrimination experienced by black Americans.
This shifts the argument towards a discussion of unjust enrichment not only by white people, but all races other than black Americans. Otherwise, it becomes a class action suit claiming damages from white supremacy filed by all Americans who are not white.
Neither unjust enrichment nor white privilege can be argued as cause for remedy, since these are not violations of colonial or modern law. Opponents of reparations will argue that unjust enrichment and white privilege, while socially abhorrent, are merely by-products of a free market society and a political system dominated by a majority white population, not a calculated decision by our elected officials.
Judges and lawyers always like to look at precedent, or similar cases and decisions from the past, to help support their side of the argument. There is precedent for paying reparations in our recent history, with the payment to those American families who were imprisoned in Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Opponents will argue that while the concept of reparations is the same, there are no other similarities between slavery in colonial and pre-industrial America (ownership of chattel property as recognized by international law and most religions) and Japanese internment camps (American citizens imprisoned without due process of law).
40 acres and a mule
Let's take a few minutes to discuss the concept of "40 acres and a mule". Opponents of reparations will argue this was never officially promised to any freed slave or their descendants. It was not part of the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.
It was a suggestion by Union Army General Sherman when he felt guilty about the massacre of freed slaves, mostly women and children at Ebenezer Creek. When the freed slave women and children could not keep up the pace of following the Union Army across the South, the Union Army soldiers left them to die at the hands of Confederate soldiers. He wanted to provide a remedy for the freed male slaves he was using to construct bridges, while promising to care for their women and children being left behind at Ebenezer Creek.
Although there is no official recognition of this measurement of appropriate remedy, it has become the de-facto standard in our society and a good starting point for the discussion of appropriate remedy. Here's where it gets interesting. How do we formulate the appropriate remedy? In other words, what is today's equivalent of 40 acres and a mule?
If we take "40 acres and a mule" literally, we must decide if the victim is to receive the dollar amount of the 40 acres as valued in pre-industrial America plus a reasonable rate of interest to compensate for the time value of money, or 40 acres as valued today, or actually receive 40 acres of land.
There is also a huge difference between real estate prices in rural Mississippi compared to real estate prices in Virginia or Washington DC, so assigning a dollar value on 40 acres of land will be difficult. It would be much simpler to give away 40 acre tracts of land the federal government already owns in our western states. Plus a mule, of course.
The purpose of 40 acres and a mule was not to provide a pile of cash but a means of production so that newly freed slaves could provide for themselves and their families. This was before the Industrial Revolution, so our economy and society were mostly agrarian and many families lived independently.
Supporters of reparations will argue that in today's society, cash is an acceptable substitute for land as a means of production since cash can be used to start a small business, invest in the stock market, purchase housing, or pay for higher education expenses.
So let's just say we've decided to pay reparations for slavery, and we've decided it's okay to pay cash instead of 40 acres and a mule, and we've decided on this huge dollar amount based on the number of slaves multiplied by our calculated value of 40 acres and a mule in today's dollars. Opponents have one more trick up their sleeves and it's called Time Already Served.
Opponents will argue that the actual amount to be paid should be net of any and all social welfare payments which have already been made on behalf of black people in America. These payments include every dollar that has ever been paid to, or on behalf of, black recipients of welfare, food stamps, Social Security retirement, disability, public education, public housing, public healthcare, assistance with utilities and phones, plus any number of other items they can come up with.
After all adjustments to the total amount to be paid as reparations, the final determination becomes who is eligible to receive payment. Opponents will argue that it is impossible to identify who is a direct descendant of slaves since birth and death records were not accurately kept or maintained during slavery and the subsequent years.
Opponents will also argue that reparations for slavery are not reparations for white privilege, so some black people will not qualify for payment.
If the ultimate goal of reparations is to establish a dollar amount which will provide some sort of remedy for the oppression suffered by black Americans, then supporters of this payment should adjust their strategy to show the benefits to white people if this remedy is implemented. It makes more sense to convince white people of the positive economic benefits of reparations, instead of relying on a feeble attempt to create feelings of guilt.
It's all about marketing. Stop trying to sell the idea of reparations as something you deserve, and focus on selling it as an economic stimulus package. White people always get excited about their 401k retirement plan increasing in value, or the prospect of more customers for their small business, or a stock market which continues to rise, but they will never support the payment of debts owed by slave owners who died hundreds of years ago. Once again, it's all about the marketing. You'll never catch a fish unless you bait your hook.