Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Racist Omertá Exposed in Ferguson

The Heritage Foundation recently posted on Google Plus that Mississippi should cut its corporate income tax. I pointed out in a comment that Mississippi ranks 50th among states in education, 50th in health care, and that its failures in these areas were race-based, since the poor who are affected by lack of education and health care are predominantly African American. I don't think there is any doubt about that statement. But one person, I'll call him Jack, commented that Mississippi may have been racist in the 1960s, but not any more.

Southern whites were embarrassed by the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills in the late 1960s. Their response to these exposures of racist government was not to work to end racism, but to conceal it (and in this they are joined by northern Republicans). They have done this through a policy of omertá--a rigid code of silence about racial matters imposed on southern whites. Under the policy of omertá, white southerners pretend that racism is dead, that there is no discrimination against African-Americans, and that what happened in the bad old days just doesn't matter any more.

The 5 conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently endorsed this fiction by striking down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because, they claimed, it wasn't needed any more. The Court ruled that the law made sense because of past violations of voters' rights, but is no longer valid because today African-Americans can vote without any problems. SCOTUS thus let themselves be convinced by Southern omertá that everything is fine now and the federal government does not need to keep watching the southern states for potential violations.

Naturally, the first thing that Republicans in state legislatures (not all of them in the South) have done is to enact laws to restrict voting rights--Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have tried this. One of their favorite techniques is to require state-issued id (generally a driver's license) to be able to vote. This immediately disenfranchised all elderly black voters who no longer drove cars, even if these people could prove they had been on the voting rolls for 50 years--since the voting rights law of 1965 was enacted. Another way African-Americans have been disenfranchised is to gerrymander them all into one district instead of letting them exercise their votes in several districts--Alabama has tried this.

Political commentators, including Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, have bought into the idea that racism is dead. O'Reilly goes so far as to say that those who accuse others of racism are the real problem because they would create a nation of haters.

All of these arguments against racism have been exposed by events in Ferguson. There, in a town that is two-thirds African-American, the white police chief has refused to arrest a police officer on suspicion of homicide after the officer shot times and killed an unarmed youth. The lines between white and black are being clearly drawn by the suppression of demonstrators in Ferguson, a town outside Saint Louis, Missouri. Rather than acceding to the reasonable requests of law-abiding citizens that the officer in question be arrested, the police floated rumors that the boy was high on drugs, or had recently robbed a convenience store, or was attacking the officer when he was shot.

All of the excuses given why the officer should not be arrested and arraigned for murder are irrelevant. They are arguments with which a defense attorney might try to sway a jury, but they are not reasons why a trial should not take place. The rift between black and white in this country is as deep as it ever was, fueled by the toxic flames of racism that have been kept hidden by white southerners for the last 50 years. But no longer. Ferguson has exposed the true state of race relations in this country. Let's all call for something more than silence--omertá--in response.

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