Friday, May 02, 2014

Paul Street on the Sterling Affair

"For those who like to think that racism no longer fundamentally mars and mangles the U.S Black experience and America’s pretense of democracy, it is gratifying to see noxious bigots like Donald Sterling humiliated and sometimes even stripped of their playthings (in his case perhaps an NBA franchise) because of racist sentiments. But for those of us who remain concerned with the deeper systemic racism that inflicts special pain on poor and working class Blacks, it gets tiresome to see white America congratulating itself for dropping racial slurs from acceptable public discourse, outlawing lynch-mobs, letting Blacks sit in the front of the bus, and claiming to honor the legacy of Dr. King and other Civil Rights heroes. The most distressing thing about the Sterling fiasco is the way it provides white America yet another opportunity to pat itself on the back for advancing somewhat beyond primitive prejudice while digging the hole of the deeper institutional racism yet deeper."
See "The Deeper Racism Lives On: The Sterling Affair and White Self-Congratulation" (CounterPunch: May 1).
Comment: This article is perhaps the best and most piercing analysis of the "Sterling affair".

And this is in no small part because it has absolutely ignored the 'personal' details of a grumpy racist 80 year old man, his black/Hispanic mistress and his wife.

If you pay attention long enough to race relations in the US the kind of buffoonery displayed by Sterling and the bit-players is not really new or revealing of what racism means and how its cuts across historical markers to render black and brown people systematically inferior and oppressed.

Paul Street uses this short column to remind us that racism is about systematic oppression and not what he calls personal racism.

Street points out that examples of systemic racism (mostly ignored by sensation seeking media) include:
* Widely documented racial bias in real estate and home lending that complement, reflect and empower the general reluctance of whites to live next door to Blacks, all of which combine with disproportionate Black poverty to keep Blacks out of the metropolitan area’s highest-opportunity communities.

* The proliferation of expensive, taxpayer-financed suburban roads and related residential and office and retail developments constructed on behalf of mainly white suburbanites far from the predominantly Black inner city, which subsidizes white flight and takes critical needed economic resources and opportunities yet further from those who are most in need of it.

* The funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth, which tends to favor whiter school districts over Blacker districts, an especially big issue in Illinois, where per-student funding rangers from more than 20K per kid in the affluent northern Chicago suburb Lake Forest to less than 7K per kid in many predominantly Black and poor south Chicago suburbs.

* Excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “drill” and grill curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly Black public schools.

* The hyper-concentration segregation of Black children into segregated ghetto schools where underequipped (sic) teachers have to deal with oversized classes in badly underfunded schools where most of the kids are dealing with multiple steep barriers to learning that come with extreme poverty and its effects.

* Rampant and widely documented “statistical” race discrimination in hiring, firing, promotion and job-training.

* The racially disparate “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of mass Black imprisonment and criminal marking, so ubiquitous than 1 in 3 adult U.S. Black children are saddled with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record.
The consequences of this racism run deep and are drawn from historical forces that are ingrained in America - both at the personal and societal levels.  For this reason it is important for careful observers and thinkers not to be lulled into the feel-good-vengeance that comes from seeing a racist like Sterling fall over at 80.

In much the same context, it is similarly important not to be swayed by what Street calls a "technically black" president and his feel-good historical symbolism in the course of race, racism and race relations in the US.

To do either - or both really - is to be lulled into the false consciousness that race and racism is about individuals and skin color and that anti-racism is defined by a progressive struggle of moral outrage (particularly a liberal one).

In effect, racism is about structural oppression and its systemic relevance.  This has not changed since the inception of the concept of race and its linkage to racism in the 16th century.

What has changed is the manner in which race and racism has been made to fit and serve the purposes of white domination.  In this current epoch, race domination is expressed through the power of institutionalized discrimination.  This is so despite a host of legislation that supposedly grants equality to all.

So, despite the buffoonery of the "Sterling Affair" - and the many other media moments that will have us believe that racism is a personal deviance - the analysis of racism must be leveled at its institutional power to advance whiteness.

Perhaps we should all be saying it's the system stupid; and what's more it can't be reformed no matter how loud the punditry applaud the delusion of a 'post-race' age.


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