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  •  Great diary. (7+ / 0-)

    "What is Justice?" is one of the essential questions I use in my courses. My students, or most of them, are expected to understand the law, but also those factors that shape the law and how it is enforced, applied, and interpreted.

    One of the cases I focus on in my classes is Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). We remember it for many reasons, particularly its relevance to the coming Civil War, but I focus on it for this excerpt from Chief Justice Taney's majority opinion:

    "[The writers of the Constitution viewed black people as]beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

    No rights which the white man - or any man - was bound to respect. That line has haunted me throughout this process since the news broke about Trayvon's death at the hands of Zimmerman, and I could not get it out of my head since last night.

    To me, that principle is a basic building block of our society. Taney, while being morally and ethically wrong, was absolutely right about the founders, and about the political and social structures of our society. We were built, undeniably, as a white supremacist nation.

    One of my former students commented on a FB post of mine last night, stating in part:

    ...lets be honest, I didn't hear any other options from the prosecutors! I had questions about Zimmerman stating he didn't know stand your ground law but the state didn't provide an answer. I still live in a world where you have to be cautious of everyone, no matter skin color!
    The student is white. And like most white people, we can sit in our living rooms and look at the case as a contest between prosecution and defense. We hear the facts, and can critique how poorly or how well each performs, just like a football game.

    And before, during, and after this process, most of us will not hesitate to call the police if we feel we're in danger. Most of us will not think twice about walking or pulling down a street where there are police. Most of us have no idea that throughout the south, the first official local police forces were largely made up of people who had worked as slave catchers, and then as police worked in cooperation with the Klan (many were Klan members themselves). The attitudes and actions of police in Northern states was not much better. Throughout my life, up until the present, I have sat in rooms with northern police officers and listened to statements as vile, repulsive, and racist as anything you would have heard in the south in the 1950s.

    My former student is a good guy, but like most white people, he tends to ignore institutional problems and structures. For him, like most white people, this is all about personal interations. He is not prejudiced or bigoted, he believes (he is, but whatever), so therefore prejudice and bigotry, and race in general, are not issues he needs to discuss. His favorite quote from MLK is the one most white people love:

    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
    He, like most white people, completely misses the context and the reality surrounding that quote, though it's one King did not miss. We live in a society, like King did, where white people are not judged by the content of our character, but by the color of our skin. The assumption we make is that since black people are judged by the color of their skin, we white folks are not, when of course we are judged by our skin color every day (I'm also judged, positively, as a man, as cis, as able-bodied, and as younger).

    Prejudice and bigotry have little to do with this case, or the larger questions at hand. White supremacy is the issue. This is not personal, it is systemic.

    I understand that one 16-week class, in competition with every other f*cking thing people hear throughout their lives, is often not enough to change people. But I couldn't help but feel disappointment in myself and my teaching that this former student has stayed, so comfortably, in pretty much the same place he was before our time in class together.

    I have to do better, and I hope this whole travesty of justice inspires me to do better.

    Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

    by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:40:20 AM PDT

    •  thanks for sharing (3+ / 0-)

      the first time I taught Social Issues, the first words out of my mouth were "I am a racist, and so is very one of you."  One girl walked out, but the rest waited for the rest, which was that we are all shaped by our racial experience, and to begin with in a society as infused with issues of race as is ours we tend to see things from the perspective of the race we are, but that does not have to be determinative.

      Thus I cannot accept the statement by Spike Lee that he can't be a racist because he is Black.  Oh yes he can.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 06:44:52 AM PDT

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      •  I disagree. :) (3+ / 0-)

        Spike Lee can be prejudice and bigoted. But he can't be racist, because racism (systemic) is different from prejudice (personal). He, like anyone, can have all the idiotic ideas he wants in his head about other people. But black cops are not swarming white neighborhoods. Black cops are not shooting young white men as if it were sport. The rampant rape and sexual assault of white women by black men was not a legally protected activitiy throughout the 20th century. Homes are not rented or sold in a way that advantages black people at the expense of white people.

        I don't even like the term "racism," because it implies neutrality, as if any ethnic group, at any time, might take the reigns of power and oppress other groups. That's not the reality. The reality is white supremacy - that is our form of "racism" in the U.S.

        You know this. But until we understand racism and prejudice as distinct, we'll never be able to understand this history or address the problems of the present.

        Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

        by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:05:48 AM PDT

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        •  sorry, he CAN be racist, doesn't mean he is (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cruz, Lilredhead

          he can just as easily have attitudes towards white people that are a mirror of a white racist.  That is still racism.  

          "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

          by teacherken on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:08:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  We're talking past each other. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Had Enough Right Wing BS

            You think racism and prejudice are the same thing; I don't, nor do most involved in anti-racist work, honestly.

            Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

            by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:25:42 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I do not think they are the same (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              johnny wurster, cruz

              but it is still possible for someone of color in a position of power who operates on the basis of racial prejudice to therefore be racist.  If you prefer, Lee was challenged on the basis of what perhaps you might want to describe as racial prejudice and he denied that was possible since he was black.  I am disagreeing with that.

              THere have been several people I have known in Quaker who work on matters of racial prejudice and racism, who would disagree that a black cannot be racist. Several of them are themselves Black.

              "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

              by teacherken on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:41:42 AM PDT

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              •  Anyone can be prejudice. I agree. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Had Enough Right Wing BS

                And black people can be personally prejudice or bigoted against people of different ethnic backgrounds. Lots of personal experience on that end. But almost no one doing anti-racist work today would equate personal prejudice with systemic racism. They aren't the same thing.

                Again, I think we probably agree on most of this, but we seem to understand the language differently. :)

                Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

                by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:51:56 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  It's also possible (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Had Enough Right Wing BS

            for a disabled person to have attitudes of indifference, fear, and anxiety toward able-bodied persons. It's also possible for a gay man to be repulsed by male/female relationships and intimacy.

            That these personal attitudes are possible does not mean they have the same potential to become systemic and institutionalized as guiding principles of our political, social, cultural, and economic structures.

            Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

            by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:45:55 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  but you need to recognize (3+ / 0-)

              that while it might be inconceivable that people of color will in the near future be able to dominate the national culture/political structure/whatever it can already does happen on smaller scales, sometimes within individual institutions sometimes across a somewhat broader local community.  Insofar as that is possible - and it is - a person of color can be a racist even by the definition you are using.

              And realistically, this is really a side track to my post.  

              I think it is a discussion worth having, and on a basis more visible to the larger community.

              So why don't you post a diary to kick off the discussion, notify me by kosmail and I will broadcast the link to get it eyeballs.

              I do not want to continue that discussion on this thread. I am open to being persuaded.

              "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

              by teacherken on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:52:03 AM PDT

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              •  Cool. (0+ / 0-)

                Hijacking or distracting was not my intention. Peace.

                Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

                by cruz on Sun Jul 14, 2013 at 07:59:30 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

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