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Racism in America (part six)


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We continue our series on Racism in America with four short articles this time. I hope you had a chance to dig into Bishop Mark Sykes’ courageous pastoral on racism and white supremacy that I published in Tuesday. If not, you can find it on the right side of my site at the top of the archive column.

The first one today is from Archbishop Wilton Gregory, of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.,who is black. The middle two are the New York Times 1619 Project, a large research project on slavery and its effects  on America life and our economy since its the first slave ship came to  our shores. And the last one is from the Sierra Club about how the Trump administration has made our air pollution worse especially on our black communities.

(The images on this page are taken from the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate the lives of lynched and murdered black folk.) Hundreds of there names are memorialized on huge upside down bronze blocks and some of their ashes are there as well.

First, we hear from Archbishop Wilton Gregory . . . .

Our nation is in pain and in crisis, with angry, peaceful protesters demanding justice; with some lawless attacks on places and people; and with leaders who are failing us. At the same time, a deadly COVID-19 pandemic that touches all of us has exposed pervasive injustices which leave people and communities of color far more likely to suffer and die, lose work and wages, and risk their health and lives in essential jobs.

For Catholics and all believers, racism is more than a moral and national failure; it is a sin and a test of faith. Racism is America’s original sin, enduring legacy, and current crisis. Racist attitudes and actions, along with white supremacy and privilege, destroy the lives and diminish the dignity of African-Americans and so many other Americans. Racism also threatens the humanity of all of us and the common good. Racism divides us, reveals our lack of moral integrity, limits our capacity to act together, denies the talents and contributions of so many, and convicts us of violating the religious principles and the national values we proclaim.

~ Archbishop Wilton Gregory   ~ Racism in our Streets and Structures.

The next two articles are from the New York Times 1692 Project.

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The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

A story of one black soldier coming back from war . .  .

The day of days for America and her allies. Crowds before the White House await the announcement.

I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese government which specifies the unconditional surrender of Japan.

Reporters rush out to relay the news to an anxious world and touch off celebrations throughout the country. Joy is unconfined.

It’s February of 1946, and a young black man is sitting on a bus watching the Georgia pines fly past the windows. He’s on his way to see his wife, and he’s probably very excited, because he’s been away at war, and he hasn’t seen her in a very long time. He’d been fighting for this country in World War II, and just that day, he’d been honorably discharged for his service. But he is a black man who is returning to the Jim Crow South.

“You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate..

“But to tell me that I don’t even have the right to fight to protect the white race —

“We are going to maintain segregated schools down in Dixie.

“Well, I think their aim is mixed marriages and becoming equal with the whites.

“You’ve got to keep your white and the black separate.”

What happened on that day is a story that will be told across the country.

Good morning. This is Orson Welles speaking. I’d like to read to you an affidavit.

It was a story that would actually change the course of history.

I, Isaac Woodard Jr., being duly sworn to depose and state as follows, that I am 27 years old and a veteran of the United States Army, having served 15 months in the South Pacific and earned one battle star. I was honorably discharged on February 12, 1942.

He’s riding the bus through Georgia.

At one hour out of Atlanta, the bus driver stopped at a small drugstore.

He wants to get off and use the restroom.

He stopped. I asked him if he had time to wait for me until I had a chance to go the restroom. He cursed and said no. When he cursed me, I cursed him back. When the bus got to —

The bus driver gets upset with him. They have a little bit of an argument. Woodard doesn’t think much of it. He goes to the bathroom, runs back to the bus, and the bus keeps going. But then, a few miles down the road, the bus stops, and the bus driver gets off the bus, and then calls and tells Woodard that he needs to get off the bus as well. So Woodard gets off the bus, and before he can even utter a word —

When the bus got to Aiken, he got off and went and got the police. They didn’t give me a chance to explain. The policeman struck me with a billy across my head and told me to shut up.

He’s struck in the head by a police officer.

— by my left arm and twisted it behind my back. I figured he was trying to make me resist. I did not resist against him. He asked me, was I discharged, and I told him yes. When I said yes, that is when he started beating me with a billy, hitting me across the top of the head. After that, I grabbed his billy and wrung it out of his hand. Another policeman came up and threw his gun on me and told me to drop the billy or he’d drop me, so I dropped the billy. After I dropped the billy, the second policeman held his gun on me while the other one was beating me.

And the blows keep coming, and they keep coming, to the point that Woodard loses consciousness.

Woodard is still wearing his crisp Army uniform. He’s been discharged just a few hours earlier. When he comes to, he’s in a jail.

I woke up next morning and could not see.

So Woodard’s beating was not at all unusual. World War II had done exactly what many white people had feared, that once black people were allowed to fight in the military, and when they traveled abroad and they experienced what it was like not to live under a system of racial apartheid, that it would be much harder to control them when they came back. Black men in their uniforms were seen as being unduly proud.

So these men who had served their country, who had come home proudly wearing the uniform to show their service for their country, would find that this actually made them a target of some of the most severe violence.

But what was unusual was what happened after. Woodard’s case was picked up by the N.A.A.C.P., and they take him on a bit of a tour. They take photographs of him. Those photographs are sent out to newspapers and to fundraising efforts, where they’re saying, look what happened to this man who served his country. It’s that spark that finally determines among millions of black people that enough is enough.

And that’s largely seen as one of the sparks of the modern civil rights movement.

We have people coming in from all over the country. I suspect that we will have — (garbled and unfinished sentence.)

The second sustained movement of black people trying to secure equal rights before the law and an equal place in this democracy.

During the early weeks of February 1960, the demonstrations that came to be called the sit-in movement exploded across the South.

Negro youngsters paraded with placards, handed out literature, and tried to sit in at lunch counters.

I think, honestly, many of us didn’t realize just how important our movement would grow to be.

Official reaction was both swift and severe.

Don’t blame a cracker in Georgia for your injustices. The government is responsible for the injustices. The government can bring these injustices to halt.

How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Hallelujah!

And in 1968, 350 years after the introduction of the first enslaved Africans into the colonies. 

This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us.

— Congress passes the last of the great civil rights legislation.

— to go work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts —

It ends legal discrimination on the basis of race from all aspects of American life.

— to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.

We often think of the civil rights movement as being about black rights, but the civil rights movement was never just about the rights of black people. It was about making the ideals of the Constitution whole. And so when you look at the laws born out of black resistance, these laws are guaranteeing rights for all Americans.

This experience, which black Americans were having, did not go unnoticed by the rest of America.

I mean, basically every other rights struggle that we have seen . . .

Now we fought the public accommodations fight 10 years ago with the blacks. Are we going to have to start all over again with women?

Disability rights, gay rights, women’s rights —

That people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination.

— all come from the efforts of the black civil rights struggles.

Equal rights. Equals rights to have a job, to have respect, to not be viewed as a piece of meat.

No Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Celebrations erupted on the steps of the Supreme Court.

One of its most momentous civil rights decisions. The Supreme Court found gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutional right to marry. The majority found its justification in the 14th Amendment, written after the Civil War to extend equal protection under law to freed slaves.

So we are raised to think about 1776 as the beginning of our democracy, but when that ship arrives on the horizon at Point Comfort in 1619, that decision made by the colonists to purchase that group of 20 to 30 human beings, that was a beginning too. And it would actually be those very people who were denied citizenship in their own country, who were denied the protections of our founding documents, who would fight the hardest and most successfully to make those ideals real, not just for themselves but for all Americans. It is black people who have been the perfectors of this democracy.

When I was a kid — it must have been in fifth or sixth grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment. It was a social studies class, and we were learning about different places that people came from, and this was her way of kind of telling the story of the great American melting pot. So she told us all to research our ancestral land and to write a small report about it, and then to draw a flag. I remember kind of looking up and making eye contact with the other black girl who was in the class, because we didn’t really have an ancestral land that we knew of. Slavery had made it so that we didn’t know where we came from in Africa. We didn’t have a specific country. And we could say that we were from the whole continent, but even so, there’s no such thing as an African flag. And so I remember going to the globe by my teacher’s desk — it was on the windowpane along the left side of the classroom — and spinning it to the continent of Africa and just picking a random African country.

So I went back to my desk, and I drew that random African country’s flag, and I wrote a report about it. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed, one, because I was lying, but I also felt ashamed because I felt like I should have some other country, and that all the other kids could trace their roots elsewhere, and I could only trace my roots to the country that had enslaved us.

I wish now that I could go back and talk to my younger self and tell her that she should not be ashamed, that this is her ancestral home, that she should be as proud to be an American as her dad was, and that she should boldly and proudly draw those stars and stripes and claim this country as her own.

0  ~ Unattributed

 

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What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot.

By Kevin M. Kruse / August 14, 2019

Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Drivers there average two hours each week mired in gridlock, hung up at countless spots, from the constantly clogged Georgia 400 to a complicated cluster of overpasses at Tom Moreland Interchange, better known as “Spaghetti Junction.” The Downtown Connector — a 12-to-14-lane mega-highway that in theory connects the city’s north to its south — regularly has three-mile-long traffic jams that last four hours or more. Commuters might assume they’re stuck there because some city planner made a mistake, but the heavy congestion actually stems from a great success.

In Atlanta, as in dozens of cities across America, daily congestion is a direct consequence of a century-long effort to segregate the races.

For much of the nation’s history, the campaign to keep African-Americans “in their place” socially and politically manifested itself in an effort to keep them quite literally in one place or another. Before the Civil War, white masters kept enslaved African-Americans close at hand to coerce their labor and guard against revolts. But with the abolition of slavery, the spatial relationship was reversed. Once they had no need to keep constant watch over African-Americans, whites wanted them out of sight. Civic planners pushed them into ghettos, and the segregation we know today became the rule.

At first the rule was overt, as Southern cities like Baltimore and Louisville enacted laws that mandated residential racial segregation. Such laws were eventually invalidated by the Supreme Court, but later measures achieved the same effect by more subtle means. During the New Deal, federal agencies like the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration encouraged redlining practices that explicitly marked minority neighborhoods as risky investments and therefore discouraged bank loans, mortgages and insurance there. (President Trump just today was subtly encourage this again to his base.)Other policies simply targeted black communities for isolation and demolition. The postwar programs for urban renewal, for instance, destroyed black neighborhoods and displaced their residents with such regularity that African-Americans came to believe, in  James Baldwin’s memorable phrase, that “urban renewal means Negro removal.”

This intertwined history of infrastructure and racial inequality extended into the 1950s and 1960s with the creation of the Interstate highway system.. The federal government shouldered nine-tenths of the cost of the new Interstate highways, but local officials often had a say in selecting the path. As in most American cities in the decades after the Second World War, the new highways in Atlanta — local expressways at first, then Interstates — were steered along routes that bulldozed “blighted” neighborhoods that housed its poorest residents, almost always racial minorities.

This was a common practice not just in Southern cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond and Tampa, but in countless metropolises across the country, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Syracuse and Washington.

While Interstates were regularly used to destroy black neighborhoods, they were also used to keep black and white neighborhoods apart. Today, major roads and highways serve as stark dividing lines between black and white sections in cities like Buffalo, Hartford, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. In Atlanta, the intent to segregate was crystal clear. Interstate 20, the east-west corridor that connects with I-75 and I-85 in Atlanta’s center, was deliberately plotted along a winding route in the late 1950s to serve, in the words of Mayor Bill Hartsfield, as “the boundary between the white and Negro communities” on the west side of town. Black neighborhoods, he hoped, would be hemmed in on one side of the new expressway, while white neighborhoods on the other side of it would be protected. Racial residential patterns have long since changed, of course, but the awkward path of I-20 remains in place.

By razing impoverished areas downtown and segregating the races in the western section, Atlanta’s leaders hoped to keep downtown and its surroundings a desirable locale for middle-class whites. Articulating a civic vision of racial peace and economic progress, Hartsfield bragged that Atlanta was the “City Too Busy to Hate.” But the so-called urban renewal and the new Interstates only helped speed white flight from Atlanta.

Over the 1960s, roughly 60,000 whites left the city, with many of them relocating in the suburbs along the northern rim. When another 100,000 whites left the city in the 1970s, it became a local joke that Atlanta had become “The City Too Busy Moving to Hate.”

As the new suburbs ballooned in size, traffic along the poorly placed highways became worse and worse. The obvious solution was mass transit — buses, light rail and trains that would more efficiently link the suburbs and the city — but that, too, faced opposition, largely for racial reasons. The white suburbanites had purposefully left the problems of the central city behind and worried that mass transit would bring them back.

Accordingly, suburbanites waged a sustained campaign against the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) from its inception. Residents of the nearly all-white Cobb County resoundingly rejected the system in a 1965 vote. In 1971, Gwinnett and Clayton Counties, which were then also overwhelmingly white, followed suit, voting down a proposal to join MARTA by nearly 4-1 margins, and keeping MARTA out became the default position of many local politicians. (Emmett Burton, a Cobb County commissioner, won praise for promising to “stock the Chattahoochee with piranha” if that were needed to keep MARTA away.) David Chesnut, the white chairman of MARTA, insisted in 1987 that suburban opposition to mass transit had been “90 percent a racial issue.” Because of that resistance, MARTA became a city-only service that did little to relieve commuter traffic. By the mid-1980s, white racists were joking that MARTA, with its heavily black ridership, stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

Even as the suburbs became more racially diverse, they remained opposed to MARTA. After Gwinnett voted the system down again in 1990, a former Republican legislator later marveled at the arguments given by opponents. “They will come up with 12 different ways of saying they are not racist in public,” he told a reporter. “But you get them alone, behind a closed door, and you see this old blatant racism that we have had here for quite some time.”

African-American and white passengers on an Atlanta Transit Company trolley on April 23, 1956, shortly after the outlawing of segregation on all public buses. Horace Cort, via Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Gwinnett County voted MARTA down for a third time. Proponents had hoped that changes in the county’s racial composition, which was becoming less white, might make a difference. But the March initiative still failed by an eight-point margin. Officials discovered that some nonwhite suburbanites shared the isolationist instincts of earlier white suburbanites. One white property manager in her late 50s told a reporter that she voted against mass transit because it was used by poorer residents and immigrants, whom she called “illegals.” “Why should we pay for it?” she asked. “Why subsidize people who can’t manage their money and save up a dime to buy a car?”

In the end, Atlanta’s traffic is at a standstill because its attitude about transit is at a standstill, too. Fifty years after its Interstates were set down with an eye to segregation and its rapid-transit system was stunted by white flight, the city is still stalled in the past.

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.

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“I Can’t Breathe”

What air pollution and police violence have in common

By Kendra Pierre Louis | July 15 2020

Published in Sierra the online magazine of the Sierra Club

Even in nonpandemic times, air pollution is deadly.

Each year, it kills more than 100,000 people in the United States and 5 million worldwide. Most deadly are the tiny particles that are byproducts of the fuels we burn to power our cars, generate electricity, and create the panoply of chemicals that make up modern life. Like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, they lodge deep in a person’s lungs, triggering a deadly cascade of health problems.

But mortality from air pollution is not evenly distributed: “Communities of color, and in particular poor communities of color, are more likely to live in places with poor air quality than their white, wealthier counterparts,” said Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. A pair of studies from the University of Michigan and the University of Montana published in 2015 in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that the high concentration of polluting industries in Black and Latino communities was the deliberate consequence of racist policies.

These same communities struggling to breathe are disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the research and analysis group APM Research Lab, Black Americans are especially susceptible to the disease, with a mortality rate that as of June 23 was 2.3 times higher than the rate for white Americans. Based on the race and ethnicity data of 93 percent of the 120,000 people who had died of COVID-19 in the United States, the researchers found that “if they had died of COVID-19 at the same rate as white Americans, at least 16,000 Black Americans, 2,200 Latino Americans, and 400 Indigenous Americans would still be alive.”

Some of these deaths can be attributed to broader social inequities. Black and Latino people, for example, are more likely to hold jobs—including many in health care—that have been declared essential services, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the disease. And because of systemic racism within health care, they’re less likely to be given adequate treatment when they become sick. Rana Zoe Mungin, a Black public school teacher in Brooklyn, was twice denied a COVID-19 test at a local hospital despite exhibiting symptoms. At one point, according to her family, she was told that she was merely having a panic attack. Mungin eventually died of COVID-19.

A growing body of research suggests that air pollution itself is an important factor in these deaths.

“We looked at whether counties that historically have higher levels of air pollution have a higher mortality rate for COVID-19,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard University. “We found a statistically significant association.” Dominici was the senior author on a study on the subject that is currently out for peer review. Similar studies are being conducted in Canada, China, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK, she said, “looking at the relationship between exposure to particulate matter and COVID mortality.” That the association seems to exist across different populations strengthens the likelihood that pollution is a factor.

To understand why, it helps to understand what air pollution does to the body—especially the fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5, which is created from burning oil, coal, and fracked gas. Over the long term, breathing in these particles can permanently damage the lungs, making it harder to breathe. COVID-19 also damages the lungs. Air pollution can damage the heart. COVID-19 also damages the heart. Breathing polluted air makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a disease that makes you more likely to die from COVID-19.

“You have almost these kinds of feedback loops where the health outcomes that are associated with poor air quality are also the same outcomes that can make populations susceptible to more severe symptoms and mortality risks from COVID-19,” Morello-Frosch said.

If air pollution is the bullet, systemic racism loaded the gun. Research by Morello-Frosch and others shows that while communities of color suffer higher overall levels of air pollution compared with predominantly white communities, it also matters where those communities are located. Segregated cities, such as Memphis and Chicago, have higher levels of air pollution overall than more integrated ones.

In the face of evidence that air pollution is harmful and air pollution during a pandemic is especially so, the Trump administration is making it easier for companies to pollute. Even as the number of COVID-19 deaths was beginning to rise, Trump’s EPA rejected recommendations to raise the national air quality standard for particulate matter and told polluters that it wouldn’t expect routine pollution monitoring and compliance because of the pandemic. Given what we know about how air pollution affects the lungs, Dominici said, “it’s not really the time to relax air pollution regulation and give license to pollute the air.

The movement that was sparked by George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” is now addressing air pollution as well as police violence. In Louisville, Kentucky, which has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, demands for environmental justice merged with demands for racial justice in the upstart senatorial campaign of state representative Charles Booker. Jamell Henderson, a professor at Brooklyn College and an activist with New York Communities for Change, said in a late-June press briefing, “It’s not just about police reform. It’s about educational reform, mental health reform, social service reform. It’s about health care reform and environmental justice reform.”

Now before you go, here’s a song from the black churches Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

2 comments on “Racism in America (part six)

  1. Nothing is more racist than religion. God is a supremacist baby killer and woman hater.

    • Whereas I certainly do NOT AGREE with my commenter’s remarks; Hw posted this on his site: “At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty, and thus a good in itself, but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.” (Chief Justice Renquist) Therefore, I am posting his comment, rather than deleting it.

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