Following the North Star

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Race Relations in America

"We are now about to assume the management of the editorial department of a newspaper, devoted to the cause of Liberty, Humanity and Progress. The position is one which, with the purest motives, we have long desired to occupy. It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression."

Fredrick Douglass, Editor in Chief, The North Star, December 3rd, 1847.

"Right is of no Sex - Truth is of no Color - God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren."

With that motto, born out of the devastation wrought by slavery, The North Star's printing presses ignited and helped to instigate the first steps in the long march towards freedom from oppression for all Americans. Though Frederick Douglass had himself been born a slave and had been subjected to, and seen the horrors inflicted by that system, he did not preach revolution, or violent overthrow as well he might have, but instead chose to seek reconciliation through the commonality of humanity.

115 years after the life of Fredrick Douglas, America has come a long long way. Slavery was abolished, thanks in no small part to The North Star's social influence, women gained the right to vote, the Civil Rights Movement triumphed and an African American, born of biracial parents no less, was elected President of the United States.

Can one even begin to imagine what Fredrick Douglass would think of America today?

There is no doubt in my mind that his heart would burst with immeasurable joy at the opportunities of life descendants of slaves, and all Americans, are blessed with today. It is with great sadness, however, that upon reflection, I believe Fredrick Douglass would acknowledge there remains a great deal of work to be conducted today, on behalf of true equality for all Americans, despite the multitude of accomplishments over the last century.

As of of January 2010, for example, unemployment for African Americans in the United States is at an atrociously unacceptable high of 16.5%, almost double that of the 9.7% unemployment that Caucasian Americans are faced with. Discriminatory housing and bank lending policies continue to keep minorities, particularly African Americans, at a far greater disadvantage than white Americans. Educational inequalities persist at every level of academia for African and Hispanic Americans, and the incarceration rate for both minority groups are disproportionately high. Statistics show that 60% of all violent crimes committed in America are perpetrated by Caucasian Americans but they only comprise 23% of the inmate population. African and Hispanic Americans, on the other hand, when combined, nearly represent a quarter of the U.S. population, yet as a group, they comprise approximately 66% of the country's total inmate population. The implications of such statistics are insidious and according to white anti-racist activist and writer Tim Wise, reveal the emergence of a "new mechanism of social control" in America.

Another statistic shows that 74% of illicit drug use in America is by Caucasians. 10% of that population is incarcerated. African Americans, in contrast, account for 14% of illicit drug use yet are 74% of the national inmate population arrested for contraband. Hispanics comprise 10% of the illicit drug user population in America and they constitute 15% of the inmate population. Combined, African Americans and Hispanics are 90% of all inmates incarcerated in America for illegal drug use.

Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times, recently wrote an op-ed article on the New York City Police Department's stop and frisk policy entitled "Jim Crow Policing" In it he outlines the absurdity of the number of times that blacks and Hispanics get stopped in New York City without any violation of law.

It is increasingly apparent that, though the old laws of segregation and Jim Crow are no longer on the books, racism has morphed into something new. Tim Wise calls it, "Racism 2.0". A modern day "upgrade" of 20th Century racism.

Witness the increase in hate group membership in the U.S. since the Obama presidency. According to the FBI there have been more domestic death threats to President Obama than any other President in American history. Why is he so much more of a target? The obvious answer is troublesome. American racism is so deeply embedded into our psyche that we say "of course" without hesitation, to the fact that an African American President would be a target of such unbridled hatred from so many people.
Some friends and acquaintances have argued that the increase in anti Obama sentiment is being perpetrated by small groups of anti-black racists and extreme lunatics who are on the fringe of "main street" America. Others, that the real root of anti Obama sentiment is not with his skin color, but with his socialist economic policies. Obama, they say, is seeking to redistribute the wealth of America by taking it from hard working people and giving it to non deserving, unemployed people. People who just want to live off of the government, "get high and make babies" as one person said. Really?

I hear these and other anti-Obama arguments aired repeatedly on television news programs and there is something all too familiar about the rhetoric. When former Rep.Tom Tancredo talks about Civil Literacy Tests as voting eligibility requirements, the underlying historic implications open sore wounds within the African American community. Likewise when I hear talk of making drug tests a part of welfare eligibility, or unemployment insurance, I can't help but sense an underlying motivation for such programs; denial of government services to targeted groups of Americans.

Over a century ago, Republican President Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing African slaves. It stated that...

"... the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

I note this occasion to reference that within 15 years of this historic proclamation, the Executive Government of the United States conspired to rescind these "god-given, inalienable rights" to the newly freed slaves. President Rutherford B. Hayes' Compromise of 1877, ushered in Jim Crow Laws, lynching, the KKK and a century of post reformation segregation which still has reverberations in our society today.

The imagery shown at recent Tea Party and GOP Rallies shows a growing animosity towards our nation's first African American President by a homogeneous group of white American protesters. In President Obama's first year in office, the GOP, another homogeneous group of white men, effectively united with unprecedented unity against every piece of legislation the Obama administration attempted to pass regardless of whether or not it was beneficial to GOP constituents. There seems to be something insidious about the resolve against President Obama. As radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly stated, "I want this president to fail" Is it too simplistic to ask if there is a racial backlash of white anger against President Barack Hussein Obama?

Just as there was hope for real change in America after the Civil War ended and the Reformation began, there was hope for social change in America a year ago when Barack Obama was elected the first African America President. It seemed that our country had turned the corner on racism. It wasn't soon before television personalities like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly started stoking the fires of racial divisiveness in America under the guise of "patriotism". Ditto former Vice President Dick Cheney whose blatant antipathy towards President Obama is broadcast nationally. Many of Cheney's comments about President Obama have bordered on treason and would have been called such in an earlier era. Imagine a former Vice President inciting American citizens by claiming that the President is making our country "less safe" against our enemies? What could possibly be the motivation behind such harsh and violent reactions to President Obama?

I truly believe that such a noted and respected person as Frederick Douglass would be spurred into action today. Though the physical shackles of slavery have been lifted, there are many who remain enslaved in our country. Enslaved to old notions, customs and out dated ways of social thinking. Crippled by fear and motivated by anxieties about race, religion, politics and sexuality, Americans are being driven to new heights of polarization, which, I believe, is leading us towards a modern form of segregation. As legendary singer Bob Marley once sang "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind."

In an attempt to shine a light on the myriad social issues facing Americans and the world at large, The Polaris Pages are dedicated "to the cause of Liberty, Humanity and Progress" set forth by Frederick Douglass' paper over a century and a half ago. It is with great humility that The Polaris Pages seek to remain as constant as The North Star, illuminating a path towards growth, progress and abundance for all humanity in the 21st Century.

Conrad Sage
February 20th, 2010