Brit Bennett’s review of “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for The New Yorker magazine, is the best I have read so far. Bennett writes from an African American Feminist perspective drawing clean lines between what it means to be black and female in America. You can expect classy and exact references examining the relationship of black authors to black women, the black father to his son, and their relationship within the scope of institutional racism.
The night Trayvon Martin’s killer walked free, I stood outside a Los Angeles movie theater, in line to watch “Fruitvale Station.” Maybe I would’ve picked a different movie had I foreseen the verdict, but I was young and hopeful, and I believed that someone would be held accountable for snuffing out a seventeen-year-old’s life. Instead, I blinked back tears as a well-meaning white woman approached—she couldn’t believe that verdict, she said, the injustice of it all. I didn’t want to hear her disappointment. I didn’t want to be a conduit for her guilt. I wanted to understand how a jury could determine that a child’s unarmed black body posed more of a threat than a grown man with a gun.
Social commentator, Ta-Nehisi Coates, weighs in on the environmental injustice plaguing his hometown.
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.
The Economic Policy Institute has just released a report by Richard Rothstein that gives some sense of how the world of Michael Brown came to be. It turns out that that world was born from the exact same forces that forged cities and suburbs across the country—racist housing policy at the local, state, and national levels. Rothstein’s report eschews talk of mindless white flight, and black-hearted individual racists, and puts the onus exactly where it belongs:
That governmental actions, not mere private prejudice, were responsible for segregating greater St. Louis was once conventional informed opinion. In 1974, a three-judge panel of the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that “segregated housing in the St. Louis metropolitan area was … in large measure the result of deliberate racial discrimination in the housing market by the real estate industry and by agencies of the federal, state, and local governments.”
Catharsis is not policy. Catharsis is not leadership. And shame is not wisdom. And applause can never make a man right. And there are many kinds of personal responsibility. The young black man, coming out of storied Morehouse, should be personally responsible for the foiling of this new wave of poll taxing. He should be personally responsible for ensuring that the Medicaid expansion comes to Mississippi. He should be personally responsible for the end of this era of mass incarceration. He should be personally responsible for the destruction of the great enemy of his people—white supremacy. It is so very hard to say this, to urge people on in a long war. We keep asking the same question, but the answer has not changed.
On Sunday, I took my son to see two movies at a French film festival that was in town. The local train was out. We walked over to Amsterdam to flag down a cab. The cab rolled right past us and picked up two young-ish white women. It’s sort of amazing how often that happens. It’s sort of amazing how often you think you are going to be permitted to act as Americans do and instead receive the reminder—”Oh that’s right, we are just some niggers. I almost forgot.”
Americans don’t want to imagine that our racist history is actually an ongoing, racist reality. We like to look at racism as a thing that has gotten better (if not gone away completely) and that the way black Americans are treated in society is actually colorblind. So, if forced to pick between the idea that our country’s structures and systems are biased toward white people or the idea that black communities are flawed, many pick the latter. Some doing so, of course, because they’re racist.
Continuing from our conversation around housing segregation and the language employed by those with power I think it’s worth thinking some about the text of this petition:
“As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community … to protect our own.”
The petition was put out in 1957, as Levittown sought to stave off integration. What’s important to note is that we are well into post-war America and there is some social sanction emerging against prejudice and discrimination. What the petition does is effectively endorse prejudice and discrimination while claiming not to. Another example: