Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The psychological dimensions of white supremacy

by William P. Muhammad

The CNN cable news program Anderson Cooper 360˚, recently aired a four part series devoted to the subject of race in America. The program, “Black or White: Kids on Race,” featured a new study based upon the research of Dr. Kenneth B. Clark’s infamous doll test of the 1940s and ‘50s. In the new study, young people were given illustrations of other children, ranging from White to Black, and were asked to identify which picture best depicted the smart, not smart, good and bad child.

The results, a shock to some, yet not a surprise to others, both revealed and verified what Black leaders, Black scholars and other Black consciousness oriented activists have been saying for years: that regardless of age and in spite of the social advancements Blacks have made in America, white supremacy is so deeply engrained, it has become a virtually involuntary reflex. Requiring a remedy that goes to the root of this problem, it is more than obvious that symptom oriented solutions will not do in eliminating the mutually destructive mindsets of white supremacy and black inferiority.

Among the dozens of Black and White children tested in this new study, a significant majority identified whiteness with likeability, success, intelligence and good behavior, while identifying blackness with non-likeability, failure, a lack of intelligence and bad behavior. As these results spurred angst, shock and worry not only from the parents, but also from among the program’s commentators, missing from the equation was consideration of the racist nature of Western culture itself and its subtleties concerning color consciousness.

Regarding the history of political Christianity, after its spread from the Middle East into Europe, changes and a new consensus occurred not only in its accepted teachings by the fourth century, but also in how its central figures were portrayed. Later, during the Middle Ages, good and holiness was associated with whiteness, while evil and the unholy was portrayed as blackness. With Jesus, his mother and the angels depicted as white, while demons, devils and wicked people were often shown as black, prejudices would likewise reflect these associations as conflict with darker skinned people, colonialism and European hegemony became the order of the day.

For example, as Western cultural heritage encompasses, as part of its legacy, the history of Mediterranean based events, cultures and myths, the narrative that depicted dark skinned or swarthy complexioned people as pale or white, occurred with the shifting of the region’s social, economic and political dynamics. As innovation and change was accepted and mastered in Europe, the artistic depiction of those who brought such knowledge also changed.

For instance, as Islamic Spain grew and developed from the social, cultural and political influences of Africans, resentment of them grew in Europe until war forced the Moors off the Iberian Peninsula. Downplaying, if not ignoring, non-White contributions to Europe’s Renaissance Period, to this day hostility remains, albeit in the form of socio-religious dialectics, secular globalism and sentiments against what is currently viewed as Euro-American hegemony in the non-White world.

Regarding the Americas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the conquering of the Western hemisphere’s indigenous people, further propelled the myth of white supremacy. As justification for slavery and continental expansionism was often made through religious argument, pseudo-science and a general belief in “the White man’s burden,” the Americas was developed at the expense of the Black and indigenous peoples. However, as Blacks and other people of color eventually conformed to the established order, and defined themselves through the prism of European culture, the present symbiosis between white supremacy and black inferiority was sealed in the West.

Nevertheless, with the emergence of Black pride and Black consciousness oriented movements, a remedy to these poisonous mindsets was formulated through sacrifice and struggle. In the United States, for example, with the Honorable Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), The Nation of Islam under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the eventual emergence of Black Nationalist movements in the 1960s and early 1970s, in spite of the US government’s vigorous opposition, efforts were made to defeat the mindsets of white supremacy and black inferiority.

Accordingly, as far as the masses of Black Americans are concerned, and based upon CNN’s four part series, not much has changed regarding perceptions of self and others since Dr. Clark’s doll test in the 1940s. As the new study proved that both Black and White children have a bias in favor of light skin color, solving the problems of supremacy and inferiority will require a renewed effort among Whites and Blacks alike to confront the legacy of America’s ugly history.

Today, as the few voices that cry in the wilderness for freedom, justice and equality continue to press for redress, the psychological dimensions of white supremacy cannot be overlooked or dismissed. While it may be uncomfortable for Whites to recognize their privileged position came from the systematic dehumanization and degradation of the Black man, America’s redemption lies only in her willingness to atone for what she has done and to break up the twin mentalities of white supremacy and black inferiority. Anything less is disingenuous and any solution that fails to recognize racism’s root will not be successful.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fear, politics and the Arizona whitewash

by William P. Muhammad

Two legislative initiatives recently signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer have brought to the national forefront a conservative driven agenda that many critics say is racist in one instance, and in the other, an attempt to set back advances in educational diversity.

On April 23, Senate Bill 1070 became law, making Arizona the toughest state in the land concerning immigration enforcement policy. Shortly thereafter, the signing of House Bill 2281, a measure that essentially bans ethnic studies programs in public education, revealed an agenda by conservative politicians and their allies to dismiss the contributions of non-Whites in American history.

As to the immigration issue, questions abound regarding the possibility of racial profiling and the potential for human rights abuses, while at the same time, the ban on ethnic studies points to a desire among Arizona conservatives to purge the non-White narrative from public discourse. This, coming from a state that initially refused to recognize the federal Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, should not be a surprise to those familiar with Arizona’s conservative agenda.

Negating any notion of the much ballyhooed era of so-called post-racial politics, the laws enacted by Gov. Brewer characterize and encompass an attempt not only to push back the clock to when American was synonymous with “Whites only,” but it also echoes the old states’ rights arguments that bolstered the anti-Black policies of the pre-civil rights era South. As the topic of immigration and ethnic empowerment become the focal point of Arizona’s conservative ire, people of color in general and others of good will would be wise to consider the time and organize opposition to similar ideas germinating in other states.

Be that as it may, and with a closer analysis, the motivation behind these misguided laws and initiatives suggests an unspoken fear, at least among White conservatives, of what can only be described as inevitable change. According to census projections, by mid-century people of color will outnumber Whites in the United States for the first time since the colonial period. As increasing numbers in certain states will translate into more House, Senate and gubernatorial seats, proportionate to future growth, state and federal government will start reflecting the faces of that new majority within 40 to 50 years.

As the conservative mantra of “taking back America” continues to ring out among conservatives and the “Tea Party” faithful, it begs the question: Taking it back from whom? As America is a country of diverse tongues, cultures and faiths, those who fear change within it, use their political capital and power for regressive rather than progressive agendas.

With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, it has been proven that any obstacle placed before our people can be surmounted in the name of excellence, and shattering the glass ceiling that historically impeded our advancement is not only doable, but it has been done. A triumph for many and a clear cause for celebration, there are others who unfortunately view such change with suspicion, seeing it only as a cause for dismay and aversion.

As in the case of Arizona, it is clear that a significant majority of its people support their governor’s decision. Either a backlash for the lack of federal leadership on the immigration question, or perhaps a sign of prejudice run amuck, a significant majority of Americans have also thrown in with Gov. Brewer’s actions and stand by them wholeheartedly. Based upon an unsophisticated if not poor understanding of America’s corporate labor practices, trade policies and the reluctance of the U.S. Congress to address real immigration reform, Arizonians, as well as Americans in general, are focusing more on the symptoms of undocumented immigration than on its root causes.

Regarding the subsequent ethnic studies ban, however, the legislative attempt to put the genie of knowledge, remembrance and pride back into the bottle is too little too late. For decades, if not centuries, American education said scant little about the significance and importance of Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans. Having its origin with Black scholars who for decades pushed academia to recognize Black history, ethnic studies programs were designed to show that American history included much more than the narrative of Europeans “discovering” America and expanding westward. Nonetheless, and in spite of what Arizona has done, the knowledge is out there and it’s available for any interested party to read and study.

Arizona’s decision to criminalize the undocumented, and ban the in depth study of America’s diverse cultures, is a sign of something much bigger than promoting paths to legal immigration and American individualism. It suggests that below the veneer of civil and legislative discourse there is a fear of the so-called “browning of America” and the coming demographic shift expected by mid-century. Rather than whitewashing the guilty, by focusing upon the symptoms of America’s problems, perhaps time would be better spent if state and federal government partnered with its citizens to develop solutions for the causes instead.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The New Prison Industrial-Complex, State Budgets and Technology in the Age of Declining State Revenue

by Paul C. Wright

There is a new technological trend in the United States that promises to use advances in Internet, GPS, and chemical detection technology to manage states’ surging prison and parolee populations. Several states, particularly those with massive budget deficits like California and Michigan, are unable to shoulder the burden of housing more inmates in their dangerously overcrowded prisons. They are therefore dramatically increasing the use of GPS technology to monitor the whereabouts and activities of parolees, as well as using the technology for home detention programs and even alcohol consumption monitoring. While it is true that GPS ankle bracelets have been in use for a few years now, new technology, laws, and applications are increasing the use of such devices in what is soon to be a booming industry – fully dependent upon the corrections system.

In Richmond, California, statistically identified as having America’s fourteenth highest crime rate [1] , the police recently fitted twenty parolees with GPS tracking devices on their ankles. [2] The devices include paging systems that require the parolee to call his or her parole agent each time they feel the device vibrate. Police officers say that they can use the devices to track parolees and place them at the scene of a crime committed while on parole. The tracking devices do, however, bring into question the status of a parolee’s civil liberties and may open the door to court challenges regarding invasion of privacy and other constitutionally guaranteed rights. The political will of several states are fully behind using the new technology and the courts thus far seem to like the flexibility they offer in sentencing and early release. The Richmond program is merely the tip of the iceberg.

In Los Angeles, for example, the police have established the Realtime Analysis and Critical Response (RACR) division, which uses a website called VeriTracks to follow parolees. [3] Parolees wearing the tracking devices are tracked online in real time with their whereabouts shown on a map by a green colored dot. RACR has the ability to type in the location of a crime and determine whether or not a parolee was at the scene of the crime at or around the time of the incident. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been paroling gang members on the condition that they wear the tracking devices and has also begun using the devices on sex offenders. In fact, under a new law called Chelsea’s Law , those convicted of violent sex acts against children under age 14 would qualify for lifetime GPS tracking. [4] In 2007, California was projected to spend $30 million on GPS tracking devices and services. The state now spends around $80 million annually on equipment and services without any proof that the new technology has made citizens safer. [5]

The State of Florida has signed on to use a new type of technology, sold by the company ActSoft, which not only monitors the whereabouts of a person, but also can detect whether or not that person has been drinking alcohol. Florida asserts that the technology is being used to free up space in prisons for violent offenders and is even giving people charged with reckless driving with the option of either going to jail to await trial, or staying out on bail with an ankle bracelet that can detect alcohol in their blood. [6] The system works by detecting the presence of ethanol vapors, a telltale sign of the metabolism of alcohol.

Public safety advocates continue to push for greater restrictions on the freedom of movement, and the elimination of privacy rights of those charged with or convicted of crimes. This is not a new platform in the annals of America’s criminal justice system. Public figures regularly jump at the opportunity to be perceived as tough on crime and, in fact, are terrified of being perceived as weak on crime. The fear is that public at large will hold politicians accountable for their perceived weakness on crime and, as such, this is a perception that politicians want to avoid at all costs – no matter what the evidence says regarding the effectiveness of “get tough on crime” measures. Fortunately for those fearing the perception of weakness, state budget crises all across America are enabling lawmakers to also use public finances as a justification for the increased use of electronic monitoring, otherwise known as “tethering,” on those in the criminal justice system.

States all across the country are engaged in cost analyses and coming to the conclusion that the use of electronic tethers is highly cost effective. One county jurisdiction in Michigan is reporting that people who are incarcerated cost the county $95 per day, while those who are tethered only cost between $6 and $12 per day. [7] In 2007, Florida had to pay approximately $12 per day for electronic monitoring while incarceration cost the state $43.26 per day for a man and $65.46 per day for a woman. [8] The attractive cost differential is being touted by businesses providing the equipment and monitoring services and is creating a new aspect of business in America’s prison-industrial complex which once grew as a result of increasing the number of prisons built – whether publicly or privately owned. [9] Whereas the expansion of America’s prison system was once an integral part of politics, the “war on crime,” and a new economic base for impoverished rural areas, state budget problems have forced the complex to rely on a new form of technology that could one day enable the monitoring of parolees or people in pre-trial confinement to be outsourced to foreign countries. The profit potential for companies providing electronic monitoring equipment and services is noteworthy. Denver’s Alcohol Monitoring Solutions has claimed that the market for their products could eventually be worth $1.3 billion per year. [10]

Civil rights advocates have warned that the privacy, search and seizure, and due process of parolees and others might be violated by having someone watching them around the clock, particularly those who are required to wear the devices for life. Such an obligation equals new punishment after punishment for the crime has already been rendered and time served. Additionally, those required to wear the devices may find it hard to obtain a job and become normal, productive members of society.


Paul C. Wright is an attorney, business consultant, and legal researcher who has practiced both military and civil law. His legal practice areas have included criminal, international, insurance, and consumer law.Paul C. Wright is an attorney, business consultant, and legal researcher who has practiced both military and civil law. His legal practice areas have included criminal, international, insurance, and consumer law.

Notes

[1] “2009 City Crime Rate Rankings,” CQ Press , http://os.cqpress.com/citycrime/2009/CityCrime2009_Rank_Rev.pdf

[2] “Richmond Police Forcing Parolees To Wear GPS Devices,” KTVU , May 3, 2010, http://www.ktvu.com/print/2343923/detail.html

[3] Bartholomew, Doug, “L.A. Cops Tap GPS to nab Drive-By Killers; Parolee wearing high-tech ankle bracelet leads cops to fatal drive-by shooters,” Baseline , December 1, 2007, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed May 4, 2010).

[4] “Lifetime GPS under Chelsea’s Law mainly targets lewd acts,” KFMB 760 AM , April 21, 2010, http://www.760kfmb.com/Global/story.asp?S=12353719

[5] Decker, Cathleen, “Another girl’s death, another law,” latime.com , March 14, 2010, http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-week14-2010mar14,0,4125153.story

[6] Mullins, Richard, “Gadget Is Parolees’ Last Call,” McClatchy – Tribune Business News ,” April 21, 2007, pg. 1.

[7] See Miller, Jennie, “Tether pilot program aims to prevent jail overcrowding,” C&G Newspapers, ” April 16, 2008, http://www.candgnews.com/Homepage-Articles/2008/04-16-08/XG-TETHER.asp in which Oakland County Judge Wendy Potts says that she had to release 2,500 convicted individuals on early release without oversight, between 2005 and 2008.

[8] Op. Cit. Footnote 6.

[9] For an excellent article on the history of the prison-industrial complex, see Schlosser, Eric, “The Prison-industrial Complex,” The Atlantic , December 1998, “Three decades after the war on crime began, the United States has developed a prison-industrial complex—a set of bureaucratic, political, and economic interests that encourage increased spending on imprisonment, regardless of the actual need. The prison-industrial complex is not a conspiracy, guiding the nation's criminal-justice policy behind closed doors. It is a confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum. It is composed of politicians, both liberal and conservative, who have used the fear of crime to gain votes; impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development; private companies that regard the roughly $35 billion spent each year on corrections not as a burden on American taxpayers but as a lucrative market; and government officials whose fiefdoms have expanded along with the inmate population. Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent. The prison boom has its own inexorable logic. Steven R. Donziger, a young attorney who headed the National Criminal Justice Commission in 1996, explains the thinking: "If crime is going up, then we need to build more prisons; and if crime is going down, it's because we built more prisons—and building even more prisons will therefore drive crime down even lower." http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/12/the-prison-industrial-complex/4669/

[10] Op Cit. Footnote 6.