Friday, June 26, 2015

These were the facts of their lives...

Here are some paragraphs written in a 2010 book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson. The book is titled The Warmth of Other Suns. It documents the great migration that occurred in the United States between 1915 and 1970. During this period it is estimated that some six million black southerners left the south and fanned out over the country. Historians have come to call it the great migration. It transformed the United States and yet it is mostly unknown and may be the most under-reported story of the twentieth century.

She wrote these paragraphs about segregation, which was perfectly “legal” in U.S. America until the civil rights laws were passed in the 1960s. It’s worth considering that the kind of thinking and the kind of attitudes that produced these laws and expectations were totally untouched by the passage of the civil rights legislation. The ideology that resulted in these strange and sad “laws” and “customs” did not evaporate after the civil rights legislation…only what was legally allowed changed…the mindsets and viewpoints were virtually untouched.

It became unacceptable to openly express such awfulness, but that mostly meant that this crap went underground instead of disappearing. If you haven't noticed it by now...destructive disconnects from reality usually don't just evaporate when they're confronted and exposed. They either just continue (if the opposition isn't strong enough to counter them) or they morph and metastasize into a form or configuration that isn't immediately recognizable. Often they will latch onto a challenging idea or phrase and distort it enough to use it in service of destructiveness. Racists fastened onto the "colorblind" meme and zip-zoop...now it's primarily used as code to further racist ideology.


It’s absurd to think that such thinking, which was powerful enough to produce these bizarre and demeaning ordinances and laws, simply dried up and blew away as a result of the civil rights acts. We would like to pretend that’s the case….but…it isn’t. If you don’t think that’s so…go read about the Charleston massacre.

Ms. Wilkerson wrote:

These were the facts of their lives.

There were days when whites could go to the amusement park and a day when blacks could go, if they were permitted at all. There were white elevators and colored elevators (meaning the freight elevators in back); white train platforms and colored train platforms. There were white ambulances and colored ambulances to ferry the sick, and white hearses and colored hearses for those who didn’t survive whatever was wrong with them.

There were white waiting rooms and colored waiting rooms in any conceivable place where a person might have to wait for something, from the bus depot to the doctor’s office. A total of four restrooms had to be constructed and maintained at significant expense in any public establishment that bothered to provide any for colored people: one for white men, one for white women, one for colored men, and one for colored women. In 1958, a new bus station went up in Jacksonville, Florida, with two of everything, including two segregated cocktail lounges, “lest the races brush elbows over a martini,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The president of Southeastern Greyhound told the Journal, “It frequently costs fifty percent more to build a terminal with segregated facilities.” But most southern businessmen didn’t dare complain about the extra cost. “That question is dynamite,” the president of a southern theater chain told the Journal. “Don’t even say what state I’m in.”

There was a colored window at the post office in Pensacola, Florida, and there were white and colored telephone booths in Oklahoma. White and colored went to separate windows to get their license plate in Indianola, Mississippi, and to separate tellers to make their deposits at the First National Bank of Atlanta. There were taxicabs for colored people and taxicabs for white people in Jacksonville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and the entire state of Mississippi. Colored people had to be off the streets and our of the city limits by 8 p.m. in Palm Beach and Miami Beach.

Throughout the South, the conventional rules of the road did not apply when a colored motorist was behind the wheel. If he reached an intersection first, he had to let the white motorist go ahead of him. He could not pass a white motorist on the road no matter how slowly the white motorist was going and had to take extreme caution to avoid an accident because he would likely be blamed no matter who was at fault. In everyday interactions, a black person could not contradict a white person or speak unless spoken to first. A black person could not be the first to offer to shake a white person’s hand. A handshake could occur only if a white person so gestured, leaving many people having never shaken hands with a person of the other race. The consequences for the slightest misstep were swift and brutal. Two whites beat a black tenant farmer in Louise, Mississippi, in 1948, wrote the historian James C. Cobb, because the man “asked for a receipt after paying his water bill.”

 It was against the law for a colored person and a white person to play checkers together in Birmingham. White and colored gamblers had to place their bets at separate windows and set in separate aisles at racetracks in Arkansas. At saloons in Atlanta, the bars were segregated: Whites drank on stools at one end of the bar and blacks on stools at the other end, until the city outlawed even that, resulting in white-only and colored-only saloons. There were white parking spaces and colored spaces in the town square in Calhoun City, Mississippi. In one North Carolina courthouse, there was a white bible and a black bible to swear to tell the truth on.” P 44-45
That's all in the past, you say? We fixed that, you say? Nope...we didn't fix it nor is it 'all in the past'.

I've been reading a memoir by Melba Pattillo Beals who was one of the children who volunteered to be among the first black students to attend Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. It's a humbling and dismaying book to read. These were 15 year old children who were subjected to unspeakable and disgusting demonstrations and pressures and violence from white U.S. Americans simply because they wanted to attend school with white children.

Look at the white people harassing and shouting at this adolescent.

The young black girl, Elizabeth Eckford, hadn't been notified to meet the other black students at a prearranged place because her family didn't have a telephone. She was alone...and the white people surrounding her are screaming racial slurs and insults at her. She's 15 years old. If you think that the attitudes and mentalities that produced this behavior by white people is over...or in the past...you're deluded.

Go watch this video that shows the behavior of a white police officer toward black teenagers at a McKinney, Texas swimming pool. The video was taken in June of 2015...watching his behavior, especially his assault on a 14 year old girl, makes clear that the thoughts and beliefs that motivated the white people in the photo above are still powerful and prevalent in white people in U.S. America. It's not just a few "bad apples" who harbor these delusions...if this is news to you...go take the implicit bias test and find out for yourself.

Melba Pattillo Beals wrote these words in her book that serve to remind us that children are smacked in the face with racism...and then spend their lives being smacked over and over and over again.

"Black folks aren't born expecting segregation, prepared from day one to follow its confining rules. Nobody presents you with a handbook when your teething and says, "Here's how you must behave as a second-class citizen." Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day." p. 3

Instead of the word segregation (although segregation continues, albeit not legally) simply substitute the word racism and that paragraph describes the current milieu for people of color here in U.S. America.

If we can't wrap our minds around the fact that all humans are equally deserving of respect and freedom even though they may have a different shading of skin than we have...what chance do we have of according respect toward beings who look and behave very differently than we do? My god, if we can't recognize that someone is the same as ourselves who looks just like us and speaks our language...how on earth are we going to get to a place where we acknowledge that all Earthlings have just as much right to their lives as we do even when they look dramatically different than we do?

Most who read this blog are vegan...they "get it". I would guess that most who read this blog think they understand racism and don't harbor racist notions or ideology (whether consciously or unconsciously). That's unlikely. If you disagree, put it to the test...go take the IAT and let me know your results. Mine showed that I've been infected by the propaganda against people of color and even though I abhor and reject conscious notions of racist ideology...that ugliness has influenced my out of awareness associations. We swim in a sea of racism...and to think we can do so without getting wet is both naive and dangerous.

I don't know of an IAT regarding speciesism...I do know that I struggle daily against the propaganda I've been subjected to all my life...the propaganda characterized by the phrase: "I am not an animal", by the propaganda that says "animals" are...stupid, dirty, violent...you plug in the derogatory idea. I will have to fight against that poison for the rest of my days. Let me assure you that the poison of racism is just as prevalent and just as ubiquitous. No matter what you think. And...it is poison...it is spirit and soul corrosive...for everyone.

We humans who live in the western hemisphere, excepting those who are Native Americans...are all immigrants. We are (except perhaps recent immigrants and other small numbers brought here for their near enslaved labor like Asian-Americans) the children of "conquerors" or we are the children of those who were enslaved. If we are the children of the harmers...what we have...in some measure or other...came at the expense of Native Americans and of enslaved African Americans or other peoples of color. We have no other history than that. And it is staggeringly large and all encompassing. For some enlightenment, take a look at this horrifying animated graphic.

We white people have an obligation to fully understand this, we have an obligation to begin...and I mean begin because we haven't done so...to incorporate this into our everyday consciousness and to begin to figure out ways to deal with this in truthful and respectful and genuine and non-harmful ways. The mentality that drove this horror still drives us. We've never come to grips with it. People of color understand this much more clearly than we do...even though many of them suffer from internalized oppression...many do not.

None of us had a choice about what went on before us...but we have the responsibility and the power to change what goes on now and in the future...and we can't do that unless we come to awareness about the ideological forces and their consequences that shaped the society we live in....that we swim in...that shape us and our weltanschauung.



4 comments:

Christine said...

This is a very interesting and informative article, I knew of course of the pre 1960 s segregation but not how extensive it was. I didn’t know about the curfew or the driving rules, handshaking and other outrages. I am surprised all this prejudice was tolerated for so long. The lives of non-whites must have been a nightmare. Sadly as you say you can’t legislate to get rid of racism - or indeed any other sort of prejudice - which is thriving and continues to thrive

I cannot understand why, what the hell is wrong with people. Why can’t we live together accepting others who differ? If it isn't the colour of ones skin it is ones gender or sexual orientation, even ones age. Though racial prejudice is the most prevalent.

I had thought things were changing when Obama became president but in light of recent events this seems not the case at all with the recent police brutality and the disproportionate number of black people in prison and of course the recent church massacre.


Indeed there is little hope of accepting other species as equals if we cannot accept differences in human beings. I agree that we all may have some form of prejudice ingrained into our way of thinking but at least we try to ignore this knowing that such thinking is abhorrent. Where I live people tend to make racist remarks which shocks me for its intensity and I avoid too much contact with such people. I think for most it is habitual and they really don’t think it through and most would not go to the extremes of the person who killed the people in the Charleston shooting, though frankly one has to doubt the sanity of such a person. Nonetheless there is and sadly always will be discrimination. Maybe laws can’t change people’s attitudes but they can sure keep them in check and make life more tolerable for those effected by this mindless prejudice.

I always wonder what would happen if we were visited by intelligent beings from another world more advanced than ourselves but who were not like us in appearance.

I can't see discrimination ever ending people will always think the way they do.

Have Gone Vegan said...

Yep. To pretty much everything you said. Can't say that I'm that optimistic... Unless we can radically change, and fast.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. I agree that it's unlikely that prejudice and/or discrimination on an individual basis will end in the foreseeable future...in some respects that's not much of an issue. By that I mean that as long as such stances don't negatively impact others in any systemic ways...well heck...who cares. The problem is that systemic injuries of people of color are continuing and indeed...may be increasing.

One thing that is important to realize is that almost immediately after laws were put in place to address these injuries...resistance to them and dismantling of them began...and it has continued. For instance, the meme of "reverse discrimination" (which is an absurdity...because socially subordinate groups can't,in any significant way, discriminate against a dominant group in a society...they don't have the social power to do such a thing) almost immediately popped up and started gaining ground.

Yes we put some laws on the books and changed some behaviors but...implementation of those laws was...after a while...countered by resistance and that resistance was aided by absurd notions like "reverse discrimination".

We have a long way to go and "getting our hearts and minds right" is part of the journey...along with changing our behaviors.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. I concur.