Starting a New Story

by Conrad Moore

Ignorance is bliss. White people can decide if and when they want to enter the discussion about systemic racism, or not. We need to go much farther than just conversations about race. It is time to get to the hard work of dismantling institutional racism. The YWCA’s Race Against Racism is merely a first step. The most recent national manifestations are around police misconduct — highlighting the ways they behave toward people of color when they think no one is watching. I am really tired of even trying to keep up with what seems to be a daily installment in the news about some unarmed African American, or Latin American man or woman being beaten or killed by police.


The unfortunate reality is that where there are police patrolling people of color communities there is rampant police misconduct. If you want the real stories all you have to do is ask the right people the right questions. As disturbing as it sounds there is evidence that police protect one another often to the point of helping to hide each other’s bad behavior. TV and movies show us actors projecting this fake hatred for the dreaded Internal Affairs Division. I.A.D. is responsible to investigate police. On one long running popular show, uniformed officers and detectives call Internal Affairs the “Rat Squad.” The implication is that IAD is seriously investigating police misconduct and they will bring consequences to bear on the wrongdoers. However, police in the real world know they rarely have to fear the Internal Affairs Division. Convictions are rare and charges even more so. Check out the stats in your state. I say with confidence you will find the same is true. How can that be?

The Bad Apple Myth

There is the proverbial Bad Apple Myth. They claim there are always a few bad apples and they want to find and get rid of them just as badly as we do. However, if you pay attention to these cases you will see that the so called ninety-nine percent good apples protect the bad apples. It happens in every municipality. Remember the Abner Louima case: The bad apples took Mr. Louima to the the safety of the 70th police district precinct, sodomized him with a broken broom handle and beat him almost to death. They took him there because they knew the so called good apples would protect them. Their brothers in blue did not disappoint. They did protect them.

We don’t know of anything that extreme happening in Lancaster City (Pennsylvania) but, there have been over-aggressive, rude, violent interactions between police and people of color in this community. There are public officials who claim they are unaware of the police misconduct in our community. Can it be that while every predominantly black and Latino community in the nation has problems with over-aggressive, rude, violent, local policing, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is immune? Preposterous. It seems nearly every public official in almost every community wants to pretend this misconduct doesn’t happen in their community until they wind up on CNN giving a press conference about police misconduct.

Recent comments by public officials imply that they do not see a problem here in Lancaster. Even worse, if they acknowledge the disconnect between people of color and local police they blame the community not the police. What is equally unfortunate is that there are many stories in Lancaster of police behaving badly when nobody is watching. Yes change needs to happen even right here in Lancaster. However, change starts with acknowledgement of the problem.

Healing, hope and deciding where the story starts

There is not enough room in this post to list the thousands of cases from all around the nation. Stories of police misconduct are not new. The stories do not start with the unfortunate murder of Michael Brown in 2014, the 2009 beating of Cassandra Fuller, the heinous assault on Abner Louima in 1997, or the 1946 beating and blinding of Army Sgt. Isaac Woodard for that matter. These stories are not as rare as the general public is led to believe. This systemic racist misconduct will not end until we end it. We can begin a new chapter here in Lancaster. People of color and white people working together will write it. Let’s get to work.

New Independent Lens Documentary

Doll_StudyLast week, PBS premiered a new documentary on racism as part of the Independent Lens program. The one-hour film, American Denial, uses the 1944 investigation of Swedish intellectual Gunnar Myrdal into “America’s race problem” as a way to highlight the disconnection between the stated values of US society (it’s citizens as well as its founding documents) and the lived reality of people of color.

It provides a succinct, non-jargon-y entry into some key points of antiracist analysis, including internalized inferiority and superiority.

It is available to view in full at the above link until May 24, 2015.

“Hands Together” and slogans of white supremacy

“Hands Together”?

The other week I was visiting family in the St. Louis area and drove by a billboard showing two hands, one white and one black, making a heart. The only words were “Hands Together.” I don’t know what group created the billboard, but it seems pretty clearly in response to “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a prominent slogan in the anti-police-brutality movement that has grown since the shooting of Michael Brown.

I expect that the organization putting up this billboard wants to see people of all races living together peacefully. I do too. “Hands together” laudably implies that there is work that we need to do together. But it ignores the current gulf created by unchecked white privilege and supremacy. Until white people can acknowledge the privileges and power that come to them because of racist systems, work through the guilt that comes with that acknowledgement, and begin to take seriously the stories of people of color, there can be no “hands together.” Suggesting that our communities are ready to work together demonstrates a weak analysis of the pervasive system of white supremacy.

But I think an even more insidious problem with “Hands Together” is that it takes a slogan from a movement framed by People of Color (“Hands Up”) and turns it around — “corrects” it. This isn’t even the first time that white people have “corrected” a slogan within this same movement. Plenty has been written about “All Lives Matter,” like this tweet from one of my favorites, Brittney Cooper, a.k.a. @professorCrunk: “That all lives matter goes without saying. That Black lives matter must be said. Without equivocation, apology or addenda. #BlackLivesMatter.”

By “correcting” slogans, the new slogans become part of the system enforcing white supremacy. White people feel left out of “Hands Up,” because we don’t feel threatened by police for the most part, and we aren’t sufficiently connected to communities of color to join in their movement with empathy. People of color remain the Other. And white people hate to feel excluded, so we seek out slogans that counter the exclusion that we feel when people of color create something important without us. God forbid that white people not be a part of something important!

White people are not excluded from movements created by communities that we have excluded from our own communities! If we feel excluded from a movement, it is because we have excluded ourselves by building walls of white supremacy and privilege. If we stay behind those walls, we are making a choice for our own exclusion.

(Addendum: It is possible, even likely, that a multiracial group created the “Hands Together” billboard. I don’t believe that would negate this analysis, however.)

What’s Up With 68% of White People?

Graphic representing responses to the Pew poll.Pew Research has released a new poll showing that merely 37% of White people believe that the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raises important issues about race. (Compare to 80% of African Americans.) I know that there will always be some who “don’t see race” (supposedly), but a full two-thirds in what seems like such a clear case to me…. I’m not sure what to do with this. What is going on?

Since the poll doesn’t get into the reasons why people chose their answers, I’ve been trying to imagine why so many people say that Michael Brown’s killing doesn’t “raise important issues about race.” Maybe it’s these arguments:

  • The officer, Darren Wilson, didn’t use a racial expletive, therefore it didn’t have anything to do with race, or at least we don’t really know what was in his heart. (My response: For race to be an aspect of a situation, what is in anybody’s “heart” or intention is really superficial. Do the results of Wilson’s, or the Ferguson PD’s, actions reinforce white power and privilege? Is it even possible that Wilson’s racial socialization helped shape his actions? If so, then “Yes, the situation raises important issues about race.”)
  • Michael Brown was breaking the law (jaywalking) and the officer was only trying to enforce the law, but then things got out of hand, and Wilson made some poor decisions. But it’s a law enforcement issue, not a race issue. (My response: Do officers treat all jaywalkers the same? Why are you so sure that Wilson’s “poor decisions” (drawing his gun on a jaywalker) weren’t especially “poor” because of race?)
  • Michael Brown was a thief and a thug and had it coming, regardless of his race. (My response: It isn’t even true that he stole some smokes. Anyone who can’t bother to get simple facts correct can’t be expected to analyze racial dynamics with reason.)

If there is anything hopeful in the Pew poll, it’s that the 37% is higher than the 28% of White people who responded similarly regarding Trayvon Martin’s killing in a poll last summer. I guess that’s progress.

Andrea Smith on Colonialism and Anti-Black Racism

Since 2000, colonialism has been an important part of the Damascus Road Antiracism Analysis Training. Andrea Smith brings her insightful analysis in this fine piece on her Decolonization blog, “The Colonialism That is Settled and the Colonialism That Never Happened.” With a historical analysis, she points to the interconnections between settler colonialism and anti-Black racism:

[S]ettler colonialism does not merely operate by racializing Native peoples, positioning them as racial minorities rather than as colonized nations, but also through domesticating Black struggle within the framework of anti-racist rather than anti-colonial struggle. Anti-Blackness is effectuated through the disappearance of colonialism in order to render Black peoples as the internal property of the United States, such that anti-Black struggle must be contained within a domesticated anti-racist framework that cannot challenge the settler state itself. Why, for example, is Martin Luther King always described as a civil rights leader rather than an anti-colonial organizer, despite his clear anti-colonial organizing against the war in Vietnam? Through anti-Blackness, not only are Black peoples rendered the property of the settler state, but Black struggle itself remains its property – solely containable within the confines of the settler state.

Read Andrea Smith’s entire post here.

Round Up: The Rodger Murders, Misogyny, and White Supremacy

A lot is being written about the mass killing spree of Elliot Rodger. I though I’d just post a quick summary and link to some articles, but the more I read, the more wished articles took on a more rounded, intersectional analysis. Rodger’s complex story includes male entitlement and misogyny, internalized racism/white supremacy, heteronormativity, mental illness, and adolescent angst.

Rodger’s misogyny — well-documented through his YouTube videos and manifesto — has been covered pretty well. He intended to kill women because they were women. He said as much.

Rodger’s internalized racism has not been covered as thoroughly. Some articles drawing lines between Rodger’s whiteness and the preponderance of mass murders committed by white men fall flat because they miss the complexity of Rodger’s mixed racial background (his father comes from a white background, his mother has Malasian Chinese heritage). But Rodger had internalized messages of white supremacy, as demonstrated in these quotes:

“Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You’re just butthurt that you were born as an Asian piece of shit….” (from a post Rodger made in an on-line community)

“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself. I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves. I deserve it more.” (from his manifesto)

It would be inappropriate for me, a middle-aged white man, to analyze his struggles as a white/Asian mixed-race young man, but he was clearly struggling with his racial identity. His first three victims were all young men of Asian descent. He killed them with a knife, a brutal and intimate weapon. Were they proxies for his own Asian heritage? Did he attribute his own lack of girlfriends to his “Asian-ness”?

None of this, of course, lessens the fact that that Rodger was a perpetrator of violence and made choices to act as he did. 


So, as you read about Elliot Rodger, keep in mind that he was a complex human being, saturated with society’s messages of misogyny and white supremacy. The facts that he was only “half-white” and that he killed more men than women, do not negate that he was acting out those messages. And those same messages that each of us experience daily and pass on in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Here are some quotes from a few worthwhile articles about Rodger, misogyny, and masculinity:

Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. If you read nothing else coming out of this, pay attention to these stories from actual women.

8 Things You May Not Know About Elliot Rodger’s Killing Spree. AlterNet

[V]ery little attention has been given to the overwhelming message of society that for heterosexual men—if you are not attracting women, if you are not getting laid—you are an utter failure.

Misogyny Is Poison, And You’re Drinking It. Jess Zimmerman

Killing women because women reject you is the act of a monster, but that monster isn’t Elliot Rodger. The monster was whispering in his ear that women owe men sex, and that those who don’t comply should be punished (along, let’s be clear here, with those who do). It told him women did not have the right to make choices about their bodies, that for them to withhold access to those bodies is cruel and unjust. It told him that winning, or wresting, attention and service from a woman is the way to prove you are a man. But it told you that too, and your sons and brothers and fathers and teachers.

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds. Arthur Chu

But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.




[T]he killer [left] a 140-page rant and several YouTube videos describing exactly why he did it. No he-said-she-said, no muffled sounds through the dorm ceiling, no “Maybe he has other issues.” The fruits of our culture’s ingrained misogyny laid bare for all to see.


And yet. When this story broke, the initial mainstream coverage only talked about “mental illness,” not misogyny….

It’s Not All Men. But It’s Men. Kate Harding

It’s not all men. Of course it’s not all men. The idea that anyone might be talking about all men when talking about those who commit violence against women is ludicrous on its face. Pointing it out serves absolutely no purpose except to derail a conversation that might have been lurching toward productivity.

It’s not all men. It’s not all men. It’s not all men.

But listen, you guys, it’s men.

Easy Racism: Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, and a lot of other people

It’s been a good week for those who like to be incensed. Two aging white men said some very offensive and racist things on tape and the media has showered us all with righteous anger. Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers pro basketball team, has been banned from pro ball and fined as much as possible by the NBA commissioner and he may lose ownership of his team. That’s all great. Seriously, I’m glad he’s paying a hefty price.

But this is easy stuff, tip-of-the-iceberg racism.

Bomani Jones, ESPN host, says it way better than I could. On a sports radio program he called out the easy racism of Sterlings comments and connected it to actual, lethal violence against African Americans and housing discrimination in Chicago. Sterling has been a housing discriminating landlord for years, and when Jones exposed this in a 2003 article, no one paid attention to him. But when he speaks his impolite and racist mind out loud instead of just maintaining one of the most racially segregated housing patterns in the world, people pay attention.

Listen to Bomani Jones’s skillful analysis. It gets good at about 2:45. Some key quotes are below. Also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article, This Town Needs a Better Class of Racists, in which he writes, “The elegant racist knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt.”

We hear all this stuff that goes on in Chicago and all these people who die, who lose their lives. All that stuff that’s happening in Chicago is a byproduct of housing discrimination. … Housing discrimination is the biggest reason that we can point to historically for why we’ve got all these dead kids in Chicago fighting for turf, fighting for real estate with poor accommodations and facilities and everything that you’re supposed to have in a city, poor education, all of this because the tax dollars and everything else decided to move away.

So when all these guys get up here and stand on their soapbox and wag their fingers and start talking about ‘we won’t tolerate this racism, we won’t tolerate what Donald Sterling says’ what they’re not tolerating about what Donald Sterling said is the fact that it was impolite and what he said was gauche. That’s what their problem is, but when Donald Sterling was out here toying with people’s lives on matters of life and death, the media, the NBA, the sponsors and all these people now who want to get patted on the back for what good people they are didn’t say a mumbling word.

Linguistic Racism

ImageOn Saturday I was shopping at the farmer’s market, and for the entertainment of children, a magician was putting on a brief show. During the classic Cup Trick, he had everyone count the cups – “one, two, three” – and then in Spanish, French, and German. Then, “In Japanese, ….” and he added three nonsense words that ended in “-i” to imitate Japanese – turning it into a joke language. The audience laughs, knowing this isn’t really how you count in Japanese, but none of us know know Japanese anyway so… ha ha. Rather than insider knowledge, this is insider ignorance: a chance for people from the dominant culture to bond over shared ignorance of another culture.

Lingistic Racism describes when language is used to empower white dominant culture over against another racial group. In a more nuanced definition, from the wikipedia entry on Linguistic Discrimination (broader than Linguistic Racism):

In the mid-1980s, Linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, captured this idea of discrimination based on language as the concept of linguicism. Kangas defined linguicism as the “ideologies and structures which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) between groups which are defined on the basis of language.” (my emphasis)

Linguistic racism takes a lot of forms, such as mocking another language (see the children’s picture books in the Skippy-Jon Jones series) or the way non-native English speakers pronounce English words (such as an inability to pronounce “L”). The connotations of certain English words (“white” as pure and good; “black” as evil and bad) also fall into linguistic racism. The classic, but dated, article by Robert B. Moore, Racism in the English Language, describes many examples of how racism is encoded into our language. Here are his categories:

Obvious Bigotry – Racist slurs, which I won’t repeat here, and using terms to demean, such as calling a grown Black man “boy.”

Color Symbolism – White = Good, etc.

Ethnocentrism – Also could use the term, white racial framing. There is a huge difference between saying “The family owned thirty slaves” and “The family enslaved thirty Africans.”

Passive Tense – “The continental railroad was built” effectively erases the labor of thousands of Chinese immigrants, and countless others.

Political Terminology – “Developing countries” or “economically exploited countries”? 

Loaded Words – Columbus “discovered” North America? “Massacre” or “victory in defense of land”? “Village” and “hut” or “town” and “house.” And after a natural disaster, “looting a store” vs. “finding bread and clean water.”

Qualifying Adjectives – “Articulate” is the classic example. People from the dominant culture are assumed to articulate, so it isn’t mentioned.

Speaking English – Portraying people of other races and cultures as unable to speak English “properly” and therefore as less intelligent or capable: Broken English, mispronunciation, stereotypical phrases (“many moons,” “How!”)

Linguistic racism isn’t just words that hurt feelings. It is a technique that the dominant group uses to enforce the racial hierarchy in order to maintain access and control over resources and institutions.

Crime Statistics Infographic

In case you weren’t sure, there are still serious racial disparities throughout the entire criminal justice process in the United States. One thing this infographic doesn’t touch on is the numbers of people who never make it into the criminal justice process because they were killed by officers before they even had the chance to be wrongfully arrested. (Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, ….)

Courtesy of