HISTORY: A swift goodbye to some racist imagery and policy – National Geographic

Selma Alabama Bridge -1985

TODAY’S BIG QUESTION: WINDOW DRESSING, OR THE ROAD TO CHANGE?

By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor  – National Geographic

Hope infused last week’s broad Juneteenth celebrations and U.S. Supreme Court decisions protecting nearly 700,000 “Dreamers” from deportation and the civil rights of America’s LBGTQ communities.

Statues fell, flags with Confederate symbols came down, portraits of house speakers who served in the Confederacy were removed from the U.S. Congress. Venerable brands, which have long used labels such as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, announced an end to faces on food boxes and bottles that were born in racist stereotypes. Longtime companies that worked with slavers and profited from them, such as Lloyds’ of London, apologized to the Black community and promised to make amends.         

Are these moves, prompted by the nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd and so many others, just the leading edge of overdue changes in America and abroad? Or simply window dressing; quick, relatively minor fixes to buy time while momentum for change runs high?

The court’s 5-4 decision keeps intact for now the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. (Below, students at Whittier College, now one of the more diverse colleges in the nation, celebrate their graduation in 2018). The court also voted 6-3 that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

We spoke with Opal Lee, 93, who saw major success this year in her decades-old campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday. “We’re gonna go through struggle after struggle until we come to the Promised Land. You gotta have some hope, because hopelessness wears you out, it drains you,” Lee told Rachel Jones for Nat Geo. “Even though there’s still much work to be done, we have to celebrate the freedom that we have. That’s what Juneteenth is about: celebrating freedom each step of the way.”

These are attempts to remember, recognize, repair, and rebuild a nation stunted by injustice—and unequal treatment of its people, historian Thomas J. Sugrue tells us. There is an unusual focus, as unemployment has soared and the distractions—say, sports or nightlife—have been curtailed, amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic. The recent decisions by the military not to keep taking to the streets against its own people and of the Supreme Court to protect marginalized communities may bolster the movement. Yet, American history, from the start, has been filled with ugly chapters where mass murders and thievery froze progress, as DeNeen L. Brown notes for Nat Geo.

“The solidarity of today’s protesters transcends the bloody racial divides of the past and may be a springboard for more sweeping reforms,” Sugrue writes for Nat Geo. “It remains to be seen if the uprisings of 2020 will resolve the long-standing issues of racial injustice fought again and again on America’s streets, but when many races march together rather than face off, the arc of history may be bending toward justice again.”

The man who immortalized the “arc of history” phrase, Martin Luther King, Jr., concerned himself in his final years with economic fairness. Yet the gulf remains. These startling charts via the New York Times are a starting point for anyone who doesn’t understand privilege, literally from the cradle (maternal mortality) to the grave (life expectancy).

Yes, it might erase a stain on American history to rename Selma, Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge from a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon to Rep. John Lewis, who was beaten to near death there on a 1965 march to allow America’s rights for all. (Pictured above, Lewis with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders on a reenactment of the march in 1985).

At the same time, the next weeks could focus on ways, as King tried, to save and to better the lives of tens of millions of Americans for the decades to come. A group of academics and organizers, in an op-ed, seemed a bit in awe of the broad-based support so far. “Their stunning faith in the possibilities of American democracy will be their gift to both our ancestors and our descendants.”

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Comments

  • Kman  On June 24, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    Most is window dressing

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 25, 2020 at 4:59 am

    US POLICE KILL up to 6-TIMES MORE BLACK PEOPLE THAN WHITES

    By Michael Marshall | New Scientist

    IN SOME PARTS OF THE US, POLICE KILL BLACK PEOPLE AT A RATE SIX TIMES HIGHER THAN THEY KILL WHITE PEOPLE. The differences are most stark in the northern Midwest, especially Chicago, and in north-eastern states like New York.

    PROTEST MOVEMENTS LIKE BLACK LIVES MATTER HAVE HIGHLIGHTED THE DISPROPORTIONATE KILLING OF BLACK PEOPLE BY US POLICE, AND CALLED FOR MAJOR CHANGES IN POLICING PRACTICES.

    HOWEVER, OFFICIAL DATA ON POLICE KILLINGS CAN BE UNRELIABLE. The database run by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is known to undercount deaths, partly because police forces don’t have to contribute data. That makes it harder to stop the killings.

    Gabriel Schwartz and Jaquelyn Jahn at Harvard University compared police killings in different regions of the US between 2013 and 2017. They used data from Fatal Encounters, an independent organisation that gathers public and media reports of killings, and fact-checks them.

    The researchers assigned each death to one of the US’s 382 “metropolitan statistical areas”. These are “cities and the areas surrounding cities”, says Jahn, and reflect where people spend most of their time.

    RATES OF POLICE KILLINGS VARIED WIDELY. For the overall population, the highest rates of killings were in south-western states like California and New Mexico, where more than 1 in 100,000 people were killed by police every year. In the north-east, rates were often lower than 0.3 people per 100,000.

    HOWEVER, THE PATTERN CHANGED WHEN THE TEAM LOOKED FOR DIFFERENCES LINKED TO ETHNICITY. In south-western states, police killed black people 1.81-2.88 times more often than they killed white people.

    In the north Midwest and north-east, the disparity was often more than 2.98. In the Chicago metropolitan area, black people were killed 6.51 times more often than white people.

    “They are showing for the first time that there’s a lot of variation by place in racial inequalities in police killings,” says Justin Feldman at New York University. THAT IN TURN SHOULD HELP US UNDERSTAND WHY SOME PLACES HAVE SUCH LARGE DISPARITIES, AND HOW TO REDUCE THE DEATHS, HE SAYS.

    RISK OF DEATH

    SCHWARTZ AND JAHN’S STUDY IS THE LATEST OF A RAFT OF STUDIES SHOWING THAT BLACK PEOPLE IN THE US ARE KILLED BY POLICE MORE OFTEN THAN WHITE PEOPLE.

    YOUNG BLACK MEN ARE AT HIGHEST RISK. A 2019 study found that black men aged 25-29 were being killed at rates between 2.8 and 4.1 in 100,000.

    NEIGHBOURHOODS ARE ALSO A FACTOR. Death rates are highest in poor neighbourhoods and neighbourhoods with high non-white populations, but black people are at higher risk of being killed in white neighbourhoods.

    There is evidence that the killings have wide-ranging effects beyond those killed and bereaved. A 2018 study found that the killings had a harmful impact on the mental health of the wider black population.

    NO PROBLEM

    SOME SCHOLARS AND COMMENTATORS DO STILL CLAIM THAT THERE IS NO RACIAL INEQUITY IN POLICE KILLINGS. In 2019, David Johnson at the University of Maryland and his colleagues published a study in PNAS CLAIMING NO EVIDENCE OF ANTI-BLACK DISPARITIES IN POLICE SHOOTINGS.

    SIMILARLY, AFRICAN-AMERICAN ECONOMIST ROLAND FRYER, ALSO AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY, HAS ARGUED THAT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE FOR RACIAL DISPARITIES IN POLICE SHOOTINGS. These studies have received widespread media coverage.

    THE PROBLEM IS THAT THESE STUDIES FOCUS SOLELY ON PEOPLE WHO INTERACT WITH THE POLICE, FOR INSTANCE BY BEING STOPPED, says Feldman. The underlying argument is that if black people commit more crimes, a higher rate of police killings would follow.

    “You can’t do that in a valid way,” says Feldman. “IF THERE’S RACIAL BIAS IN WHY POLICE STOP PEOPLE OR INVESTIGATE CRIMES IN THE FIRST PLACE, IT’S GOING TO OBSCURE THE RACIAL BIAS IN POLICE SHOOTINGS OR POLICE KILLINGS.”

    The 2019 study has received multiple critiques from other scholars because it didn’t account for this problem.

    THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT POLICE STOP BLACK PEOPLE MORE OFTEN THAN THEY STOP WHITE PEOPLE.

    For instance, under New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, black and Hispanic people were stopped more than white people, even accounting for estimated differences in crime rates.

    Furthermore, a 2015 study found that rates of police killing don’t follow crime rates.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 25, 2020 at 5:11 am

    If Police stop MORE non-white people than they do white people, the chances of non-white people being killed by police increases. Here is a video of a Black FBI Agent being handcuffed for no other reason than he is BLACK.

    Some of you might want to focus on the Agent’s language – that is another shallow critique we hear about often from our people. And, the shallow argument about the language that he uses obscures the fact that he is handcuffed by Police for no other reason than he is BLACK.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 25, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    On the Other Side of The POND …..

    • Bernard  On June 25, 2020 at 1:26 pm

      The British authorities have unjustly and completely destroyed an innocent man’s life. His only crime was to be born black. After the hell they put this poor man through — including the huge legal bill he had to bear — due to no fault of his own — and the loss of his bank managerial position, they must fully compensate him. A million pounds is a starting point. I think Boris Johnson should address the issue. An apology is necessary but will make no difference but a start. The West Indian man’s ordeal is heartbreaking – never mind the emotional damage he suffers.

      Bernard

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 25, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    An Example in Australia:

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 25, 2020 at 7:31 pm

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