The title of my post, Crucial Race Theory, is a play on critical race theory, which, according to Wikipedia, is “an academic discipline focused upon a critical examination of society and culture, to the intersection of race, law, and power”. Critical race theory holds that white supremacy is maintained over time and that the law has something to do with it, and works at achieving racial equity and anti-subordination.
What happened on Saturday, January 24, 2015 at Forsyth and Central in Clayton, MO must be seen through the lens of racial, social, and cultural history. Our actions, behaviors and thoughts are shaped by our past and our environment, and this is the context we must bring in order to understand what we see, and often do.
There are people who insist we are all the same. Then why do some have such a different experience of the world, and they happen to be black? So the inferiority and pathology explanations fill the void, in their understanding of the world.
Two friends of mine, using their right to free speech, attempted to unfurl a “Ferguson Is Everywhere” banner at the pro-police rally at St. Louis County Police Headquarters. One, Misty, is dark and heavy. The other, Elizabeth, is petite and may be seen as “white”.
As they tried to keep the banner unfurled, a tussle ensued. I was standing right there. I did not see any punching, or kicking, or spitting, anything like that. Here’s the video of that portion of the incident:
Between being egged on by the crowd, and trying to decide between physically abusing a small white woman or the larger black woman, the police appeared to tire of the scene, and grabbed Misty. They sort of trip-dumped her to the ground, and then marched her away by neck-hold. The neck-hold appeared to be quite painful and unwarranted. (The whole “arrest” seemed unwarranted.)
After they got past the kiosk and at the car, I was able to get more video. Here’s that one:
So, to be didactic about it, we have a rally in which 100% of the people roaring for the police on scene are white. Most of the law enforcement officers are white. By putting their hands on Misty, the police relied on past custom and historic power relations among ethnic groups. By inflicting pain on her, they make her anonymous and singled out, simultaneously. She is hurt. She is in trouble. And the voices bay even louder.
This is why we hammer “Black Lives Matter” and bat down “All Lives Matter”. This is one incident of degradation that can be analyzed and understood through “crucial” race theory. This involves empathy, the ability to see something from the viewpoint of another, writ larger.
People are treated differently, in part of a hierarchy of privilege that, admittedly, is in flux, waxing and waning and intersecting according to context and milieu. However, white supremacy still generally rules the day. Though socially complex, a pro-police rally such as this one is pretty easy to understand ON THE GROUND. It’s one of the ironies of street showdowns involving generations of history and cultural practice. No one is in favor of chaos and disorder.
Would the crowd have cheered so lustily if the police had treated any of the pro-police folks that way? Would the struggle with police have been as violent had they chosen to drag off Elizabeth? If you don’t know the answers, you don’t get it. Do get it. Black lives matter.
When I worked at World News in Clayton I heard horror stories for years from customers just out of the St. Louis County Jail, which was two blocks south of the store. Upon their release, many would find their way to the convenience store on the corner where they would get candy and cigarettes. Someone was jailed for weeks for parking tickets. An ill woman spent three days in jail because nobody had $200. Things like that. These two persons were black.
Was it really true? Could these things happen to Americans in the 21st century? Certainly, they’re leaving something out, I thought. We are notified almost daily that these things and worse do happen.
I had protested only once before, in early 2003, in the run-up to the (predicted) disastrous Iraq War. It lasted one day, a Sunday. I asked my then-wife if she would gather our five-year-old boy and come with me. She declined, so I went alone. I remember liking being part of a multiracial crowd, and that people wearing strange costumes disturbed me.
I’m a good deal older than the persons who spurred the rebellion against police brutality and racism in St. Louis in 2014. I had consciously given up on fighting the world as I found it, and retreated into a world of watching, listening to, and writing about Major League Baseball, specifically the hometown St. Louis Cardinals.
My conscience prodded me to protest, however. The militarized response to unrest on W. Florissant Avenue was not a good introduction to its practice. That scared me. The sight of MRAP’s and snipers was a major deterrent. I couldn’t fathom it going well over there, but the mere notion of police pointing guns at citizens in the street simultaneously enraged me.
I went to a gym populated mostly by blacks and got a lot of bad looks one day. I was already in a mood. CNN was on in the locker room. I said something against cops, loudly. I received quizzical looks from the men around me. I became hyperaware of my own whiteness and my apparent “cop-ness” and left.
It was at that time I determined I had to get down to W. Florissant. I never would have been out there had the young adults not withstood the test; had not defied the state’s attempt to bully protesters into submission.
I wondered, how are they different from me? What are their lives like? Some lives are, at times, harrowing. A young man was threatened where he stayed by a baseball bat-wielding homeowner. Another woman stays with friends or at hotels for short durations. I know a pregnant woman who sometimes goes hungry.
You listen more than you might be used to doing. You make some mistakes, which surprise you, because you think you are down. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about race, you don’t.
These are the connections I wish to make here. The woman in the hotel? She would excel in college. I think of the education she has given herself this year and believe it would hold up to any other. This woman has flexed her imagination, tested her endurance, traveled, met many people, and expresses a creativity and drive that others notice. She is kind to all. She sets a great example.
The people I have met are often very resourceful, ambitious, evince a powerful sense of self, and extremely hard-working. “I need money to do this service.” She finds a way to get it. “I have to get to two meetings tonight.” He stays up ‘til 3 am planning an action.
It manifests as indomitable will, but it is augmented by confidence in the future. The young leaders of #Ferguson exhibit a confidence in their own futures that belies the objective data, which is what young people do, in all spheres! They inspire those around them with their energy and their belief in the cause. The young leaders constantly drag the rest of us along with them.
I had forgotten how it felt to believe I could get what I want. These folks, many of whom have had fewer opportunities than me, generally don’t give up. “I believe that we will win” is infectious, in a crowd, at night.
We’ve struggled with the course of events. We didn’t get an indictment of Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Mike Brown.
Brittany and Alexis often say “Let’s get free, y’all.” None of us is free when a policeman shoots an unarmed teenager to death because he is afraid; because his mentality is warped.
So I see connections—to our past, in our circumstances—and to our future, through the lives of these people who are supposed to outlive me. Many Americans fret and just wish to be unyoked from this country’s racial legacy. Time is neutral, Martin Luther King reminded us, in his Letter From Birmingham Jail. The young grasped this, and presently attempt to wrest a city toward the future.
We’re on a different footing now. We’re at a higher base camp. The summit is not in sight, yet it exists as a vision in the minds of the believing community—the community we made in the summer and fall of 2014.
In a recent interview hosted by People’s Magazine, Oprah Winfrey does something her years as a White Woman’s favored daytime negro do not seem to afford her any expertise is: she gave a socio-political critique and analysis.
Her particular critique of a socio-political movement that she has neither funded, visited– or based on her comments– studied was the Mike Brown Forever movement, that global revolt inspiring collective of actions sparked by the protest of residence of Canfield Green apartments in Ferguson, Mo. The billionaire who sold almost half of her brand name and had to hire Madea to come help her buy it back seems to have forsaken years of study of political actions and any experience on the ground. Her entry point into this brand new expertise as a political scientist with a special focus on social protest is the new movie she not only stars in, but also acts as producer(read that as part financer) of. One of the world’s richest women has found her voice on the topic of social change in the United States from financing and acting in a small role of a film that has to doctor the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr because they couldn’t afford to pay to license the usage of such wordings on the $20 Million dollar budget they had to work with.
Oprah: “I’m a person who lives my life based on intention. I don’t do one thing without thinking about what is my intention first. And I’ve been living my life that way since 1989. And it really just, ya know, it’s ordered my life in such a way that you have, you meet divine order all the time because you’re doing things on purpose. So, I think that what can be gleamed from our film, Selma, is to really take note of the strategic intention required when you want real change. Mmm. Strategic, peaceful intention when you want real change. Mm. I think it’s wonderful to, to, to march and protest. And it’s wonderful to see all across the country people doing it. But what I really am looking for is some type of leadership to come out of this to say this is what we want. Right. This is what we want, this is what has to change and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes and this is what we’re willing to do to get it. And, and when you watch Selma. That’s what Selma is all about, it’s all about the strategy. Those marches just didn’t happen, and they weren’t happening, happening haphazardly, they were happening out of an order, and their design for change. That’s my feeling about it.”
Oyelowo: A, and, and, to jump off of that, what I think is so divine and beautiful about Selma coming out at this time is, a), it shows: This isn’t new, we’ve had this before, and there are very direct parallels. Ferguson, I feel, when it initially happened, it felt like it was a black problem. When we saw the footage of Eric Garner, it became an American problem. And you saw that in the way that black and white, young and old came together to say, this is not okay. It was the same thing in Selma.
Oprah: Exactly the same thing.
Oyelowo: It was, you know, in, in, in the sense that voting rights, or the lack of it for black people, was a black problem. When you saw Bloody Sunday, it became an American problem.
“What I’m looking for is some kind of leadership to come out of this to say, ‘This is what we want. This is what has to change, and these are the steps that we need to take to make these changes, and this is what we’re willing to do to get it,'” Winfrey told People magazine.
Purely as a Black Media analyst taking in a certain text for the first time, I have to consider certain allusions being made her that baffle me. Firstly, the notion of this movement being “leaderless” is silly. There are leaders in Ferguson, Mo representing the Mike Brown Forever movement, there is just more than one. There are several organizations in Ferguson and the St. Louis area that are major key players working for some semblance of justice in not only the Ferguson arena, but also in the names of Kajieme Powell, Droop Myers, and Antonio Martin. There was an entire delegation including the parents of Mike Mike Brown that presented a case to the United Nations. What there has not been is a dictator that could easily be swayed by a multibillion dollar media interest. What there has not been is one single face to put on this movement other than Mike Brown, which, as the interview goes on, seems to be the major concern for not only Oprah “I’m Too Sexy For My Blackness” Winfrey, but also her Afrikan paramour, David Oyelowo(OWL is totally kidding with the “paramour” part. We at the Asylum have no clue as to whether Winfrey and Oyelowo are having sexual relations or not).
In the interview, one of the more overlooked aspects, is a statement regarding Mike Brown and the initial phases of the movement. Oyelowo states, “What I think is so divine and beautiful about Selma coming out at this time is, a), it shows: This isn’t new, we’ve had this before, and there are very direct parallels. Ferguson, I feel, when it initially happened, it felt like it was a black problem. When we saw the footage of Eric Garner, it became an American problem. And you saw that in the way that black and white, young and old came together to say, this is not okay. It was the same thing in Selma. ”
One of the major concerns voiced by one of the young leaders of the Civil Rights Movement that is not mentioned in this discussion of the Martin Luther King, Jr. led segment of the march on Selma, Alabama in the early months of 1965, namely, Kwame Ture (nee stokely Carmichael) is the dependence of US Blacks on a White set of institutions and what he referenced as “national sentiment”. What Oyelowo overlooks in his ahistorical and context-less comparison of two dynamic events–the protests formed around the murder by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson of an unarmed Mike Mike Brown and the voting registration campaign of the early 1960s in Alabama–is that, as dauntingly dangerous it is two compare these two extremely disparate instances of justice campaigning, both were regarded, funded, recorded, broadcast, championed and whatever other verb one can think of to describe “included to the degree of defining”, Whyte US citizenship who from day one positioned it as A) A Black Problem and B) A United States Problem. It is also necessary to return to the words of Kwame Ture who actually happened to be directly involved in a major way with the voting registration drive in Alabama in the early 1960s, not just some actor, actress, producer, or otherwise financial beneficiary whose only study and involvement with the movement to date is the product of capitalistic investment.
Kwame Ture & Charles V. Hamilton, “Black Power, The Politics Of Liberation”
…there is a clear need for genuine power bases before black people can enter into coalitions. Civil rights leaders who, in the past or at present, rely essentially on “national sentiment” to obtain passage of civil rights legislation reveal the fact that they are operating from a powerless base. They must appeal to the conscience, the good graces of the society; they are, as noted earlier, cast in a beggar’s role, hoping to strike a responsive chord. It is very significant that the two oldest civil rights organizations, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, have constitutions which specifically prohibit partisan political activity. (The Congress of Racial Equality once did, but it changed that clause when it changed its orientation in favor of Black Power.) This is perfectly understandable in terms of the strategy and goals of the older organizations, the concept of the civil rights movement is a kind of liaison between the powerful white community and the dependent black community. The dependent status of the black community apparently was unimportant since, if the movement proved successful, that community was going to blend into the white society anyway. No pretense was made of organizing and developing institutions of community power within the black community. No attempt was made to create any base of organized political strength; such activity was even prohibited, in the cases mentioned above. All problems would be solved by forming coalitions with labor, churches, reform clubs, and especially liberal Democrats.
Kwame points out in 1967 with shrewd foresight that there would be a need to empower US Blacks beyond a dependence on Whyte institutions because the gains made by US Blacks in such relationships would only become eroded over time, a point he makes while citing the erosion of public school integration gains he witnessed in the early 1960s. Fast forward to June 25, 2013, some almost 15 years after the passing of Kwame Ture, the Supreme Court of the United States of America in a 5 to 4 vote effectively gutted out one of the most important aspects of the Civil Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 in (please catch this)SHELBY COUNTY, ALABAMA v. HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, ET AL., the stipulation that made certain Southern states accountable to report any changes made to their election laws and to have those changes federally approved. So, while Oyelowo presents on one hand an argument and interpretation that reads as obviously oblivious to the context within which the movie he lauds and the events the movie inaccurately portray, Oprah nods in agreement while on the other hand lending credibility to a specious argument that frames Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s methodology as basically the ONLY methodology worthy of consideration outside of the historical and objective trajectory that shows a political stratagem not only worthy of criticism now, but that had received worthy criticism by someone that worked with Dr. King then!!!
Let me close on this note, not only does Oprah and Oyelowo get the details of the film they should have studied the events they are supposed to be reenacting wrong, they by way of lack of apparent research get the details wrong regarding the movement of protest and civil disobedient actions stemming from the desire to call to justice the officer that killed Mike Mike Brown. While it is my thinking that Winfrey is well within her rights to wait for whatever messiah might fall from the sky, her desire to have that messiah present demands seems to be oversight. Since prior to the mobilization weekend held in October(“Ferguson October”) that galvanized activist nationwide to join in the St. Louis area in a series of actions including one involving Professor Cornel “I came to get arrested” West(how did Oprah miss that?), there has been a list of five demands. These demands, as well as an addendum to those original demands here at this online location I have linked to. These demands were read to the St. Louis Mayor in an action that same Monday on which Cornel West was arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department with other activists and clergy at the St. Louis City Hall. The facts would show that Winfrey has no clue as to what she is talking about. As far as waiting on some majestic messiah to fall from the clouds, I cannot speak too directly to that, other than to say, I personally am not and have not been waiting on anyone to lead; I have been waiting on justice to prevail. I would think waiting on justice in the United States of America with regard to its slave descendants is also a very wasteful pursuit, just one I deem less wasteful of resources than waiting on the Black Messiah if it ain’t a record being recorded by D’angelo.
Given that Winfrey obviously has no clue about what she is talking about, as a Black Media Analyst and thus semiotician, I do now wish to question why the hell is she talking about this at all…