Sunday, May 03, 2015

Baltimore and America's running sore

A recent report states that in March 2014 alone, police encounters in the United States resulted in 111 killings, twice as many as were killed by British police in the entire 20th century. U.S. police disproportionately and excessively target minorities at traffic stops, and U.S. courts disproportionately and excessively convict minorities of crimes.(...) The city’s chief of police resigned following a string of outrages, including the discovery of racist emails circulated within his police department that suggested Barack Obama “would not be president for very long because what black man holds a steady job for four years.”(...) While Wall Street stocks won’t take a hit from the riots in Baltimore, the image of the United States as a free, fair, and prosperous land for all certainly does. Some 150 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, the United States has not overcome its reprehensible domestic legacy of racism. Foreign Policy
Poverty is a global problem, but how it affects young people’s sense of hope and well-being is not universal. Teenagers in Baltimore face poorer health and more negative outlooks than those in urban centers of Nigeria, India and China. That’s what we discovered in a study we published last year (...) witnessing community violence and having a low sense of social support may be especially relevant in determining the health and well-being of adolescents in disadvantaged urban environments. That feeling of a lack of social support extended to law enforcement. Shockingly, over 80 percent of Baltimore youth in our study had little or no trust in the police, the justice system, the broader government, or other public authorities.(...) Young people progress through schools without learning the skills sufficient to obtain living wages. Single parents must work two or three jobs to feed and shelter their families. Young people grow up without any successful role models. The result is that everyday life for some of these young people is so traumatic that the rates of PTSD match those of combat veterans.(emphasis mine) Washington Post 
One of the most pleasant things about being an American expatriate is escaping from daily exposure to America's endless racial tension. Billie Holiday said that to be black in America was like going through life wearing shoes one size too small, but it could be said that, for white America, playing life-long the role of the "tight shoe" itself, causes them to share in much of that same discomfort.

This is a problem that cries out for very active social policies that in the context of today's political paralysis are totally utopian. As I have pointed out in a previous post, racism is a classic tool for distracting public opinion from such issues as climate change or raising taxes on the "one-percent".

Before we even begin to design remedies we have to recognize that the African-American experience is totally exceptional. The Washington Post article I have quoted above speaks of the "lack of social support" in the Baltimore ghetto... This is not some failing of the community itself, it has been built into the system since the days of slavery. A coherent, "supportive" community in the context of slavery would have meant resistance, rebellion and revolt. It was vital for slave owners (and those who have taken their place) to strip the Africans they owned of any sense of community.

This a basic difference from all other American ethnic groups.

Immigrants, in contrast to slaves, came to communities of their countrymen, landsmen, connazionali etc, so that a Sicilian immigrant to New York had the mafia to protect him, or the first generation  Hasidim from Russia and Poland could live and work, form stable families and raise children in the same city. All of them arrived with practically no knowledge of the language and customs of their new home, and thanks to their community life their children had a secure and supportive environment in which to learn the new language and culture and become successful.

It was vital for the very survival of slavery and even of the slave owners themselves that Africans never have such sense of unity and community. The proof of this is that in one of the few places in the Americas where such a community spirit from "the old country" ever existed among African slaves, Brazil, the most successful slave revolt of all took place: the "Bahia Revolt".
In the eastern state of Bahia, slaves made up about one third of the labor force. Understanding the origin of these slaves is very important to understanding how the revolt was so successful. Most of the slaves came either from Senegambia (on the western coast of Africa), or from the Bight of Benin (modern-day Benin, Togo, and Nigeria). The slaves from these areas were almost entirely Muslim. The Wolof and Mandinke people of Senegambia were entirely Muslim by the 1400s(...) Even as slaves they managed to carry on an Islamic community with imams (scholars), mosques, schools, and communal prayer. In the capital of Bahia, Salvador, where the revolt would take place, over 20 different mosques existed, being built by both Muslim slaves, and freedmen (former slaves who had gained freedom).(...) The Wolof, Mandinke, Hausa, Nupe, and Yoruba all spoke different languages. While some people have ignorant ideas about Africa being one monolithic entity, it is a diverse continent of different people, cultures, and nations. These Muslim slaves in Bahia were as diverse as a group of French, German, Russian, and Greek speakers. Despite their ethnic differences, the unifying factor between all of them was Islam. Islam provided them with a common language to speak (Arabic), common customs, dietary habits, and behaviors.(...) After the revolt, a general fear of Africans, particularly Muslims, gripped the people of Brazil. The Brazilian government passed laws that led to a mass deportation of Africans back to Africa. One of the original goals of the Bahia Revolt was to be returned to Africa, so this can be seen as a partial victory for the rebellion. (emphasis mine) Lost Islamic History
You can see that even today, for the "good and the great", anything that would unite the African-American community in violent resistance, such as the deaths of innocent black men, is to be avoided or waltzed around, and if necessary quashed...  I can't imagine that American police being given military equipment such as armed personal carriers, grenade launchers and machine guns is an accident.

(Irony alert!) Maybe they are afraid that young, American black men are going to convert to Islam en masse.

Well, you say, much progress has been made over the years, we have an African-American president, don't we? American universities have opened their doors to black students, haven't they? Many African-Americans have been able to enter the professions and no longer have to live in poor, segregated neighborhoods, do they?

Actually that is part of the problem. As the snippet from the Washington Post, quoted above, points out, today young people in the ghetto have no successful role models. Before the Civil Rights movement, say during the "Harlem Renaissance" of the 1920s, both the poor and the successful black people, artists, musicians, millionaires, cleaning ladies and shoeshine boys all lived together in the same neighborhood, in communities rich in identity. Now poor young black people are simply the lowest form of urban lumpen proletariat. Comparing contemporary hip-hop lyrics to the Soul Music of the 60s and 70s gives an idea of their growing alienation.

We should never forget that the victories of the Civil Rights Movement took place during the propaganda battles of the Cold War and Martin Luther King shrewdly staged his most important actions in Birmingham Alabama, where the brutal, idiot, police chief, Bull Connor gave Soviet propaganda those wonderful photos of police dogs savaging young black men: those images and hundreds of others offset dozens of tours that Louis Armstrong made mugging and grinning his way around the Iron Curtain countries; tours which the USIA periodically organized to prove how happy American black people were.

Something had to be done.

Measures were taken to minimize the damage and the cream was skimmed off the African-American community. However when Reverend King extended his reach to the poor and disadvantaged of other colors he was quickly snuffed.

Later in a feat of post-modern, bi-partisan triangulation, Hillary's husband, Bill, cut off the welfare checks to Reagan's "welfare queens", thus literally condemning countless young black men and women to death.

Getting back to utopia.
If they ever could be put into effect, what would those utopian, active social polices that might change this dynamic consist of?

In my opinion, for what it is worth, the most cost effective, constructive and liberating measure, which would probably show results in less than a decade, would be to support the endless, legendary struggle of hard working, African-American women to raise their children and keep them out of trouble.

What would that solution be?

Take French lessons.


Here is how it works:
In France, there is a heavily subsidized municipal daycare system, called la Crèche, which cares for children from three months to three years and it is here that the pace is set for a lifetime of attitudes. The Globe and Mail

(France) established a system of municipal, cooperative and parental creches equipped to take babies as young as three months, and opened pre-schools (maternelles) which every French child over the age of three (or even, outside big cities, two) could attend from 8.30am to 4.30pm with a half day on Wednesdays – for free. The Guardian

North of Paris, each morning, five days a week, Yacine and Sana, twin two-year-olds, come to the community crèche in Goutte d’Or, a working class neighborhood that has been home to generations of immigrants. Awaiting them are brightly coloured cubes they learn how to stack, and paint that they daub onto large sheets of paper. In large rooms and small corners, in daily rhythms that are carefully planned by a highly trained staff, Yacine and Sana play, eat and nap. The brother and sister have been coming to the crèche since they were three months old. Their elder sister Leila, now age five, came here before them.(...) The care the crèche offers is comprehensive, fusing health, nutrition and social services. In addition to doctors’ visits, there are regular sessions with teachers and psychologists. “Apart from its educational functions, the crèche plays a very important role in detecting and preventing children’s problems, which is especially crucial for families in difficult situations,” emphasizes the coordinator of the neighborhood crèches.  UNICEF

Finally France has an excellent universal preschool system, the ecole maternelle, where children are guaranteed a place from age 3 to 6. It runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. four days a week, and many maternelles offer a day care service after the school day ends. Here, kids learn all the important “soft skills” preschool provides as well as, in the final year, reading, writing, and basic math—preparing them for entry into the French primary school system. Slate
And it might even work politically in America eventually, because the family destroying effects of poverty are color blind and now, with the de-industrialization and Walmart+ization of the FIRE economy many working class white families are now as just fatherless, destructured, dysfunctional and headed by single women holding down several minimum wage jobs as many families headed by black women have been for quite some time.

In short:

Bringing the creche and the ecole maternelle to the USA might further empower American women and perhaps even more importantly bridge the political chasm between poor whites and poor blacks. Surely the starkest reality of progressive American politics is that there will never be a true left in the USA till poor white Americans and poor African-Americans join together to demand a new... (deal?) DS


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stunted said...

Now, Charleston…..the first response from the GOP presidential hopefuls, glad to be taking a break from shaming the Pope for daring to speak publicly about climate change, is to call for reinforcing gun rights. Nothing will ever change in regards to the cancerous racial discrimination in this paralised (and proud of its paralysis) country. Pathetic nation of cowards.

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