Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Black Lives Matter

It is disgraceful that in the twenty-first century, a hundred and fifty years after emancipation and fifty years after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws, a movement asserting that “Black Lives Matter” should have to arise. Yet opposition to racism remains a controversial position. The bigots, ashamed of their own attitudes, use more subterfuge now. Instead of speaking of “nigras” as the Southern politicians used to do, they claim to live in a post-racial world; they condemn “political correctness” and quotas and complain about of crime and welfare recipients, while saying “all lives matter.” But every American knows that unalloyed racism lies just beneath this rhetoric.

Though de jure segregation and explicitly white supremacist language are obsolete, the United States remains a country bound by structural and institutional racism. I have encountered college freshmen who honestly feel that discrimination is a thing of the past. Often, accompanying this conviction lurks the notion that in fact minorities now enjoy an advantage. Such resentment flies in the face of all available evidence, including studies that consistently show that a white person who reports having just been released from prison will receive a job in preference to a black with equivalent education and experience who reports no criminal history. Inner city neighborhoods are worse off by many measures than they were before the civil rights era due to the exit of members of the black middle class who departed as soon as they were able to purchase homes in the suburbs. In terms of drug addiction, incarceration, single parent households, and welfare dependence these areas are significantly more depressed than they once were. [1] As a teacher in a New York State prison my entire class was often made up of men of color. In average social conditions, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, indeed, in every significant way, blacks are in a position statistically inferior to whites. Anyone with open eyes and an objective mind can see these things.

This in no way denies the opportunities available to middle class and academically well-qualified blacks which are indeed far greater than in the segregationist past. But for the majority of blacks conditions have not improved in the least. Contact with the (largely) white working class in police departments across the country is only a flashpoint for this far more general and significant rule. Though the real enemy sits in the corporate board room and the police are merely the minions of the powers that be, it is on the level of the street that society’s contradictions become manifest. Of course security is the first requirement for civil life and black grandmothers need to be able to go to the market without worrying about thugs. This hardly alters the fact that police in general, including black police, do not do their job in a color-blind way and that needless harassment, arrests, and the use of excessive force are all too common. White progressives are well acquainted with behavior from law enforcement ranging from crude to sadistic and illegal. And yet the malefactors are protected not only by their more well-behaved colleagues, but also by politicians and juries because of their uniforms.

The fact is that, however well-meaning an individual may be, a white person in America inevitably benefits from white skin privilege. This unfair edge has nothing to do with individual integrity and everything to do with social norms. One can shed money but not this socially institutionalized advantage. Further, contrary to sentimentalist rhetoric about racism arising from ignorance and being a matter for the individual conscience, personal feelings about race are almost irrelevant to the social problem. Overt racism flourishes in fact in those poor white neighborhoods that find themselves physically adjacent to black areas where workers feel they compete for jobs with blacks. Suburbanites in economically segregated districts can afford to be unprejudiced (except when it comes to workplace decisions). In my view Lester Maddox was entitled to shun black dinner guests in his home and to attempt to dissuade his son from marrying an African-American but he could not refuse to serve any individual in his public restaurant. It is social guarantees like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the middle sixties that transform society, not spiritual awakenings.

As a lifelong white anti-racist I think the crisis at this moment is sufficiently heightened that all people of good will must stand in public together. If only the many groups that fail to get a fair shake under American capitalism today, the workers, women, national minorities, gay, immigrant, the poor, the sick, the young and the old, if all these were to stand together, what might not be won? It is time to join hands in a real rainbow coalition. [2]

1. In the same way, sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of South Africa, always a special case) has regressed in terms of education and health standards from late colonial days.

2. This term, later coopted by Jesse Jackson, was first used in the late sixties to describe the program of the Illinois Black Panther Party which sought solidarity in Chicago with the Puerto Rican Young Lords and with such white activists as the Young Patriots, Rising Up Angry, and SDS.

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