Category Archives: racism

How Much Truth Can you Stand?

 

Nietzsche did not always get it right, but sometimes he hit the mark dead on. He hit the mark when he said, “a man’s worth is determined by how much truth he can stand.” But sometimes the truth is just hard to bear. That’s why it’s worth so much.

What Nietzsche said about individuals is also true of countries–their worth too depends on how much truth they can stand and frankly, most of them can’t stand very much. The United States and Canada are pretty good examples.

After the storming of the Capitol, the so-called sacred hall of American democracy, Joe Biden had this to say in his calm reassuring tone of voice so pleasant after 4 years of Trump’s hysterics:

“Let me be absolutely clear, the scenes of chaos in the Capitol do not reflect the true character of America; do not represent who we are.”

Is he right? Violence for political ends is particularly American. Entitled white men demanding their rights, while denying those of so many others is exactly who they are. People harbouring crazy beliefs without evidence is what Americans do best. Did you see the Qanon Shaman in the video of the Capitol under siege dressed in animal skins, a fur hat with horns, spear, face painted in the colours of the American flag, shirtless chest covered with hostile looking tattoos, chanting “USA’ over and over again with his fellow rabble-rousers? He looked pretty American. Where else could he be from?

 

A host of politicians and pundits after the rampage repeated “We are better than this,” or “This is not who we are.” I beg to differ. This is exactly who they are.

The New York Times posted an amazing video that did tell the truth. It said no one should be surprised at what happened. The speaker on the video pointed out the pictures in the rotunda behind the occupiers. They showed American soldiers (or at least their British ancestors) forcing native American women and children to submit to their dominance. The speaker on the video said,

“We have always been like this. America is a nation built on stolen land by stolen people. And if the rampage feels historic it’s because violence is in our national DNA. A mob razed a whole block in Philadelphia because they didn’t like the election results.”

 

America is a country where as soon as slaves were freed the rules of elections were changed to ensure that their voting would never disturb the real American choices made by their white superiors. It is a country where people don’t really believe in democracy at all, but they love to brag about it. They don’t believe in democracy because they only want the votes their own side to count. Where districts are twisted into impossible shapes so that the votes of opponents don’t count so much.

As the Times video said,

“And for the purest expression of the American way, just look at the man responsible for Wednesday’s violence–the man who leads by Twitter who knows that if you have enough money they’ll let you do anything. He told us who he was and we picked him, because this is exactly who we are. America the land of the snake oil salesman.”

 

You think snake oil is too harsh? Does that not describe the president who said he would lead the group of insurgents into the Capitol and then returned instead to the comfort of the White House to watch the proceedings on his big screen television?

To say, as Biden did, that the scene of chaos at the Capitol does not describe them is absolutely false. It is an uncomfortable truth, but as the Times video said, his “platitudes spin a fantasy as absurd as Qanon.” It is painful to admit but America prefers fantasies to hard truths. As the video pointed out,

“We can only realize our strengths if we stop whitewashing our sins. We are a nation forged in racist violence. A society that values wealth over wisdom. A country where personal ambitions mean more than morality. Masked with false piety where citizens wreak havoc with the very institutions that enable them.”

 

Now there is a new president. Many look to him as their saviour. I love Joe Biden. He’s dull, he’s boring, and I hope he won’t be a strong leader. That’s my kind of leader. But unlike Nietzsche, Biden got it wrong. He got it all wrong when he said, “this is not America.”

I am not saying this everything they are. The are fine people on both sides. Americans are also people who work together to get things done, giving a helping hand to a fallen friend, or even in some cases, a fallen foe. But these other Americans seem to have been silent for so long. Where were they when they elected a mean-spirited, cruel, and relentless bigot?

Not that Canadians are very different let me hasten to add. We have built this country by stealing land from the inhabitants contrary to promises we have not fulfilled. Often Canadians do this without resorting to war. We often have subtler and more corrupt ways of doing the same thing. We have sent  Indigenous children to schools where they were brutally assaulted in the name of “civilization” and “religion.” We are governed by unjustified beliefs as much as our neighbours to our south. Our claims to piety ring hollow. Just as it does for the Americans.

The video claims that everything we saw on January 6, as ugly as it was, was exactly who they are— because it’s the product of what they have always been. Until Americans and Canadian face that truth, we’ll never change it.

 

Ignorance Allied with power is a ferocious enemy of justice

If a person gives up on evidence, he or she gives up on truth. If, for example, faith is the foundation of belief one can only convince another of the truth of that belief if that other person shares the same faith. A Muslim cannot convince a Christian of a statement of faith. Similarly a Christian cannot convince the Muslim of a statement of faith either. A Muslim could persuade a Christian that the book in her bag is red by opening the bag and showing it to the Christian. In other words by showing the evidence to the Christian, the Christian can be convinced that the book is in fact red. If we give up basing beliefs on evidence we will relegate a lot of claims to realm of faith where agreement will not be possible.

The same goes for hunches. For example, when Trump said he had a hunch that the coronavirus would soon disappear that would not convince anyone, other than a person who had faith in Trump. Many of them had that faith so he could persuade them. They would believe him no matter how likely it was that he was right. That is why evidence is better than faith, or hunches, or feelings, or gut reactions. Faith is all right in our personal lives. In social lives where we live and interact with each other we need evidence.

Without evidence then the world of shared facts shrinks dramatically. The only shared facts then are those between members of the same faith, or between people who have the same feeling, or the same hunch. As result of the world of shared facts having shrunk many more people are ignorant than otherwise should be the case. That is an unfortunate consequence of abandoning evidence. And there is another consequence of that.

When people in power are ignorant, the rest of us had better look out. As James Baldwin said, in his 1972 book No Name in the Street: “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

 In the summer of 2020 we saw a good example of this when Black Lives Matter and their supporters took to the streets to protest police brutality against black lives and the long history of black oppression.

 

As Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, recently pointed out: Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.”

Trump allied himself with right wing groups who wanted to maintain confederate flags and monuments so that racial bigotry and hatred could be legitimized. By doing so Trump tried to hide the roots of racism. In other words he allied himself with ignorance, as he has so often done. As a result the streets of America were made much more dangerous that summer than they ought to have been. He did that after all to emphasize to his base of white supremacists and their conscious and unconscious supporters that he was on their side. It is hardly surprising that he would do this in the midst of a tight election campaign. As Henry Giroux said, “After all, his white supremacist ideology is the cornerstone of his appeal to the reactionary and bigoted elements of his base.”

For exactly the same reason Trump got angry with NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. It was what Giroux called “organized forgetting”. And when that is aligned with the most powerful office in the world, the American Presidency, that is, as Baldwin said, the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

Trump also proudly tweeted that critical race theory should be banned from all federal agencies because “this is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue . Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish! ” People should be ignorant instead. That was more congenial with Trump’s ideology–white supremacy.

He also tweeted “How to be anti-white 101 permanently cancelled.” Really what he wanted to do is erase history. He wanted to show just the good parts. The parts that exalted whiteness. I am not saying whites are all bad. I am just saying they were not all good, and to suggest otherwise is a lie and an attempt to bury the truth. It is an attempt to entrench ignorance.

Giroux described it this way:

“Trump’s ignorance floods the Twitter landscape daily. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, discredits scientific evidence in the face of a massive pandemic, claims that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the United States and mangles history with his ignorance of the past.”

Implicit in Baldwin’s warning is that the greatest threat to democratic societies is a collective ignorance that legitimizes forms of organized forgetting, social amnesia and the death of civic literacy.

Under the Trump regime, historical amnesia is used as a weapon of miseducation, politics and power. Trump wants to erase the struggles of those who fought for justice in the past because they offer dangerous memories and lessons to the protesters marching in the streets today.

Efforts to erase the progress of the past, including emancipation, is a centrepiece of authoritarian societies. These efforts cause public memory to wither and the threads of authoritarianism to take root and become normalized. They’re often accompanied by a broader attack on critical education, civic literacy, investigative journalists and the critical media.

When people stop looking at the evidence, they stop looking for the truth and they allow ignorance to rule. And that helps injustice to flourish. And that is an ugly thing.

Not happy with American Election

 

People asked me if I was happy about the elections results of 2020, The answer is obvious—of course I was. But am I satisfied? Not by a long shot!

In the 2020 presidential election of 2020 approximately 73 million Americans voted for Donald Trump after seeing him on television and reading about him every single day. No person in the history of the world has become more famous or well known. Trump can bask in that thought. That is what narcissists  and demagogues do.

No American can say they were deceived about who Trump was. Trump cannot hold back because he always thinks he can sell us on his narrative. That is what he did his whole life as a real estate developer. Every American knew exactly who they were voting for. And who did they vote for? This is not a pretty picture.

 

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew had lied to them about the severity of Covid-19 pandemic because he did not want to alarm them. So he lied instead, thus lulling them into a false sense of security so they failed to take precautions to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the communities in which they lived.

 

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew was a white nationalist who refused to renounce white supremacy and instead asked the Proud boys to ‘Stand back and stand by” a call that they accepted as an endorsement.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew voted for president who mocked handicapped people.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they who they knew thought that because he was a star he could freely grope any woman he met.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew  tried to pressure a foreign country (the Ukraine) to do him a personal favor of investing one of his political opponents by withholding funds that had been approved by Congress and which the Ukraine needed to protect itself from Russia.

Approximately 74 million Americans voted for a president they knew claimed that as president he could do whatever he wanted fo nothing he did was illegal.

Approximately 73 million Americans voted for a president they knew abandoned long time American allies (the Kurds) who were under attack by the Turks, thus forcing them to turn to Russia for protection, proving that “these colors run” contrary to American propaganda.

What does this say about America?   That is the real question.

 

Over Representation of Indigenous people in Canadian jails and prisons.

 

In April 1988, the Manitoba Government created the Public Inquiry into the Administration of Justice and Aboriginal People, commonly known as the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (‘AJI’). The co-Chairs of the AJI were Associate Chief Justice Hamilton of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Judge Murray Sinclair at the time the Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court. Murray Sinclair later served as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is now a Senator of Canada.

The Inquiry was created in response to two main incidents:

  • the trial in November 1987 of two men for the 1971 murder of Helen Betty Osborne in The Pas. Allegations were made that the identity of four people present at the killing was known widely in the community shortly after the murder.
  • The death (March 1988) of J.J. Harper, executive director of the Island Lake Tribal Council, following an encounter with a Winnipeg police officer. Many people, particularly in the Aboriginal community, believed many questions about the incident were left unanswered by the police service’s internal investigation.

The Inquiry issued its report in the fall of 1991. I was a bencher of the Law Society of Manitoba at the time. The Law Society is the governing body of the legal profession of Manitoba tasked with regulating the legal profession in the interests of the people of Manitoba. I am not proud to say what our governing body did with that report after it was delivered in 1991. The short answer is not much. Our inaction is part of the problem. I understand that now. I did not really appreciate it then, as did few of my colleagues.

The report of the AJI was one of the first reports to draw serious attention to the over representation of indigenous people in Manitoba’s jails and prisons. Almost 30 years later on the CBC radio program The Sunday Edition, which aired on August 2, 2020, guest host Elamin Abdelmahmoud asked Murray Sinclair, now a Senator, some pointed questions. He asked him this, “Senator you were one of the first judges to write about the over representation of indigenous people within the criminal justice system. You did this way back in the 1990s. Why has so little changed this since?”

The answer might surprise you. It surprised me. This is what he said in reply,

“Actually there has been quite a significant change, but the change has been upwards. When we reported on the over representation of indigenous people, the number of indigenous people in provincial jails in Manitoba was just around 60%. About 62%. Now it’s over 77%! And in the case of indigenous women represented about 78% of those who are incarcerated in the case of the AJI report, now its well over 90%! And youth numbers have gone up as well.”

Of course even these glaring figures don’t tell the whole story. In Manitoba  75% of all prisoners are indigenous and across Canada indigenous people make up a 25% of the prison population despite the fact that they represent only 4% of the country’s population. I think the percentage is about 11% in Manitoba.

Not only is this horrendous we have to understand the intergenerational impact of locking up so many indigenous people. Some more shocking numbers might make that clear too. Whether or not indigenous children themselves get involved with the Canadian justice system, indigenous children are 12 times more likely to have their family life disrupted by an agency of government such as a police officer or Child Welfare officer or some official who shows up at their house and takes somebody away or threatens to do so. These are horrendous disruptions and affect children powerfully. As Senator Sinclair said,

“You become the subject of a social control system virtually from the time that you are born until the time you yourself become an adult. So that impact is quite dramatic. You basically come to dislike or distrust those agencies who are doing that because as a child first of all you don’t understand what is going on, but more importantly you often get to resent it because you know that the person being dealt with often is a person that you don’t want taken away and you don’t want to lose in your live and yet you do. Or you yourself get taken out of the household and you don’t want that to happen and you know that things can always be fixed if only somebody would do the right thing and help the family”

Helping families is that not what it should be about?

Does anyone out there suggest that such massive over representation of indigenous people in jails  and prisons is a sign of systemic racism? Is there any other reasonable explanation?

Racism without Racists

 

In recent times in Canada and the US police have got in big trouble because of inconvenient videos of them in action. Often in fact they show them in disgraceful action.

Nicholas Kristof one of my favorite journalists asked an interesting question in a New York Times opinion piece. He asked, ‘what would happen if there were no videos’?

He pointed out that the recent video of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee and full weight on the neck of George Floyd showed racism at its ugly worst. Kristof pointed out that,

“Racism in that video is as visceral as a lynching. Yet there is no viral video to galvanize us about other racial inequities:

  • There is no video to show that a black boy born today in Washington, D.C., Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or a number of other states has a shorter life expectancy than a boy born in Bangladesh or India.

  • There’s no video to show that black children still are often systematically shunted to second-rate schools and futures, just as they were in the Jim Crow era. About 15 percent of black or Hispanic students attend so-called apartheid schools that are less than 1 percent white.

  • There’s no video to show that blacks are dying from the coronavirus at more than twice the rate of whites, or that a result of the recent mass layoffs is that, as of last month, fewer than half of African-American adults now have a job.”

That’s the problem. Racism is more difficult to see when it is systemic racism. I have called this invisible racism. That does not mean it is not there. The evidence is actually overwhelming as I have been trying to show, but it is convenient for those in power and who are privileged by the current system not to notice it. As a result this form of racism is actually much more dangerous than the visceral kind inflicted by the Minneapolis police officer. It inflicts damage not only on an individual but all people of color. “Even when racism doesn’t go viral, it’s still deadly.”

Bobby Kennedy agreed. This is what he said,

There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 shortly before his assassination. “This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat.”

 

Kristof marshals some of this evidence:


“Health statistics bear that out. A black newborn in the United States is twice as likely to die in infancy as a white newborn and a black woman is two and half times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a white woman.”

 

We have very similar statistics in Canada. We have been afflicted with the same disease–systemic or institutional racism.

Michelle A. Williams the dean of Harvard School of Public Health, explained it well,

Racism is nothing short of a public health crisis, That reality is palpable not just in the scourge of police violence that disproportionately kills black Americans, but in the vestiges of slavery and segregation that have permeated the social determinants of health…Racism has robbed black Americans from benefiting from the advancements they’ve fought for, bled for and died for throughout history. That reality manifests in myriad ways — from underfunded schools to the gutting of health care and social programs, to financial redlining, to mass incarceration, to voter suppression, to police brutality and more. And it is undeniably harming health and prematurely ending black lives.”

Here is a shocking statement from the American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, “Structural racism is more harmful to the health and well-being of children than infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”

Kristof also pointed out how Sociologists like Orlando Patterson have explained that ,

“while whites increasingly have progressive views about race in general, they often still favor public policies that disadvantage African-Americans. For example, they may oppose multi-occupancy housing in their affluent suburbs, reducing affordable housing and perpetuating segregation. Or they may support a broken local funding system for education that results in apartheid schools.”

This attitude is  what Trump recently pandered to when he promised white Americans that their dreams of a suburban lifestyle was safe with him because he would ensure that Obama era regulations prohibiting federal funds from supporting discriminatory housing in the US would be eliminated. His supporters knew exactly what this meant. African-Americans would no longer be encouraged to move into “their” neighbourhoods.

 

That is why American public schools achieved maximum integration in 1988 and have been dropping ever since, as demonstrated by Rucker Johnson a Professor of public policy at the University of California and author of the book, Children of the Dream.

As Kristof pointed out,

“Structural racism doesn’t easily go viral, but it is deadly. A recent study of insurance records found that when blacks and whites with Covid-19 symptoms like a fever and cough sought medical help, blacks were less likely to be given a coronavirus test.

I wonder about doctors who didn’t get black patients tested — or officials who didn’t allocate tests to clinics in black neighborhoods. I’m sure many were well-meaning and had no idea that they were discriminating. But unconscious racial bias is widespread, resulting in what the scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has called “racism without racists.”

 

There is some astonishing evidence to support this. Researchers have learned that professional baseball umps are more likely to call strikes when they are of the same race as the pitcher! Of course this benefits the whites more since there are more white pitchers. Basketball refs are more likely to call personal fouls against players of a race other than their own. Funny how that happens? Not!

Systemic racism is real and it is dangerous to society. It can be changed but we must muster the political will. As a result it may require us not to focus on violent protesters and look instead at their legitimate grievances. It can be done.

Racism the Old-Fashioned Way

 

As Donald Trump considered ways he could postpone the election of 2020 after he fell badly behind Joe Biden  in the polls, Trevor Noah said, “He’s just going to have to win the election the old-fashioned way–by  using racism.” Sadly that is so true. That is how politicians in America and Canada have won elections for generations. Canada’s first Prime Minister did it too.

Recently, Trump rolled back an Obama rule that tried to cutback on racial discrimination in housing projects with federal support. The Obama rule forced local governments who received federal support for low income housing to look at patterns of racial discrimination and make plans to eliminate it. It was really quite simple, but Trump saw an opportunity to appeal to his base.

This what Trump said in a tweet, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.” A few hours later he replied to a response, …”Your housing prices will to up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden Rule. Enjoy!”

Later in a speech he said, “I have seen conflict for years. It’s been hell for suburbia. We rescinded the rule 3 days ago so enjoy your life ladies and gentlemen.”

Appealing to suburban voters, Trump had this to say about his rollback: “There will be no more low income forced into the suburbs. I abandoned took away and just rescinded the rule.” As Trevor Noah analyzed it, correctly in my view,

Just in case it isn’t very clear, Trump is saying he is going to stop black people from moving into white people’s neighborhoods. It’s not even subtle enough to call that a dog whistle–it’s too loud. It’s like a dog  megaphone.

As the Daily show suggested, “to some white people, the scariest N-word is “neighbor.”

Racism without Racists

 

In recent times in Canada and the US police have got in big trouble because of inconvenient videos of them in action. Often in fact they show them in disgraceful action. Nicholas Kristof one of my favorite journalists asked an interesting question in a New York Times opinion piece. He asked, ‘what would happen if there were no videos’?

He pointed out that the recent video of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee and full weight on the neck of George Floyd showed racism at its ugly worst. Kristof pointed out that,

“Racism in that video is as visceral as a lynching. Yet there is no viral video to galvanize us about other racial inequities:

  • There is no video to show that a black boy born today in Washington, D.C., Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or a number of other states has a shorter life expectancy than a boy born in Bangladesh or India.
  • There’s no video to show that black children still are often systematically shunted to second-rate schools and futures, just as they were in the Jim Crow era. About 15 percent of black or Hispanic students attend so-called apartheid schools that are less than 1 percent white.
  • There’s no video to show that blacks are dying from the coronavirus at more than twice the rate of whites, or that a result of the recent mass layoffs is that, as of last month, fewer than half of African-American adults now have a job.”

 

That’s the problem. Racism is more difficult to see when it is systemic racism. I have called this invisible racism. That does not mean it is not there. The evidence is actually overwhelming as I have been trying to show, but it is convenient for those in power and who are privileged by the current system and this form of racism is actually much more dangerous than the visceral kind inflicted by the Minneapolis police officer. It inflicts damage not only on individual but all people of color. “Even when racism doesn’t go viral, it’s still deadly.”

Bobby Kennedy agreed. This is what he said,

There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 shortly before his assassination. “This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat.”

Kristof marshals some of this evidence,”Health statistics bear that out. A black newborn in the United States is twice as likely to die in infancy as a white newborn and a black woman is two and half times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a white woman.’

We have very similar statistics in Canada. We have been inflicted with the same disease–systemic or institutional racism.

Michelle A. Williams the dean of Harvard School of Public Health, explained it well,

Racism is nothing short of a public health crisis, That reality is palpable not just in the scourge of police violence that disproportionately kills black Americans, but in the vestiges of slavery and segregation that have permeated the social determinants of health…Racism has robbed black Americans from benefiting from the advancements they’ve fought for, bled for and died for throughout history. That reality manifests in myriad ways — from underfunded schools to the gutting of health care and social programs, to financial redlining, to mass incarceration, to voter suppression, to police brutality and more. And it is undeniably harming health and prematurely ending black lives.”

Here is a shocking statement from the American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, “Structural racism is more harmful to the health and well-being of children than infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”

Kristof also pointed out how Sociologists like Orlando Patterson have noted that,

“while whites increasingly have progressive views about race in general, they often still favor public policies that disadvantage African-Americans. For example, they may oppose multi-occupancy housing in their affluent suburbs, reducing affordable housing and perpetuating segregation. Or they may support a broken local funding system for education that results in apartheid schools.”

This is exactly what Trump recently pandered to when he promised white Americans that their dreams of a suburban lifestyle was safe with him because he would ensure that Obama era regulations prohibiting federal funds from supporting discriminatory housing in the US would be eliminated. His supporters knew exactly what this meant. African-Americans would no longer be encouraged to move into their neighbourhoods.

 That is why American public schools achieved maximum integration in 1988 and have been dropping ever since, as demonstrated by Rucker Johnson a Professor of public policy at the University of California and author of the book, Children of the Dream.

As Kristof pointed out,

“Structural racism doesn’t easily go viral, but it is deadly. A recent study of insurance records found that when blacks and whites with Covid-19 symptoms like a fever and cough sought medical help, blacks were less likely to be given a coronavirus test.

I wonder about doctors who didn’t get black patients tested — or officials who didn’t allocate tests to clinics in black neighborhoods. I’m sure many were well-meaning and had no idea that they were discriminating. But unconscious racial bias is widespread, resulting in what the scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has called “racism without racists.”

 

There is some astonishing evidence to support this. Researchers have learned that professional baseball umps are more likely to call strikes when they are of the same race as the pitcher! Of course this benefits the white more since there are more white pitchers. Basketball refs are more likely to call personal fouls against player of a race other than their own. Funny how that happens? Not!

Systemic racism is real and it is dangerous to society. It can be changed but we must muster the political will. As a result it may require us not to focus on violent protesters and look instead at their legitimate grievances. It can be done.

 

Revolutionary Violence

 

Martin Luther King made an important point that those in power don’t often enough listen to. That is that even though he famously did not support violent tactics, by ignoring legitimate protests the people in power make violence inevitable. As a result the powerful become the real authors of the violent change they claim to abhor. King argued that the way to stop violent protest was to take seriously the calls for justice. All those in power have to agree to do is share power. When they refuse to share power, or design the system they control to such an extent that peaceful change becomes impossible they are to blame for the violent change that inevitably arises.

The way to stop riots is to acknowledge and then fix the conditions that rioters were rioting against and until they do that durable peace will not happen. This is not limited to racism. It applies to all injustice controlled by those in power.

King led the protests of the 1960s and today the same arguments he faced against violent protests are being levied against Black Lives Matter. As opinion columnist of The Guardian Nesrine Malik said,

“Today, it is the Black Lives Matter movement that is being discredited for not staying in its lane; for refusing to “quit while they’re still ahead”, in the words of one broadsheet columnist. But protests happen in the first place because the “proper channels” have failed – in some cases, because previous protests have also failed…When a statue falls, you don’t see the years of campaigning and lobbying and writing that went before it, and came to nothing. When Extinction Rebellion occupies central London, you don’t see the power – corporate lobbyists, complacent politicians, indifferent bureaucrats – that marginalised these concerns for so long that activists knew there was no other way.”

I too want to see non-violent protests. I am opposed to violence. Yet at the same time I believe that when peaceful protests are continuously ignored the cause of the violence is the fault of the entrenched interests.

I am reminded of the legal concept of entrapment. When courts are convinced that a crime has really in essence been created by the police rather than the criminal, the accused will be found not guilty, even though the accused did commit an illegal act. This is common in drug offences, where police officers work hard to convince “pushers” to sell the drugs to them. Courts have held that in such circumstances the trafficker has really created the crime not the “criminal.”

As Malik said,

“The very nature of being excluded from the spaces in which decisions are made means that the process of managing grievances is already rigged against you. The very position of black people as always appellants, never adjudicators, means that every protest will soon enough be denigrated as violent or disruptive. Their demands will always be dismissed as unreasonable, their priorities confused, their methods off-putting to erstwhile allies.”

Those in power are usually conservatives because they like things the way they are. Who wouldn’t when they have the power? However, such entrenched interests will not be able forever to capture the process of change for their own benefit. They have tried hard to accomplish that, but inevitably in time their efforts will fail. They should fail and they will fail. The rules must be fair. They must permit all sides to be heard not just the side of the powerful. Until that is done, their demands to follow the rules of protest will be ignored. Yet inevitably, the powerful insist that the rules of peaceful protest must be followed, but cannot they do so without permitting their opponents to have a say as well. As Malik said,

“And these rules must be respected – because conservatives will always hold them up to stymie any change, and because liberals are afraid to admit that most of our rules and norms are neither definitive nor universally observed. They are afraid to shatter the illusion and face the reality that so many of these rules are, in fact, broken all the time by people who can get away with it: tax avoiders, labour exploiters, vote manipulators. And so it is those who cannot get away with breaking the rules who are told they must uphold what is left of this order; it is their responsibility to ensure that the slope does not get too slippery and allow us all to slide into chaos.

But as long as concessions have to be prised from the hands of the establishment, rather than reasonably handed over, we cannot live without slippery slopes. Our history may, in time, bless some riots; but it also sands the rough edges off many others, expunging the anger of martyrs and revolutionaries and telling us that their victories, over slavery or Jim Crow, were the benign gift of those masters whose morality carried the day.

Today’s movements for equality are expected to resemble the dramatised depictions of their sainted predecessors – conveniently forgetting the calumnies heaped upon Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, from enemies and would-be “allies” alike. Random quotes from black icons are cherry-picked out of context from the past and waved in front of the protesters of the present, in an attempt to shame them into the most timid form of political activism possible.”

Protesters should be careful. They may turn the public against their cause by their tactics. Donald Trump is counting on that. He might be right. Violent protests helped to get Richard Nixon elected in 1968. It might happen again in 2020 in the US. Yet protesters should not be so cautious that they guarantee ineffectiveness. People in power will not give up their grip on power by timid entreaties. But when and how far should they go? Here is Malik’s view:

“The premise of change is that risks and chances need to be taken. And the movements that will be born from that demand will never be neat, and never have been. The effort to humanise black lives and win them the rights to safety and the dignity of equality may involve – among many other things – pulling down statues when it becomes clear that polite petitions and humble pleas to decolonise the curriculum will forever go unheard. Process by its very nature is conservative. To insist that the aggrieved must “follow the rules” or lose our support is to ignore the lessons of history. Many of the rights we now take for granted were won by people who knew when the time had come to give up on the establishment. Civil disobedience, strikes, riots and boycotts are not the hijacking of process: they are its continuation by other means.”

That is not an entirely unreasonable view.

I am opposed to violence and therefor  I insist that the powerful demonstrate they are willing to share power. Otherwise the violence will be on them.

 

Making Change Impossible

 

Conservatives and liberals must remember that, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” This is vitally important. In the United States for decades the America right wing has  worked with tireless diligence to suppress the vote of the disadvantaged. And they have been remarkably successful. They persuaded the American Supreme Court that voter suppression was no longer a serious issue despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Both Democrats and Republicans have worked tirelessly to gerrymander voting districts so the votes of those opposed to their interests were given less effective weight than those who supported them. Both parties have demonstrated a strong distaste for real democracy. Both want obedient voters. They want to choose their voters, rather than have the voters choose them.

As a result when liberals or conservative urge protesters to rely on the ballot box for change their arguments are understandably often met with disdain by the rebels. Republicans in particular have worked hard to make sure that the rebel  votes will be ineffective, leaving the rebels with no reasonable alternative other than rebellion that might turn unruly or worse.

That is why Martin Luther King reminded American whites that because they went too far they had created the situation were violent protest was almost inevitable. Although King was a remarkable advocate for peaceful protest he realized that white American had given the impression that power would never be shared and this impression was dangerous because it undercut those who urged peaceful protest. For years he had warned that the whites were making peaceful change impossible and that they would pay a huge price for that intransigence.

In 1966 King told Mike Wallace, “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro…I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

In the following years King expanded on this important idea when he made a speech at Stanford University:

“…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”

We have to remember that these sentiments apply not just to African-Americans but all people of colour in all countries. They apply as well African-Canadians and Indigenous Canadians. We heard the same arguments from Canadian conservatives who were opposed to indigenous blockades. In fact, these sentiments apply to all victims of injustice everywhere.

 

Who is really responsible for the violent protests?

Where the majority has made peaceful change impossible they become the parents of the violent change they claim not to want.

Don’t Boo. Vote

 

In 2016 Barack Obama during the 2016 American presidential election urged people “Don’t boo. Vote.” That’s often good advice.

Yet, as The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik suggested, this is a familiar approach that the established interests will not lose sleep over. They know they can handle that approach. It won’t often bring about big changes, because as Trump truthfully said, but not in the sense he was suggesting, “the game is rigged.” The entrenched interests, particularly in the United States have for decades made sure that the votes of resisters are not fairly counted. As Malik in a subsequent Guardian article said,

‘It is a familiar reproach. If you’re angry, don’t boo, don’t protest, don’t take matters into your own hands. Vote, lobby, report to the authorities, trust the process. It’s the appeal of reasonable liberals and the rebuke of rightwingers. It is the refrain that rings out when demands for justice “go too far.”

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this year, entrenched interests quickly turned the attention of the public from the issues being protested to the manner of the protests. The public was widely persuaded that the issues were vandalism, destruction of property, and anarchy, not racial injustice. That was precisely the agenda of law and order of the president Donald Trump. As Malik said about the United Kingdom, but as could just as easily be said of the US,

“it’s easier to talk about the lawless mobs tearing down statues than the crimes these monuments commemorate… But this is nothing new. What we rarely hear about all the great revolutions of the past is that they too looked at first like spontaneous uprisings against the existing order – and they too were subject to charges of anarchy, reckless violence, puritanical revenge. So much so that the economist Albert Hirschman described the demand to “follow the process” as “the first reaction” whenever the threat of real change is on the horizon.”

 

Many people fear revolutions, not entirely without justification of course. As Marx reminded, revolutions are not conducted like Sunday schools . They are scary and the American president is an expert at magnifying the fears of the American electorate. As a result many felt he over-reacted to what were largely peaceful protests. As the mayor of Portland said, “he poured fuel on the flames.”

Ever since the French Revolution it has become easy to trigger fears at the mere suggestion of revolution. Yet, it must never be forgotten that revolutions have also brought about radical change for the good. We must remember the good and the bad. Few Americans would want to reverse anything about the American Revolution. The French celebrate the French Revolution. And both of those revolutions were unruly and even violent. As Malik said,

“The first accounts of the French revolution made no distinction between its positive and negative aspects – collapsing its moral position and its violent manifestations into one. The result was that, for a long time, it was defined and smeared by its excesses. It was only the passage of time that transformed it into “a riot blessed by history”, as Gary Younge puts it.”

Sometime you gotta boo.