Tag Archives: resentment

The Crime of Birdwatching While Black

 

 

By now we have all heard about the case of the black birder and white woman of privilege in Central Park in New York City. Why do I call her a woman of privilege when I don’t really know her or her circumstances? It is because she automatically has a privilege solely by virtue of the colour of her skin, while the black man has a disadvantage solely on account of the different colour of his skin. That is what systemic racism is all about—conferring automatic unearned advantage to people of one colour and at the same time automatically conferring an undeserved disadvantage on people of another colour of skin. It was a perfect example of what I have been blogging about.

 

In that case Christian Cooper asked a white woman, Amy Cooper, with an unleashed dog, to please put the dog on a leash as the rules of the park required. As Christian Cooper explained in his short but fascinating piece on the incident in the Washington Post, “She refused — and, as shown in a video that went viral, she was soon calling the police and telling them an “African American man” was “threatening” her.”

This article is interesting for 2 very important reasons. First, it shows exactly how systemic racism works. Amy Cooper quickly and automatically reached for her phone while trying to hold on to her unleashed dog and quickly started to phone the police even though it was obvious to us watching the video that she was in no danger from this polite black man. Yet, presumably, she thought she was in danger. Why? It made no sense, but the fact is that white women are quick to sense danger around black men when they are alone. Even when the white women are the real danger to the black men! Just like the white woman in To Kill a Mockingbird. She feared and then blamed the innocent black man. As well, she automatically assumed she as a white woman would be believed and the black man would not be believed. That is because that is how it usually works in the United States (or Canada for that matter).

Both of these are excellent examples of how systemic racism works. White women should fear black men and white women will be believed when they make accusations against black men, even if they are entirely without foundation. A system of racism makes that happen.

In this case it did not work to the woman’s advantage, only because of the fact that the video showing clearly what happened went viral. Had it not been for the video this might have ended very differently. It would not be unreasonable to expect that the police on hearing that a white woman was threatened by a black man would come charging in with guns blazing to protect the innocent white woman from the black thug. That is exactly what you would expect.

Christian Cooper had some interesting things to say about the case in his article in the Washington Post. First, he said,

“…it’s a mistake to focus on this one individual. The important thing the incident highlights is the long-standing, deep-seated racial bias against us black and brown folk that permeates the United States — bias that can bring horrific consequences, as with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis later the same day I encountered Amy Cooper, or just small daily cuts.”

 

Christian Cooper got it right. Examine the system; not just the individual racist. That is the enemy you won’t see as easily. The important racism is not the racism of individuals, at least in comparison to the racism of the system. That is much more heinous because the system is always more powerful than the individual and because it is much harder to see. The system is usually invisible. The individual—the white woman with a dog and phone in this case—are highly visible and so is her venality.

Christian Cooper highlighted the important issue in this case:

“Why did Cooper so easily tap into that toxic racial bias in the heat of the moment when she was looking for a leg up in our confrontation? Why is it surprising to no one that the police might come charging to her aid with special vengeance on hearing that an African American was involved? And most important of all, how do we fix policing so that scenarios such as this are replaced by a criminal justice system that is truly just and equitable to black people?

Focusing on charging Amy Cooper lets white people off the hook from all that. They can scream for her head while leaving their own prejudices unexamined. They can push for her prosecution and pat themselves on the back for having done something about racism, when they’ve actually done nothing, and their own Amy Cooper remains only one purse-clutch in the presence of a black man away.”

 

Finally, I found one more thing important about Christian Cooper. He was a man without resentment. He recognized that it was “important to uphold the principle of law, and that those who try to turn racism to their advantage by filing false claims against a person of colour should be held accountable”, but he chose instead to “err on the side of compassion” on the theory that his attacker had suffered enough by losing her job while he had suffered no harm. I found that attitude remarkably inspiring. I wish I could err on the side of compassion more often. Christian Cooper showed me the way.

Why waste time talking about Trump?

 

Some have raised many important issues in messages to me as a result of my blogs. I could bore you with a long diatribe. I tend to that to people. So I will bore you with a shorter diatribe. Some will say not short enough. So be it.

To begin with, as has been suggested by others, I don’t think it is useful to waste a lot of time haranguing Donald Trump. Frankly, he is not worth it. Yet he is the American President and as we know, every time the US coughs Canada gets a cold. As well, it scares me just to think he has his finger on the nuclear button. And it is a big one you know. And it works.

More importantly, about 50 million people voted for him and many of those still like him.  This really scares me. Many people just want to see Trump go away. I do. But that will not end much. Who will those 50 million support the next time? Someone even worse? Trump is just a symptom of a disease.

I think Trump is a demagogue with authoritarian tendencies. Similar potential leaders have had significant support all over Europe. This is an international phenomenon.

If you have time, I urge you to read a marvelous (and short!) book by Timothy Snyder called On Tyranny. Snyder is an expert historian who is familiar with how tyrannies have arisen in the last century. Remember that Hitler was elected before he became a dictator. He did that by preying on the fears of people and finding scapegoats.

Part of the reason so many people voted for him, I believe, is that people, particularly in the US, have for more than a hundred years been accustomed to making important decisions without the benefit of reason. They have made decisions on the basis of faith, rather than reason. They are used to doing that.

Kurt Anderson has written a book on the subject called Fantasyland. So far I have just read a brief summary in Atlantic magazine. I am waiting for the paperback. Sometimes it hurts to be a cheap Menno. His thesis is that Americans have spent 500 years making important decisions on the basis of fantasies rather than reason. They believe on the basis of what they want to be true, rather than on the basis of what the evidence supports. Trump is just part of that process. Many people, particularly people who are unemployed or underemployed, believe Trump can help them, even though the evidence does not support that conviction. Yet they believe it. They have abdicated their reason.

A lot of people are in despair. Around the world. That is understandable given how the lot of most people has seriously deteriorated in the last 40 years, while the lot of the elites has risen sharply. Inequality has risen by astonishing amounts. Rich people have done amazingly well while ordinary people have seen their incomes decline.

The people who have not done well and daily see how well others have done, because the modern media makes sure that everyone knows, are filled with resentment. Resentment is an explosively dangerous force. It is blind to reason. Near home a few years ago a dairy farmer was mad at his wife who wanted a divorce and got so angry that he burned his barn down with all of the cows inside. And he did that  after cancelling his fire insurance. If he could not have it all no one else would have any of it. It was totally irrational. People consumed with resentment can do that.

About a year ago, a man in Alberta who was facing a divorce from his wife, murdered her and their children. If he could not have his family no one could. So he killed them all and then killed himself. Again it made no difference how irrational this was. People blinded by resentment can do that.

People in the modern world are not only resentful of their loss of money, and status, they are deeply insecure. Capitalists, as we all know, have been forced in recent recessions to lay off workers. That is hard and it is profoundly unnerving to those laid off. This has happened over and over again. As a result many people, particularly after the most recent recession feel a deep sense of insecurity. Even though capitalism has produced amazing wonders, it is deeply flawed if it needs to create such misery. Such a system is broken.

This has happened all over the world, but particularly in places like Appalachia, in the US. Many there are resentful and desperate. They justifiably gave up on both Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who can blame them? But they turned to an unlikely source for help. Donald Trump. A billionaire that had no empathy for them. As I have said before, “Trump has the empathy of a turnip.” But at least he heard them. Clinton was deaf. No wonder people turned to Trump over Clinton.

I have little doubt that his supporters will be disappointed in Trump. He is no savior. Voting for him was also deeply irrational. Many people in the United States wanted a personal wrecking ball who would destroy the system. I have met such people on my current trip to the United States. There are surprisingly many of such people. It did not matter who would be hurt by Trump’s actions. It did not matter that he would not help them. As we know he has done nothing for them. He has drastically reduced taxes on the wealthy and unsurprisingly very few people still believe that the way to help poor people is to give money to rich people. That is what Trump and many Republicans believe.

I am not trying to create class divisions as one person suggested to me. As Warren Buffet, hardly a leftwing radical, said, ‘for the past few decades we have been in a class war and my class has won. The rich people.’ The class war, if there is one, or was one, is over. Donald Trump is just the culmination of that process.

I fear that rich people in the US in particular have seized the government to their own advantage and are blind to the damage they have done. They have got temporary benefits as a result, but do not see how the resentment is building up and how dangerous that can be. How will the resentful people explode next time? Who will be the next wrecking ball? This is one of the reasons I say that capitalists are the greatest danger for capitalism.

I really think, the rich people have done a massive disservice to everyone–not the least to themselves! And not least to the system that brought them such prosperity. I am not a revolutionary. They are.