Our place in history ...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

May all who read these words refuse silence and inaction...

The criticism I receive from others for my views on race usually involve dismissive remarks about my appearance: When I lived in the African American Studies, and Native American Studies residence halls at Dartmouth, some would say, "You're not black," or "Your great grandmother might have been indigenous, but you're white." Before college, and every year since, every week of my life has involved some sort of comment about how I, "don't look Mexican," like my father.

Despite the fact that I do enjoy all of the privileges of light skin, of being a straight man, with an education, who now belongs to the middle class, and is not considered to be either underage or overweight, the prejudices of others have impacted certain aspects of my life and certain situational outcomes.

In high school I punched a student because he said, "You should thank God you're not a sh*t brown, greasy, fugly, taco sh*tt*ng border n*gg*r, wetback, beaner." I was suspended for my act of violence. But nothing happened to him. In graduate school I was physically attacked by a classmate following a heated discussion over the article "Dusty Baker Exposed," (The Justice, Brandeis University, October 21, 2003). The campus officer who took my statement did not believe that the student who attacked me made derogative remarks about my heritage, and then in the same breath made a series of comments about how my appearance did not match my name. Despite the fact that I never lifted a finger in my defense, the campus officers, the Dean, and the majority of the white students in my class, decided that both my attacker and I were, "equally responsible" for what occurred. And despite his act of violence, nothing happened to him.

Over the last decade, cops who have pulled me over in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Illinois, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, have made cracks about my name, and in an impolite manner, asked me where I'm, "from," despite the fact that they are holding my valid, current address, CA driver's license in their hands. They knew exactly where I was from. What interested them was knowing my precise racial/ethnic origin, so they knew what prejudice to call forth. (Don't even get me started with problems I've had with INS/Homeland Security personnel in their offices, as well as at airports, and border crossings).

For this reason, I highly doubt the veracity of the claims made by the officers that arrested Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates. If Professor Gates made any statements protesting the actions or words of the officers who expected him to produce his ID and step outside of his home, he was justified in making them. It is empirically incontrovertible that if Professor Gates had not been a person of color, the officer would have primarily asked him if he was ok, if he was injured or threatened by the robbers, and then asked him to give a statement as a witness to the breaking and entering complaint. But the fact that Professor Gates is a person of color meant quite simply and unequivocally that the officer primarily expected proof that he was not the robber. In other words, because he is black, Professor Gates was not worthy of the officer's empathetic concern. He could have been injured. He could have been threatened. None of that mattered as much as the color of his skin.

The fact that the arrest of Professor Gates follows the story of the black and Latino children in Philadelphia turned away from a swimming pool, and the story of the historically African American cemetery outside of Chicago where Emmett Till is buried, that was desecrated by some men who thought they could simply dig up bodies, dump them in a refuse pile and resell the plots, is probably one of the reasons why I am unleashing this unedited rant on the Facebook universe. But in as calm and rational and reasonable a way I can possibly muster, let me say this:

All the members of our society are expected to uphold certain codes of community. Every individual, organization, office, department, and institutional entity comprising the government is especially compelled to aver standards of inclusiveness and sensitivity, as well as champion the principles of justice and truth unto its innermost parts. While it is obvious that those responsible for the arrest of Professor Gates are in violation of some element of these codes, standards, and principles, it should be equally blatant that we are all to blame if proactive responses to this incident do not eclipse reactive ones. In other words, this is not just Professor Gates' problem, not just the City of Cambridge's problem, not just a problem impacting people of color...

Once the debate over this particular story ends, the lion's share of real work begins. All mission statements, charters, guidelines, structures, and day-to-day operational elements defining our living, learning, working, and public environments must be scrutinized. If the codes, standards, and principles of freedom, equality, and justice are not palpable throughout, then changes must be made.

An egalitarian society is achieved when all are equally responsible for engendering it. When the burden of opposing racism, sexism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and similar forms of assumption-driven discrimination, is primarily borne by those most affected by inequality, injustice, etc., we are all placed at risk for degradation. If the members of traditionally marginalized populations represent the foremost voices to thoroughly and consistently address issues rooted in, or related to, legacies of prejudice, it will be difficult for the nation to overcome widespread feelings of tremendous anger, shame, resentment, and humiliation.

In other words, it is good that Rachel Maddow, took the time to disprove Pat Buchanan's claims that white men built the United States. And it is good that not only black men are outraged by Professor Gates' arrest. And it is good that the outrage over what happened to those children at that pool in Philadelphia is felt by more than African Americans and Latinos. But we cannot relent. More voices are needed. Every state with a ban on same sex marriage is the problem of every citizen of the United States, whether gay or straight. The high school drop out crisis is the problem of every American, whether an adolescent or a senior, whether wealthy or working class, whether college educated or functionally illiterate. A lack of healthcare, a lack of employment, the loss of a home, these are problems that behoove all of us to get involved. We must all act as advocates, whether or not we are personally impacted. Life may not be fair. But we can be...

"Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be a s big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings."
- John F. Kennedy -

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Officer Justin Barrett & 10 Reasons Why His Sexism & Racism Mean Something:

The email appearing below is from Boston Police Department Officer, Justin Barrett. Officer Barrett sent this email to Boston Globe Columnist,Yvonne Abraham. The email, obtained by Boston's Fox 25, is the subject of 263 news articles thus far. Please read this email and my accompanying comments:

"Article writer, That was, by far, the worst article I've ever read. I am a former English teacher, writer, current police officer, father, husband and military veteran."

(1) Officer Barrett is well aware that Yvonne Abraham is the author of the article he decries, yet he cannot be bothered to address her in a polite and appropriate manner. (2) In his fit of rage, Officer Barrett rattles off a list of what entitles him to speak with authority, what makes him "so special" if you will. However, when Professor Gates declared himself as a Harvard faculty member, both Officer Barrett and Officer Crowley (the arresting officer) felt this to be uncooperative and ungrateful, uppity if you will.

"You need to be corrected and I certainly hope others have attempted, for your written messages and material is so 4th grade level, I am embarassed [Unai: his misspelling] I paid 1.50 for the paper (rest assured it is my aim to tell as many readers [Unai: his omission of the word 'of'] The Boston Globe and [Unai: his use of 'and' instead of the world 'of'] your biased reporting [Unai: his omission of the word 'that'] is both sub standard and strictly one sided). For you are not professional and basically, your writing is ridiculous."

(3) There is nothing constructive in Officer Barrett's criticism. These are personal attacks. He is talking down to, patronizing a woman, a professional columnist. He says her work is infantile. I find this insulting, degrading, and sexist. I doubt he would stand for this kind of criticism of his job performance, so let's add hypocritical to that list.

"A reader may assume, per your article, that criminals are never well-dressed with a tucked in polo (2nd paragraphed). Your defense (4th paragraph) of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted (INDEED) with a police officer is assuming he had rights when considered a suspect [Unai: his omission of a predicate in a sentence where he sets up 'your defense' as the subject]. He is a suspect and will always remain a suspect."

(4) It's nice to know that Officer Barret feels as though Miranda warnings and other practices intended to uphold the judicial principle of innocent until proven guilty, and other aspects of the Bill of Rights, do not apply to him. Also, it is nice to know that both Officer Barrett, and Officer Crowley (the arresting officer) did not consider that Professor Gates could have been the victim of an attempted or actual robbery. Nether officer seemed overwhelmed by a sense of empathy or concern for Professor Gates who could have been injured or threatened if there had actually been a robbery. Neither officer viewed Professor Gates as a potential witness, only as a suspected criminal.

"His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with police, for it [Unai: his use of 'it' instead of the word 'if'] I was [Unai: his use of 'was' instead of 'were,' the correct conditional tense of 'to be'] the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent non-compliance."

(5) This is a very telling passage. Here Officer Barrett makes it clear that Professor Gates is a belligerent, non-compliant, banana-eating jungle monkey, because Professor Gates did not immediately interrupt his telephone conversation to jump at the beckon call of the officer arriving unannounced at his door. Perhaps it is wrong of me to read this as proof that both Officer Barrett, and Officer Crowley (the arresting officer) expected Professor Gates to bend over backwards in deference of the uniform. But the overt declaration that Officer Barrett feels Professor Gates was deserving of getting OC sprayed in his face, certainly suggests that he expects some yessir steppin' and fetchin'.

"Further (5th paragraph), a reader may assume that crimes only happen in back alleys at 0300?! You're kidding me, right? Are you still in 5th grade, Catholic School? That paragraph was as pathetic as jungle monkey gibberish - I might as well ax you the question, 'Is this your first test at reporting?'"

(6) Again Officer Barrett is talking down to, patronizing, a woman, a professional columnist. And although her caliber of work has improved from 4th to 5th grade, (either that or he believes 5th grade in a Catholic school is equivalent to 4th grade anywhere else) he continues to insist it is infantile. Once again, I deem this insulting, degrading, sexist, and hypocritical (since he would not stand for similar criticism of how he does his job). And yet here, Officer Barrett adds another dose of overt racism to the mix. Jungle monkey might have been a term that Officer Barrett could have insisted was not intended to target a specific race/ethnicity. He could have put forth evidence, however flimsy, that this is a term he applies to all non-compliant suspects, regardless of heritage and skin color. But the use of ax in place of ask, proves that in using jungle monkey, Officer Barrett means to target persons from working class, urban communities, persons who disproportionately belong to communities of color.

"You do not understand roles, tactics and dangers police officers face, as apparently you think no one wearing a polo might possess a firearm or knife on his/her person. might you fathom a woman could be a criminal? Or are criminals all hairy, dirty, stinky, mean looking ugly men? You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a hard field. You are a fool. An infidel you have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning."

(7) I Googled hot little bird, in search of a colloquial definition derived from common usage of this phrase. One of the first entries I found was from, 'Girl on an old motorcycle,' with the tagline, 'I have to give it 10 outta 10 for the bare naked shots of that totally hot little bird!' Here, bare naked, clearly applies to the woman, not the motorcycle. And so, once again, Officer Barrett proves that his sexism is off the charts. The idea that he would patronize this professional woman to the point of telling her that she should serve him breakfast goes beyond insulting, beyond degrading. This man is not only a white supremacist. He is a misogynist.

"My last point counters your final 2 paragraphs, in which you state Gates is 'this immensely famous expert on race' - you really have to be kidding me? Famous for what? Expert why and says who? What has he done for me and my family? What has he done for the law enforcement community or military veterans or to secure freedoms and our borders in this country? What has he done to help limit and reduce my income tax? He has proven to work to get himself attention and become a wealthy lecturer. He lectures students on the subject of racial ethics and profiling. Jee whiz. I must attend that lecture lest I lose my identity and right to free speech and the right to celebrate God and beliefs as I see fit. I am not a racist, but I am prejudice towards people who are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they claim is freedom when it is merely attention because you do not receive enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers."

(8) The fact that Officer Barrett does not see the value of Professor Gates' work is to me emblematic of the problem highlighted by Pat Buchanan's rant on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show. Officer Barrett thinks his day-to-day life has not been improved by the work of a black intellectual. Pat Buchanan thinks white men, and no one else, built this country. Professor Gates has contributed to every single one of the areas Officer Barrett identifies. That is obvious. What strikes me are the areas Officer Barrett identifies. If any of you have read the Edsall and Edsall text, 'Chain Reaction,' you know that these are precisely the areas that evolved from the now notorious 'Suthern Strategy.' Officer Barrett is not the independent, free-thinker he believes himself to be. He is regurgitating what has been empirically proven to be Machiavellian propaganda. The introduction of specious arguments about religion and border security are the ultimate proof of this. At least with taxes Officer Barrett is sticking to his day-to-day argument. At least with law enforcement community and veterans, Officer Barrett is saying something that relates to his personal narrative. What the point of bringing up God, other than to spit up the right wing talking point that blames America's woes on 'secular progressives'? What is the point of bringing up border security, other than to spit up the right wing talking point that blames America's woes on 'illegal aliens'? By declaring that he is not a racist, Officer Barrett demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of his white supremacy he is espousing. By accusing Yvonne Abraham of being part of a circle of on-the-bandwagon followers, Officer Barrett demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of the fact that his rant, from beginning to end, lacks any original thought.

"You mention Gates' charges were dropped but that it was too late to stop the damage? Damage? Still kidding? You need to serve a day with the infantry and get swarmed by black gnats while manning your sector. Or you just need to get slapped, look in the mirror, and admit, 'Wow, I am a failure. I am a follower. Who am I kidding?' Again, I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. no sugar. Your final statement reads, 'Gates, whose great success has allowed him to transcend the racial divide-' to which I ask, when did he transcend? he indeed has transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey, thus he forever tremains [sic] amid this nation's great social/racial divide that makes it free and great nation mixed with crazy and awkward differences. Go ahead, ax me what I think? Gates is a goddamned fool and you the article writer simply a poor follower and maybe worse, a poor writer. Your article should read CONDUCT UNBECOMING A JUNGLE MONKEY-BACK TO ONE'S ROOTS. JB"

(9) Here Officer Barrett concludes that a professional woman needs to get slapped for being a follower and poor writer. And his misogyny once again manifests itself in his inability to politely and appropriately address her, as well as in the order that she serve him the donut he lies, and coffee the way he likes it. Officer Barrett also demonstrates a complete inability to recognize the irony his hypocritical views on race represent. The intriguing description of the United States as a free and great nation mixed with crazy and awkward differences, is absolutely canceled out by his twice relying on the term, jungle monkey, and his decision to once again use ax instead of the word ask.

(10) Although there are no more passages of Officer Barrett's email to review, I would like to end by examination of it with the following thoughts: I have pale skin. I speak English without a foreign or urban accent. I am a straight man, who is neither underage or overweight. As a Christian, I belong to the community of faith that comprises the majority of this country. These things afford me privileges. That means they make my life easier. If any of these things also describe you, I certainly hope that you are able to acknowledge the fact that you too enjoy privileges that others do not.

My father continues to be discriminated against because of his brown skin. My mother continues to be discriminated against because of her gender and her foreign accent. I know this because I have seen the prejudice and discrimination both have faced with my own eyes--on the street, in airports, at malls, in immigration offices, etc. Neither one ever pulled 'the race card,' or tried to inculcate me into some sort of 'victim mentality' where his failures can be blamed on the white man, quite the contrary. After we were deported, when I was 6 years old, both my mother and father did everything in their power to return our family to the US and earn citizenship. Starting from scratch, from the back of the line, it took two decades, but they did it.

Our family was deported not because we committed any crime, not because my parents were unemployed, not because they didn't pay their taxes, or joined the communist party, or went on food stamps, but because one INS officer arbitrarily decided to deny the renewal of their permission to work in the United States. Can I prove that this INS officer targeted my parents because they were Mexican? No, but for whatever reason the British immigrants my dad played soccer with never had any problems renewing their papers. When we finally returned to the US, the INS officer we met with us stated to our face, "This country has spent a lot of time and money keeping you people out." Can I prove that he addressed us as 'you people,' instead of by our names because we were Mexican. No, but when I was in a relationship with a French woman, and I asked her how long it took her to get her Green Card, her answer was not comparable to the number of years it took my parents to get theirs. When I asked if she had ever a work permission renewal request denied by the INS, she responded with a confused look, as though she did not understand the question, or could not possibly conceive of such a thing.

Why do I bring this up? Because beyond whatever individual experiences any of us may have, there is empirical evidence to demonstrate that institutional prejudices exist. One in four black men end up in the criminal justice system. Latino statistics are similarly dire. White defendants receive less severe sentences on such charges as drug possession than defendants of color. The high school dropout crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color. People of color are over-represented among the uninsured, those who are ill from preventable diseases, those who die from treatable ones. I could go on, but I shouldn't have to. You and I both know that there is nothing in today's US Constitution, or the current Constitution of any of the 50 states that requires disparate treatment of, or outcomes for, whites. When we talk about institutional discrimination, when we blame 'the system,' we forget that these institutions, that this system, is staffed by people who have biases, prejudices, preferences, etc. Logic and objectivity are ideals because these forms of subjectivity dominate.

I ask those of you who are skeptical of the role race played in Professor Gates' arrest to honestly assess if you believe that a police officer would have looked upon a middle-aged white man with a cane as a criminal suspect. Or if you believe, as I do, that a police would have assumed that the middle-aged white man with a cane was a possible witness to whomever broke into the house, that the middle-aged white man might be in need of emergency medical support because he was injured or threatened by those who broke in. If you refuse to believe that Professor Gates was not offered this sort of compassion and empathy by Officer Crowley because Professor Gates is a middle-aged black man with a cane, then I ask you to think about this. How many women have received traffic tickets or other expensive punitive citations from Officer Barrett over the course of his career? How many people of color have gone to jail because of Officer Barrett's testimony? How many more women and people of color would have suffered as a result of Officer Barrett's misogyny and white supremacy if he had never hit 'send,' if he had misspelled Yvonne Abraham's email address, or if the internet server he was using at that day, at that time, has simply gone down, and failed to deliver Officer Barrett's disgusting screed?