A Celebration of Freedom at William Land Park , Sacramento, CA .June 17 and 18, 2011: Juneteenth - A Celebration of Freedom - The Festival, at William Land Park, Sacramento, CA from 11 am to 6 pm. Free admission, two stages of live entertainment, vendors, children's activities, ( Fun for the entire family) Tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers and Tuskegee Airmen, Fraternity Row, fishing derby, parade, Juneteenth Educational Theater, spoken word/poetry, cultural dance performances, The Juneteenth Talent Show, and more! For more info visit: http://sacramentojuneteenth.com/events.html
Friday, June 17, 2011
AN ESSAY ON CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY
This paper explores how powerful contemporary conceptions of race and religion, incorporated into the dominant ideologies in the Unites States, hinder understandings of persistent inequalities in the country. The paper identifies major characteristics of dominant ideologies in the United States and their relationships to religious beliefs and understandings of race. It explores how the confluence of these factors impacts public discourse, particularly with respect to the popular inability to seek and identify substantive remedies for persistent inequalities. The paper posits the extrapolation of religious thought to other areas of endeavor as the bed-rock element prohibiting a deep and substantive consideration of a broad range of inequalities in the U.S.
By ideologies I mean dominant social narratives, “likely stories,” which help people understand and operate in the worlds they inhabit. With respect to ideologies in the U.S., I maintain that they are multiple, many sharing a number of attributes. For the purposes of this paper, instead of delineating and categorizing a fixed number of ideologies, I identify important strains of thinking, perceiving, and believing which are widely - though not universally - shared by significant national narratives. Some are mutually contradictory. This should come as no surprise, as individuals who at once can believe both in an earth which circles around the sun, and a heaven above that earth populated by angels on clouds and an anthropomorphic God; who can explain how a sperm fertilizes an egg to create a zygote and at the same time believe in a virgin birth, can certainly hold any number of contradictory beliefs simultaneously.
Indeed, the thrust of my argument is that the most influential national narratives operate in such a way as to prevent people from seeing or believing that they simultaneously hold beliefs which contradict each other, resulting in a condition in which at least one set cannot be true. It is not simply that what they believe is implausible, it is that some of their beliefs render others impossible.
In many respects, our public discourse is blinded, is contaminated, by miraculous thinking. It is not that miracles don’t occur. It is that they are, indeed, miracles because they cannot be explained. Our miraculous thinking, on the other hand, leads us to reject explanations which don’t require miracles to explain them. Miraculous thinking privileges supernatural thinking over evidentiary thinking.
Ideology as considered in this paper
Ideology, as broadly understood, is to use a Weberian classification, “an ideal type.” There are innumerable iterations of all ideologies, each of which continually changes. The ideal exists whole only within formal definitions. Each individual not only adopts aspects of the formal definitions which are most compatible with that individual’s comfort-zone, individuals are also likely to alter those views continually.
While most ideologies are formally consistent, those which people actually believe and act on are not. People pick and choose what they incorporate into their individual ideological perspectives. Ideologies serve as a short-hand way of operating in the world. They help us to organize, classify, and “understand” the world for our own purposes.
The impermanence of Ideologies
Even formal ideologies - like all human conceptions - not only can be altered when the evidence warrants, they can also be challenged, in whole or in part - when they fail to serve their purpose of making the world a place in which populations can live and thrive, witness, the ancien regime in Europe, Fascism, Naziism, Soviet Communism, the ancient Greek, Roman, and Norse religions.
Dominant Ideological Strains in the U.S.
This discussion considers among the dominant U.S. ideological elements: liberalism; capitalism (particularly the laissez faire variety); fixation on the individual as the central feature of human life, especially as embodied in individual rights, privileges, and protections; the inviolability of property rights as a hallmark of civilized society; no fully articulated sense of the common-weal, the public good; life fortunes as determined by individual merit; the absolute superiority of religion as a central value of human life as opposed to non-religious orientations, including the not too carefully disguised notion that some religions are superior to others; the incontestability of dominant religious beliefs, no matter how patently absurd they might be; the relegation of the welfare of the poor and other marginal populations to charities, religions, and other volunteer associations, instead of to the public as a whole, represented by the state.
Contemporary Ideological Strains
One contemporary ideological strain in the U.S. makes it impossible to discuss matters of substance and hence to address the extent and character of inequality in the country. The anchoring point of this ideological strain is religion. Its wild-card is race.
In the United States race is often used to mask widespread features of inequality in the country and the world. Beginning with the colonial period, for approximately 400 years, race, like gender, operated to disguise deep and widespread inequalities in every major sector of the national life: culture, economics, education, social standing, and politics. Inferiority was attached to persons on the basis of race: initially to Indians and Africans, later modified to include non-Anglo-Saxon whites. These distinctions mutated over time, incorporating more people of European descent, and settling more profoundly on African-descended peoples. Later, they expanded to include Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Philippines, and anyone else who could be classified as non-white. Race served as an effective mechanism to camouflage the extent and character of inequalities among people of European descent. The camouflage was not perfect. Many saw through it, and many waged valiant struggles against it. Nevertheless, its major features became incorporated into the country’s dominant ideologies. People were understood to occupy the stations in life they do because that is the natural order of things, which was equivalent to occupying those stations because they deserved them. In that reading, inequality was recognized, but it was seen as nothing to be troubled about, because it should exist. It is good and righteous.
Race was always a wild-card because those who were labeled as a bete noire, according to racial strictures, often saw through the falsehood. Not all, by any means, but a significant and influential element of each population so labeled, did: Native Americans, African descendants, castigated Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Philippines, and Mexicans. As a result, there have ever been people aware of the deep and hypocritical inequalities in the national life and of its apologist ideologies. When they have been galvanized and mobilized, they have unmasked the flagrant hypocrisy and the destructive character of the national ideologies. That unmasking has enabled the pursuit of serious reform efforts.
In the contemporary period, however, religion, as the foundation of thinking, believing, and acting in the United States, has prevented a fuller expansion of thought which challenges the dominant paradigms. This is largely - not because religious thinking, including miraculous thinking, is inappropriate for religious thought or belief - but because it is totally inappropriate outside the religious realm. Today religion prevents the utilization of serious, disciplined thought which takes into account the character of existence as our most fully developed postulations understand it. This imposes severe restrictions on what we can know and understand about the material, human, cultural, social, economic, and political universe we inhabit. Unlike earlier historical periods, we have access to information which eviscerates the utility of much established religious thought outside the realms of the religious imagination. That information is so substantial that it not only calls a good deal of religious doctrine into question when applied outside the sphere of theology, it consigns major pillars of ecclesiastical doctrine to the category of falsehood. Nor does it take esoteric knowledge to reach such a determination.
Even since my own youth, a period so long ago I can scarcely credit its ever having existed, popular understandings not only of the universe, but also of human history, have so greatly changed, that religious postulates which in the past merely generated skepticism, now have been shown to be utterly without merit and categorically fictitious. After all, most of them were laid down over two thousand years ago - when the state of human familiarity with physics, astronomy, geology, biology, genetics, and even methods of the systematic study of history, were infantile compared with today.
When I was a boy, not even Einstein imagined that the universe was not Newtonian, i.e., it did not represent a steady state. Some of Einstein’s most serious miscalculations rested on his vision of a static universe. His original discoveries did not encompass a cosmos of billions of galaxies accelerating madly away from each other at almost light-speed, all the while creating stars, planets, and obliterating solar systems. Now we have photographs of such phenomena. Rest assured that the red-shift was inconceivable even to the wisest and most hallowed of the ancients. They created a cosmogony that conformed with what they saw. What they saw, did not include a round earth spinning on its axis, while circling the sun. No, what they saw made the earth the center of the universe, with the sun and all the stars circling around it - above it - and in that sky, was heaven, with its many mansions and golden streets, with cherubim and seraphim, harps, and a God who looked like a human being.
It’s not that they got the science wrong. The science did not exist, and most of it has been created since the beginning of the 20th century.
It’s not only the science that is misrepresented in contemporary religion. It’s also the religion itself. Contemporary historical methods enable us to understand how biblical texts were written. They were compilations, derived from a wide range of sources, whose final texts were agreed upon, by councils of learned men. Holy books are anthologies, cobbled together by imperfect men. They were not handed down by God, or dictations made of the words spoken to his prophets. Religious scholars, trained theologians, know that, and have known it for generations, but that does not prevent them from having faith in the divinely ordained or inspired character of religious texts. That practice is all well and good for people attempting deeper understandings of their religions, but it has no place in the world of science - physical, biological, or social. We understand myths and fables when they are espoused by others - heathenism, paganism, heretics. We do not understand them when such understandings contradict our own most deeply held beliefs - even when it is demonstrably established that outside of carefully constrained systems of belief - they are entirely without merit and completely fictitious.
In Christianity, the religion most widely believed and practiced in the U.S., Christian fundamentalists believe that God created the world in six days, that he created the first man from dust, and the first woman from his rib. They believe that a serpent talked to this man and woman in a paradisial Garden of Eden. On ad infinitum. A few samples from the Old Testament indicate that two of each species were loaded onto an ark to escape a worldwide flood. And not an elephant stepped on an ant. Not a lion ate a goat. Not a mosquito was swatted. For forty days and forty nights - and then for seven months and seventeen days while the rains subsided. We will not discuss the toilet arrangements or where the food was kept that kept this vast menagerie alive while its constituent parts refrained from eating each other. A woman was turned into a pillar of salt - zap. God handed written tablets down to a man standing on top of a mountain.
As to the New Testament, a virgin birth, angels descending to speak to shepherds, a man turning water into wine, multiplying fish, rising from the dead and literally ascending into heaven, riding on clouds.
That even in the public arena, people cannot legitimately challenge these fairy tales, myths, ancient fables, renders impossible any effort to hold any public narrative to a reasonable standard.
If chemistry were still done today as it was in the year one, if physics were done that way, biology and medicine, we would still be bleeding people to cure every possible malady, sailing on wooden ships, riding horses as our primary form of long-distance overland travel, and using whale-oil for lighting. This conference in such a hotel, with its particular physical attributes - such as wi-fi or even radio and television, with so many people coming here from such vast distances and arriving in time to participate in all the proceedings - would literally be impossible. The bright side of that alternative world where this conference wouldn’t be possible, is we also wouldn’t have global warming, or a winters such as many have just lived through.
But the very reason we cannot meaningfully discuss and deal with the reality of climate change is because very important elements of our dominant ideologies are held captive by theology, rendering the discussion of global warming beyond the pale. If we cannot rationally examine, in the public realm - as opposed to the ecclesiastical one - whether Noah loaded everybody onto his ark, or whether Jesus literally rose up to heaven on clouds, in full view of witnesses, then we certainly cannot engage in a rational public discourse about climate change.
What about the effects of race on our national life? I argued that there have always been people who saw beyond the dominant ideologies’ treatments of race in this society. How can this be true - if there is a dominant mode of thinking, perceiving, and believing which establishes such terrain as out-of-bounds?
The crux of it seems to be this. There are circumstances which make the reality undeniable, irresistible - dominant perceptions notwithstanding. If you are told that the water is a pleasant temperature, but every time you put your hands into it, you are scalded, after awhile, you may come to the conclusion that what you are being told is incorrect, and you do your best to keep your hands out of the water. It is not that your cognitive abilities are greater than anyone else’s. It is simply that circumstances force certain recognitions upon you, whether you want them to or not.
Experiments and proofs provide these compulsions for scientists. It is simply that in the spiritual world, experiments and proofs are denied credibility. And when spiritual standards are applied to the world of science, and to public discussions which necessarily must include scientific elements, there can be, as it were, no boiling water proof.
Religion and Race in Ideology, Historical Glimpses
Religious prohibitions have not always been barriers to a deep, serious, and wide-ranging public discourse because they have not always drifted into the conduct and discussion of science, and into the public life that science engenders. But they have periodically raised their ugly heads to constitute insurmountable obstacles to critical thought in the public realm. If we limit our consideration of these matters only to the United States, the religious conflicts of the colonial period have been widely recognized and there is no need to go into them here. The founding period, however, in the age of European enlightenment, offered a frame of reference - particularly among the national leadership - that enabled sustained consideration of deep and salient questions related to the country’s collective life. Unfortunately, that dialog foundered against the rock of race in the guise of private property. Slavery - though critical to the constitutional debates - could not even be mentioned in the document itself, nor could race - even though the constitution is replete with provisions that apply directly to both. Together, they constituted a cornerstone of the national life. In this instance, it was not religion which hindered a fuller realization of the discussion. Instead, it was the refusal to come to grips with the contradiction residing in the middle of the national ethos. That ethos was that a new kind of society had been created, based on the principle of human freedom, with justice and liberty for all.
Enslaved Africans were not the only residents deprived of freedom and denied justice and liberty. They, however, were the crux of the matter, and denying an explicit recognition of their condition in the constitution and in the articulation of its meaning, denied its consideration for any other group. The lie was that the newly founded country did away with pre-existing inequalities - a lie that was flagrant on its face. The recognition among the framers was widespread that the Whiskey Rebellion and similar manifestations had led directly to the gathering in Philadelphia. Not religion - but these two other critical elements of the dominant ideologies - race and property - denied the debate that would have enabled these contradictions to be directly addressed in the Constitutional Convention.
Though religious prohibitions were less constraining on the national leadership during the founding period, they still exerted tremendous influences on the country’s life. One only need refer to the Great Awakenings to establish the point. Both the first and second Great Awakenings were instrumental in leading up to the Revolutionary War and in the immediate post-revolutionary period. Much of this religious activity was reformist in character - challenging prevailing institutions and practices, offering alternative visions. These activities championed the agency of religious institutions and movements to influence and change secular life, including politics. Though quite different in emphases, the many religious associations and individuals engaged in such efforts established the legitimacy of religious concerns in the secular and political worlds, i.e., in society at large. In fact, a number of religious concerns during the period explicitly addressed social inequalities. Religious thinkers and activists brought such concerns into the popular discourse. Without them, important questions would have received no hearing. Many abolitionists were products of religious awakenings, including the composer of “Amazing Grace.”
Terms of Contemporary Discourse
Public discourse in the 21st century is an oxymoron. Public speech in the U.S., currently, is dogmatism, sloganeering, double-speak. It consists of cancelling out the opposition. This is no where plainer than on talk radio and with the popular television pundits who attempt to out-shout each other. If I’m louder than you, I win. Talking heads attempt to ignore each other and cancel each other out, rather than engage in reasoned and substantive discussion. Rather than conversing, people confront each other in contending monologues. News reporters, rather than seeking to inform and amplify understanding, are fixated on “gotcha” moments.
We live in a world of truth/heresy, where to engage in a conversation with the opposition is to consort with the devil. Nor is the “truth” subject either to challenge or verification. How can a “right-wing reactionary” converse with a “weak-kneed liberal?” How can a “pinko-lefty socialist” sit down to listen to “Joe six-pack?” How can a “NASCAR dad” engage in an honest exchange with a “Welfare Queen?” It cannot be done, and the attempt cannot be sanctioned. We have mutually incomprehensible visions of the world which we think and talk about in mutually unintelligible languages. Nor is it as if there are - or ever were - only two sides to these public issues. But our antagonistic form of issue-resolution is far too simple-minded to admit of the complexity inherent in the world.
All this hyper-simplification is possible and sustainable because we live in a world of mythology. If measured arguments, substantiated by extensive bodies of knowledge, cannot challenge the fantasy that a white-bearded God sits on a throne up in the clouds, surrounded by winged angels, how in the world can we combat the absurd notion that a society can prosper without paying taxes, while it ravages the earth, the water, and the sky? How can we make a case that theft, corruption, and malfeasance in the most hallowed halls of capitalism are as destructive to the social order as burglary, counterfeiting, and robbery?
When things that are clearly not true - and can be proved to be untrue - are sanctioned as holy writ, beyond doubt or skepticism, how can the contradictions in the national life such as the simultaneous presence of thousands of unoccupied dwellings and hundreds of thousands of homeless people be recognized?
One of the reasons the national social myths cannot incorporate public responsibility and can imagine a non-existent, impossible, and patently absurd individualism, is because popular understandings of race render conceptions of an all-embracing society intolerable. Rather the myth of the self-made man, than the reality of misogyny, genocide, and chattel slavery. Rather the notion of absolute freedom, than value collective responsibility for the well-being of all the society’s inhabitants.
Worship the flag. Worship the National Anthem. Worship the Pledge of Allegiance, because the only way we can relate to each other nationally is symbolically rather than through the alien and corrupted flesh in which we reside.
Beyond the Pale, the Unspeakable
Why Shock-jocks Are More Legitimate than Public Intellectuals
What does all this mean for the national public discourse and for the persistence of inequalities? It means the argument that it is just and equitable for Bill Gates to have a fortune of fifty billion dollars and for literally hundreds of thousands of people to have no where to live, no health care, and no reasonable chance at improving their life circumstances, cannot be challenged either on the basis of reason or humanity. Reason plays no role in making such judgements as we abandoned reason when we made way for imaginary arks and talking snakes. Humanity plays no role as we abandoned that by deep, abiding, and implausible suspensions of disbelief based on race. Reason and evidence have been removed and replaced by magical thinking.
Popularly, magical thinking is referred to, and hence shielded by, a label: faith. Based on the premise of faith, God created this world, and it’s just the way he wants it to be - Bill Gates, homeless, and all. “God,” it is famously repeated, “don’t make no mistakes.”
We accept the Holy Bible on faith. As a result, reference to God and God’s actions cannot be challenged because, “It’s in the Bible.” If we know on the basis of faith that God exists, and if the Bible also tells us that God is omniscient and omnipotent, then it is unquestionable that the world is exactly as God wants it to be.
Based on the same principle - the abandonment of reason and evidence, if I say that government is evil, and that to end its fearsome machinations, I’m going to cut off the trough that feeds it, starve the beast, on what grounds can my assertion be challenged, as there can be no acceptable appeal to either reason or evidence? The proposition that you cannot tax cut your way to providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, or preserving the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our prosperity, has no legs. It cannot walk, because the arguments that would sustain it rest on the discredited criteria of logical thinking and documented proofs.
Both reason and the historical record establish categorically that we need taxes to provide schools and drinking water; to fight fires, floods, and hurricanes; to establish and maintain public transportation and communication networks; to combat tornadoes, droughts, famines, and plagues. We need them to protect the orphaned, the indigent, the poor, those in need of custodial care. We need them to combat crime.
But faith - not the record, not the application of disciplined thought - blind faith - tells us that capitalism covers all those needs. A rising tide lifts all boats. Benefits trickle down ... even when we have had consecutive and continual national regimes which have established, categorically, that these pillars of conservative thought are complete balderdash. In our blind faith we return to them, time and time again - more devout with every reiteration.
We cannot, we are told, distinguish among opinions. Every one is just as valid as any other. There are no criteria we might use to distinguish among them - except for holy writ. There is no standard of evidence which can invalidate one’s firmly held opinion, no matter how ridiculous it might seem - because magical thinking proves that anything is possible. Only the postulates of divine will can explain anything. And, indeed, they explain everything.
That is why the U.S. President is required to say,”God bless America,” after every public utterance, no matter how inconsequential. Miraculous thinking requires us to pray for out troops, for people in the throes of disaster. God saves us from catastrophe at the same time he commits others to horrors. If we have good luck, we are blessed, bad luck - we are cursed. This is all the most primitive way of thinking, of facing the world - a way of thinking which is invested with the power of absolute authority.
Governance by Platitudes
Some platitudes are emptier than others. Those most evident among U.S. ideological strains include the following: the self-made man, natural rights, the equality of persons, the validity of common sense, color-blind perceptions, the inviolable rewards of hard work, freedom of the press, objective journalism, objective science, the sanctity of majority rule, the preciousness of children, the superiority of human beings as a life form. The complete list is literally endless, but for illustrative purposes I discuss a short list of untenable premises impinging on inequities which paralyze our public thought.
A central underlying premise of our popular ideologies is the sanctity of the individual. In Christianity we can trace this notion back to individual redemption. If you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you can receive eternal life while everyone else is consigned to the flames. Your mother, father, mate, children, can all be cast into the bottomless pit, while you ascend to the heavens, if you accept the word of God, and they do not. One might raise the question of just what kind of heaven this could be, if everyone you love is facing eternal agony, torture, and endless pain. But, never mind, there’s another trick hiding inside this portent - you have to accept the correct word of God to earn your heavenly paradise. All these portents speak to futures which can never be proved - or disproved, for that matter. They are free play - for the imagination - and miraculous thinking.
While none of this can be disproved, there is certainly a lot of evidence to make it suspect. Where, exactly, is heaven? We know it’s not in the clouds, because airplanes go there all the time, and they have never found it. Hell - while we know that it is very hot below the surface of the earth if you go far enough, nothing indicates that were we to go there, we would find a hades populated by Satan and his minions.
How likely is it that the dead shall arise when the trumpet sounds? There is not only the problem of decomposition, a rather considerable problem, especially for remains that are thousands of years old, there is also the reality that many people were not buried. They were torn apart by animals, by the forces of nature, by their fellow humans. They were washed down rivers, swallowed by the sea, incinerated. How are they to be reassembled, or in the case of obliteration - assembled? There is no evidence that this is possible.
Moreover, does the promise of individual redemption constitute evidence for the sanctity of the individual? While the sacredness of individual life may be a worthy value, how much is our society even guided by it? We have, do we not, capital punishment, even though we know innocent people get executed? How sacred is the life of the homeless person, the abandoned child, the impoverished? How priceless the life of the noncombatant - or even the combatant - killed by “friendly fire.” How valuable is the life of the person denied medical care for lack of insurance, the children condemned to dangerous streets and crippling schools?
In practice, we sacrifice some so that others may survive. In medical practice, it’s called triage. Who gets treated first? Who gets treated at all? Who gets the heart, the kidney, the liver? Legal counsel is available for everyone - but not at the same level of competence. In almost every conceivable way we favor those individuals who have the most money. Justice is, indeed, blind - including to the shenanigans which are carried out in her name. Why - is crack penalized more than meth? Why are Black drug dealers and users arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than white ones, when there are many more white users and dealers than Black ones? The supposed “sanctity” of the individual speaks directly to the supposed equality of persons.
The equality of persons is absolute fiction. We evade that reality by providing, “Equal protection of the laws,” universal public education, non-discriminatory housing, hiring, and promotions. We offer equal opportunity employment. These are all masks, not very deceptive masks, either. It’s just that no one is allowed to shout, “The emperor has no clothes!”
Because if we cannot assert that Noah’s ark was a fable - pure fiction - we certainly can’t admit the role that money plays in our political system - though anyone with half a brain must know, both that every vote is equal is as much a statement of the absurd as that pythons and bunny rabbits, foxes and chickens, all clambered onto the ark together and camped out on it harmoniously with all their filth and waste - for the 40 days and forty nights of rain, and the seven months and seventeen days it took for the waters to recede sufficiently for them to disembark.
Our religion teaches us to suspend disbelief. It teaches us very well. We believe in the absurd because we can challenge neither premises nor facts - which are obviously and patently false. We have lost the ability to engage in reasoned discourse. Our thinking is permeated by the fantastical.
Finally, let us get to this business of race and inequality. Race, like all of our conceptions, is lost in the realm of magical thinking. Unless all Black people are mired in misery, there is no racism. If even one white person experiences a slight which can be remotely associated with race, there is reverse discrimination.
Though Black people are generally incompetent, that there is currently a Black President, and Clarence Thomas, Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, and Colin Powell, prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, that unlimited opportunities exist for all, and that there is no structural, systematic, or institutional racism in the United States of America. There are only a comparatively few retrograde, neanderthal, individual racists.
People say, and actually believe, “I don’t see color.” Then, one may legitimately ask, what’s wrong with your eyes? We can identify people by race, on the basis of color, hair, facial features, even physical types. Can you see none of those other distinctions either? Have you been to an opthamologist lately? We also make racial distinctions on the basis of how people speak, not only their accents, grammar, and syntax, but also by their vocabularies and the timbre of their voices. Is there something wrong with your hearing, too?
What, exactly, is the virtue of not seeing color? It is because some colors have negative associations. If you don’t see color in a person, then you don’t automatically - automatically - make negative associations about them on the basis of their color. Some people - on the basis of group membership - automatically, make other negative associations about people - associations which they also connect with color - criminality, sexuality, fatherless homes, unemployment, drug addiction, poor performance in schools, bad neighborhoods, ignorance, non-standard English, high drop-out rates from schools, gangs.
At the aggregate level, it’s certainly legitimate to make these associations because they are experienced much more by some racial groups than others. But what our magical thinking prevents us from addressing realistically, and with feasible solutions, are the causes of these dismal group profiles. As a result, our solutions also suffer from miraculous analysis: throw them all in jail, punish - don’t rehabilitate. Get them into the criminal justice system at the earliest possible moment.
Our inability to think precisely, clearly, and in detail leads us to believe that poverty isn’t systemic. It results from individual failings. Some groups - races - obviously have more individual failings than others. Poor performance in schools isn’t systemic, it is the result of individual failures to work hard - in combination with DNA, which inclines some groups more than others to be stupid. Criminality is the result of vices cultivated by individuals. These conclusions extend to promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies, and STDs.
We believe that almost everyone in the U.S. is middle class. This is substantiated by the division of the one class, the middle-class, into its separate components of lower-middle-class, middle-middle-class, and upper-middle-class. These differences represent the distinctions between people who drive fusions, Tauruses, and Lincolns. To our minds, there really isn’t much of an upper class. They scarcely exist except for isolated freaks on television, shown in celebrity news, and occasional series such as “The Homes of the Rich and Famous.” The poor - except for certain, specific, marginal groups, really don’t exist at all. Because - the U.S.A. is the greatest country in the world! How do we know that - because everybody wants to come here to live.
I don’t think so. Sure, this is a land of immigrants - but so is the whole world. It’s simply that for a long time, the population densities were less here than in many other parts of the world. There were more spaces for people to occupy. But that circumstance was not limited to the U.S.A. A lot of people could have - and did - move elsewhere. Australia and New Zealand. Canada. Where did all the white people in Chile and Argentina come from - they aren’t indigenous. Why are there more Japanese in Sao Paulo, Brazil, than in any other city outside of Japan? Why are there so many people from the Indian subcontinent in the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe? Why are Chinese all over Asia, and increasingly in Africa? Um. I don’t know? Maybe because the U.S.A. is the greatest country in the world? It must be true. We tell it to each other all the time.
Inequality is what drives this country. We cannot face that fact ourselves. We are wonderfully assisted in maintaining our illusions, our ignorance, by our magical, mystery thinking.
Ah, there’s the rub. What are we supposed to do about all of this? If we want to be effective, if we want to engage in more than beating our chests, we have to respect people’s sensibilities. In the case of Black people, that means we have to leave Jesus out of whatever diatribes we’re going to launch. Muhammad, too. Attacking Jesus; the Lord God, Jehovah; Muhammad; Allah, is the wrong way to go. We would not only be irrelevant to any discussion which might follow, we would be cast out into utter perdition.
Instead, what we can and must do is attack the offense directly and immediately as it occurs on our own ground. We are, after all, not theologians. While a balm in Gilead may soothe us in this world, so will a direct assault on ignorance, stupidity, cruelty, and evil as they appear in human guise. We must have no mercy on those who would cloud the clarity of our thinking with gross generalizations and untenable assumptions. We must call them out.
That requires superior scholarship laid out along the razor’s edge of reason. We know about the unseemly concentration of wealth in the United States of America - which means not only that the rich get much richer and the poor poorer, but also that the numbers of the poor greatly increase. How - is this to be solved by cutting taxes - and cutting them on the only segments of the population with sufficient resources to make a difference? We know - that a whole lot of people don’t have any health care at all and many of those who do have it have to pay exorbitant rates to maintain it. How is this to be solved by defunding health care? We know - who has responsibility for interstate commerce - and how is our national infrastructure to be repaired, made whole, and improved without the national government taking the key and leading role in that effort? Climate change is not at issue. The question is whether we throw ourselves fully into the struggle to slow it down, halt it, and eventually reverse it, or go the way of the dodo bird, the wooly mammoth, and the brontosaurus.
For those who disguise the racism imbedded in their attacks on policies or persons, it’s our responsibility to call them on it. We know what birthers, tea partyers, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are about. Sarah Palin - thought she knew what a community organizer was. She found out she didn’t. And it’s our job to point out what else she doesn’t know.
Many Black people experience their religious identity as their primary identity. They are Christians. They are Muslims. They are Jews. They have many other religious affiliations. No political treatise is going to change that. But what we - as committed, dedicated, and competent political and social analysts - can do, is to lead the struggle to help them see - that the disbelief they suspend for religious purposes, is a disbelief they should keep completely in tact when they assess the poses, arguments, and seductions of their fellow human beings.
Welcome to a new blog developed by people of African descent, written by people of African descent, and for people of African descent in the Sacramento region.
Six years ago members of the Black community felt a need for a Black Think Tank that addresses the issues confronting people of African descent in the Sacramento Region. Why do we need a Black Think Tank, when many people question a need for another Black organization? Well, there are three main reasons.
One, in 1960, a huge segment of people of African descent in the region was employed at three major military installations – Mather Air Force base, McClellan, and the Army Depot. Today, all three bases are closed and our people are employed in various sectors – state, national, and local government; service industries; private and professional enterprises of all kind; non-profits; and the media. In 1960, our people principally lived in
Oak Park, Del Paso Heights, North Highlands, , and Elder Creek. Today, our people are no longer concentrated in a few neighborhoods, but are spread throughout the Freeport . county of Sacramento
Two, while the objective realities of our people have changed significantly, many of us continue to think about our conditions in the same ways we did in1969. Political consciousness has not kept up with the new realities of the internet, post-industrial conditions, and the criminal injustice complex.
Three, the hip hop performers such as Mos Def, KRS-One, and others have become the new voices of a new generation. These Hip Hop performers speak on the new technologies, post-industrial, and the criminal injustice complex. However, they are unable to connect the experiences and knowledge of elders to their daily lives. As a result, many young people are dying in the streets, lost to the drug culture and lost in so-called ghetto culture.
The purpose of The Black Group (tbg) is to increase human and material resources for people of African descent. The Black Group will conduct research on issues of concerns for African-descended peoples and disseminates the results of that research by the widest possible means including but not limited to: articles, books, occasional papers, brochures, op. ed. pieces, videos, audiotapes, cd’s, email, websites, digital formats, and spoken presentations.
To date, the Black Group has produced a Calendar of Sacramento Black Achievers, Bridging the Gap project, conducted forums such as Black Talk - "Barack Obama in 2008; the Green Movement in the Black World, and the Sacramento Black Pages which list Black Sacramento organizations, faith organizations, and businesses.
The Black Group will produce a column a week in the Black Group Voice that will address critical issues impacting our community. Most importantly, we will speak to those issues without apology or disrespect. We will speak truth to power from an African descended perspective. We hope you will enjoy our articles in the future.
The Black Group