- Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma not only sang about having no black members, but used imagery straight out of lynching to emphasize how strong their objections were.
- Police officers in San Francisco – San Francisco! – exchanged racist emails and texts with each other, also including lynching imagery. In a city that is 6 percent black, 38 percent of those killed by the police over the last 30 years have been African American.
- And then, of course, there’s Ferguson, Missouri: poster child for blatant racism. As the recent Department of Justice report points out, the city used its police force to raise city operating funds by targeting black residents for minor offenses. And some officials apparently believed this was appropriate because African Americans lack “personal responsibility.”
That’s only the tip of the iceberg for blatant racism against African Americans. It doesn’t address all the micro aggressions out there, the little things that pile up, or all the other people who are subject to everything from minor disrespect to greater risk of death because they’re seen as somehow less than human.
Here’s the thing that has struck me most forcefully in all the recent stories about racist behavior: So many of the people involved believe that their actions are justified because black people are “inferior.” I remember that nonsense from my childhood, but I thought people had finally outgrown it. Apparently not.
The OU fraternity is considering suing the university for expelling students for their racist video, claiming First Amendment protection. I’m a big believer in the First Amendment, but I think the frat’s money would be better spent in educating its members about racism. After all, fraternity boys usually go on to be powerful people in their communities. Even if it can be argued that they have the “right” to threaten violence against others – and that’s questionable – it doesn’t mean they should exercise that right.
The San Francisco situations indicates that what’s going on in Ferguson is just the most obvious example of how the belief that some people are not worthy of being treated as human can infect public institutions. I’d like to think Ferguson is an extreme case, but I’m afraid it’s not.
Though it is pretty bad. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out:
One should understand that the Justice Department did not simply find indirect evidence of unintentionally racist practices which harm black people, but “discriminatory intent”—that is to say willful racism aimed to generate cash. Justice in Ferguson is not a matter of “racism without racists,” but racism with racists so secure, so proud, so brazen that they used their government emails to flaunt it.
Coates goes on to point out that, according to the Justice Department report, many Ferguson officials justified their plundering ways by saying that African Americans lack “personal responsibility”. The excessive fines were, in Coates’s words, “just making sure the reprobates pay their fair share.”
A few years back, I wrote a review of Michelle Alexander’s brilliant book, The New Jim Crow. Along with a discussion of the explosion in prisons and increased incarceration of people for petty crime, Alexander explained how black and criminal came to be conflated terms.
It was a disturbing book for many reasons, but the thing that bothered me the most was the fact that despite the Civil Rights Movement and the significant changes that have been made over the past 50 years, racists have still been able to manipulate the legal system to the detriment of African Americans.
As a believer in fiction, I think stories are an important way to combat this nonsense. I applaud Jim Hines for again publishing a series of guest blog posts on the need for diversity in SF/F, both in the stories and the authors. (I contributed to this series this year.)
Stories help create our culture. Too many stories of the past perpetuated racist nonsense. We need to undercut their power with new stories, different stories, a wider range of stories, stories that reflect the real world.
Maybe if we get enough of those stories, we’ll have better news to read.