Friday, September 7, 2007

Thinking About Racism, Again

I'd say most white Americans are sick of hearing about racism.

Unfortunately, those who fall into this category probably don't associate the word where it belongs--with broad and deeply entrenched social and economic systems that divert resources and opportunities from poor communities of color. Instead, they associate it with Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton--whom I choose to function here as tags for other controversial claimants and spokespersons as well.

Whether she was raped and he was right to defend her, and whether how the case came to function was itself a matter of racism and sexism is not my subject now. The issue for me at this writing is what the Brawley case became, how it functioned to taint everyone it touched, and how it serves now to distract us from fundamental inequities that shame and hurt us all.

To many, this case was the moment Sharpton jumped the shark, and thus it was also the moment that the claim of racism as the cause of a police or judicial injustice to one or more individuals became an "oh for Pete's sake" moment for a lot of white Americans. Today, it's the claim by some that Michael Vick is being railroaded because he's African American that is adding to the inventory of incredible claims of race-based discrimination.

This has a price that I think some in the community's leadership may not have sufficiently considered. Given that as some folks are being turned off by these charges, other folks are being turned on to fight like hell for the alleged victim, energies and focus that are going to controversial individual situations--minor in the great scheme of things--are not going toward remedying expansive and very well-fed systemic travesties. That's too high a price for leaping to defend a dog brutalizer like Michael Vick. There are way more important matters, such as the aftermath of breached levees in New Orleans, and endemic job, credit, income, housing, mortgage, and school inequities that shackle too many decent, working people of color and too many decent, working white people in poverty.

I'm talking partly about how movement emphasesnecessarily lose viability over decades. I'm talking about how words get plumb worn out, and how images and slogans have to be re-charged, re-inspired from time to time. But mostly I'm talking about choosing priorities wisely, and about finding ways to make achieving those priorities "newsworthy" PR events.

The media have a role in putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syLAble, of course. It serves the status quo for our energies to be diverted in this way, just as it serves the status quo for our energies to be diverted from criminal conduct in the executive branch to an endless stream of cases concerning the abduction of pretty white girls or the sexual pecadillos of US senators.

Wouldn't it be better, now, here, in the year 2007, for African American cultural and political leaders, and for the rest of us who believe in equality and justice for all, to concert all these energies and organize all available human and material resources toward publicizing, educating about, and dismantling this instead of defending Michael Vick?