Commenter Makheru Bradley’s helpful observations about the decision by Republicans in North Carolina to deny the survivors of the state’s decades-long eugenics program is a nice connection to our goings back and forth in this post about the neutrality of the law and the existence of institutional racism
Law is a social construct. While some may appeal to concepts such as universal or natural law, I have always been of the mind that this social glue does not transcend time and space. In all, the law is a particular arrangement, of a given society, located in a specific moment in time.
By implication, if a society is structured in inequalities of race, class, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality then its laws will reflect those arrangements of power. The law is a channeling of Power, the ability to normalize certain behaviors, to mark other behaviors as deviant or aberrant, and works to protect certain classes of people from the consequences of their actions: there is a reason that the gangster capitalists on Wall Street who stole billions (and wrecked millions of lives) are “white collar” criminals, who may in a perfect world do a few years in a country club prison, while the guy who steals a television can end up in jail for years or decades.
The former group (and those of their class) make the law; the latter live in a society under statutes and dictates that the first group designed.
For the victims of North Carolina’s tyrannical eugenics program, whose justice claims were denied by the Senate Republicans, and that have seen their appeals ignored by the courts, what would justice look like?
Apologies are symbolic acts which do not have any monetary value–and yet are nonetheless resisted (see the many white folks’ grumblings about Clinton’s quizzical and weak apology to Africans for the enslavement of black Americans). However, apologies do have some amount of moral currency. But, can you take moral currency to the bank and cash it in? Can a person transform the moral high ground into fair compensation for the resources and inter-generational transfers of wealth denied your community by the self-interested and vicious acts of others?
In Makheru Bradley’s mentioning of the Tulsa race riots which destroyed the country’s famed Black Wall Street, he signaled to those larger questions. During the red summers of the late 19 teens and early 1920s African American communities were subjected to organized, terrorist, white mob violence that was designed to destroy the political economy of Black America in the post World War One, Jim and Jane Crow era.
Looking back almost 100 years, and evaluating the future wealth destroyed by those pogroms and riots, the black-white wealth gap in the 21st century is clearly related to these acts of economic mass destruction. Ultimately, if the goal of white mob violence in the 20th century was to hobble black people in the decades going forward, it would appear that the Racial State was extremely successful.
I have watched the lede news item about the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots many times. I am saddened as the ancestors of those black people driven from their homes and killed by white mob violence seem resigned with having a church service, and a monument constructed to “honor” the suffering of their people. I also cringe when watching similar moments of racial “healing” such as the ceremonial foot washing by white folks of the ancestors and kin of the African Americans who were driven from their neighborhoods and communities across this country in acts of mass ethnic cleansing as documented by the movie Banished.
I like money. Empty hands and an “I am sorry” are just that…empty gestures. Apologies have little meaning if you are not willing to transfer resources back to those who were unjustly stolen from. In short, show me the money!
Aggrieved peoples around the world, from countries such as Israel, to some Native American tribes in the United States, and including nations like South Africa, India, and elsewhere, have been compensated for group disenfranchisement and suffering. I acknowledge that slavery reparations are a non-starter in the United States for this or any other lifetime. This is not a dismissal of the legal or ethical grounds of such a claim. It is simply an acknowledgement of racial realpolitik. Ironically, the election of the country’s first Black President was the last nail in the metaphorical coffin of what is/was a very legitimate and legally sound project.
Nevertheless, I must still ask why are so many African Americans content with symbolic hugs and quasi-apologies that come with no substantive or material transfer of resources? Is this a symptom of exhaustion? Are folks just that broken and beaten, where symbolic acts are all that they feel justly entitled to?
I would argue that African Americans do not need hugs and a foot bath. We need individuals who are willing to use every legal means available both domestically and internationally to advance their justice claims.
Where are such men and women of courage? Have the lions been culled from herd?
Alternatively, please do teach me something. Are the courts so rigged, and Power so omnipresent, that such efforts are just so much wasted energy? Am I yelling at the wind?
© 2012, agentleman.