Black Americans were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana posession in 2010, even though the two groups smoke weed at similar rates, according to new federal data. The American Civil Liberties Union cites the Edward Bryne Justice Assistantship Grant Program as one possible reason for the disparity. The program incentivizes increasing drug arrest numbers by tying the statistics to funding. Law enforcement then concentrates on low-income neighborhoods to keep those numbers up.
More at the Atlantic Wire:
The argument resonantes with criticism of the NYPD’s ‘stop and frisk’ program, which overwhelmingly targets young, black or latino men in the city (and, indeed, demonstrates a racial disparity in arrests for marijuana possession). But as the ACLU and the Times show, the problem of racial bias in arrests for possessing a drug that is, after all, gaining acceptance across the U.S., is a national one. the ACLU found a bias in ‘virtually every county in the country,’ they told the Times,regardless of the proportional population of minorities in that county.
Back in 2010 the NAACP called the racial discrepency in weed arrests a ‘civil rights issue.’ One year later, to mark the 20th anniversary of the U.S. War on Drugs, author Michelle Alexander told a crowd of 1,000 at Harlem’s Riverside Church back in 2011, ‘The enemy in this war has been racially defined. The drug war, not by accident, has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.’
Yet, meaning of this year transcends these numbers. We have seen ample intrusions of blatant racism into the public square. I recently wrote about this, arguing:
In Two-Faced Racism, Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin explore the ways in which racial performances are carried in both the frontstage (integrated and multiracial public spaces) and the backstage (those private/semi-private all-white spaces where race talk and racist ideas reveal themselves in profound ways). Their research found that the backstage offers whites a place to “perform, practice, learn, reinforce, and maintain racist views of and inclinations toward people of color. These views and inclinations play a central role in generating and maintaining the overt and covert racial discrimination that is still commonplace in major institutions of this society” (27-28).
Increasingly, however, the frontstage is replacing the backstage whereupon whites are publicly performing, learning, reinforcing and maintaining their racist views toward people of color. Evident in college students donning blackface and then putting pictures online, evident in Gene Marks, Newt Ginrich, Donald Trump and their reactionary pals lamenting the laziness of black youth, evident in the usage of the N-word, evident in white-only movie screenings and white-only swimming pools, the lines between the frontstage and the backstage are blurring before our eyes. In other words, the frontstage is now the backstage, leaving me to wonder what sorts of ideologies, stereotypes and racial talk is transpiring in backstage. Or maybe, in a “post-racial America,” widespread racism has returned (did it ever leave?) to the frontstage thereby illustrating the importance of challenging and resisting in each and every location.
Not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh (calling President Obama a “oreo cookie” and Michelle Obama as “uppity”), Ann Coulter (“our blacks are better than theirs”), Pat Buchannan (“Blacks bought a lot of propaganda of the liberal plantation”), amongst others, all illustrate the ways in which racist language and ideologies define the nature of political discourse during 2011. Beyond the ample instances of racism, it is important to see beyond the starling ease that racism operates within the public square to look at the ways race plays out within the deployed narratives and ideologies. Take Pat Buchannan, who reminisced for Jim Crow during 2011: “Back then, black and white lived apart, went to different schools and churches, played on different playgrounds, and went to different restaurants, bars, theaters, and soda fountains. But we shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans.” In language and the vision for America, race defined the past year (and the years before).
The last year has also seen quite a bit of recycling. From the Moynihan Report and culture of poverty, to bootstraps ideology and efforts to blame the poor, 2011 has seen a comeback (not that these racist narratives ever went away) of these troubling ideas. Two of the most illustrative examples were Newt Gingrich and Gene Marks. Gingrich, who has made a career of race baiting (calling President Obama a “food stamp president” and one defined by a “‘Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview’”), recently offered policy prescriptions to deal with black unemployment: teach black youth the value of work. He stated:
Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working. And have nobody around them who works. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’-unless it’s illegal. What if you paid them part time in the afternoon, to sit at the clerical office and greet people when they came in? What if you paid them to work as the assistant librarian. What if they were the assistant janitor, and carried a mop?
Deploying longstanding stereotypes about black laziness and criminality, all while crafting economic policy based on bootstrapism, Ginrich shows how 2011 has been so much about sampling and redeploying the racist ideologies of yesteryear. Gene Marks, whose article prompted widespread condemnation because of its paternalistic tone and acceptance of widespread stereotypes, is equally reflective of this trend.
I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed. Still. In 2011. Even a poor black kid in West Philadelphia.
The prosecution and sentencing of, and the struggle for justice for, Kelly Williams-Bolar is emblematic of many issues surrounding race in 2011. From the criminalization of people of color and the demonization of women of color, to educational inequalities and the generation of kids behind left behind, her case teaches us much about the continued struggle for civil rights in 2nd decade of the twenty-first century. Jamilah King described the case in the following way:
Just in case you haven’t seen this story blow up on your social network this week: Kelley Williams-Bolar is headed to an Ohio jail. The mother of two was sentenced this week to 10 days in jail, three years of probation, and 80 hours of community service. Her crime? Sending her two daughters to an out-of-district school. . . .It’s an infuriating case, especially for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with educational inequity in this country. America still hasn’t made good on its half-century promise to desegregate its public schools, and academic achievement can almost always be measured by zip code.
The demonization of women of color extended into the realm of popular culture as well.
2011 was also the year of The Help, a film that recycled the hegemonic Hollywood trope of “white love” (h/t Elon James White) and racial redemption all while sanitizing the black freedom struggle. Yet, it was also a year defined by the many powerful responses to this film; these effort resisted and challenged the film’s (mis)representation of black women’s work, segregation, social justice, and countless other issues. From the Association of Black Woman Historians’ powerful statement to the many articles from black scholars – Dutchess Harris, Rebecca Wanzo, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Martha Southgate, Mark Anthony Neal, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers – many voices have challenged the narrative and representations offered by The Help, refusing to accept the cultural politics of the mainstream. Yet, 2011 has also seen the release of Pariah, a film that explores the experience of a young black lesbian struggling for acceptance within her family and society at large. Whereas The Help represents blackness as accessory, as the help, Pariah reminds audiences of the power and beauty of black identity, highlighting heterogeneity, diversity, and humanity.
2011 has seen ample moments of resistance, a refusal to accept and tolerate racism, sexism, and homophobia. It has been a year of “speaking truth to power” and refusing the dominant narrative. Following the airing of ABC’s 20/20 special entitled “Children of the Plains,” a group of Native American students from South Dakota produced their own video that refused the images and messages offered in the show: “I know what you probably think of us…we saw the special too. Maybe you saw a picture, or read an article. But we want you to know, we’re more than that…we have so much more than poverty.” Then there were the students from Ohio University, who launched the “We are a culture not a costume” campaign to protest the racist stereotypes and racist images so prominent during Halloween. Youth in California and Alabama fought vigorously to change the tide against anti-immigrant racism. Hotel workers in New York protested Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the victimization of Nafissatou Diallo. And so much more.