American Apartheid: I Can't Breathe-Black Lives Matter

Originally posted on CarolynBaker.net

An Excerpt from Dark Gold Written by Community Solutions Fellow, Carolyn Baker

Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. The second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type. When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn – at least in words. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.~Stokely Carmichael, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation~

Civil rights activist, Stokely Carmichael, coined the term institutional racism in the 1960s when many white moderates wanted to focus on the transformation of attitudes among individual whites. Carmichael asserted that much more toxic than personal bias was institutional bias which constitutes a pattern of institutions such as banks, governmental organizations, courts, schools, and neighborhoods treating a particular group of people negatively based on race. Since the inception of the Civil Rights movement of the twentieth century, activists have emphasized the need for changing both our individual and institutional attitudes toward people of color. Millions of white Americans have experienced very dramatic transformations in their attitudes toward and relationships with minorities, but institutional patterns persist and in the second decade of the twenty-first century continue to influence the wellbeing of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities in the United States.

In the throes of protests throughout the United States in December, 2014 following grand jury rulings on the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri four months prior and the suffocation death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police in July, 2014, Eric Draitser stated in his Russia TV online article, “Racial Discrimination Is Deeply Embedded In Fabric of The US Society”:

It’s hard to say if you are making an argument that an institution is, by its very nature and form, an oppressive force, that’s one thing. But just on the level of reform, the fact of the matter is here in New York City we had a “progressive” mayor elected, and as his first action he appointed one of the most reactionary and villainous figures in recent NYPD history, Will Bratton, to head the police force here, someone with quite a long reputation of racially discriminatory policies, such as the so-called “broken windows policing” here in New York City. So if you want to start to address the problem even just as a first step, you can begin to ask yourself what are we – that is to say the City of New York, City of Saint Louis or Los Angeles, whatever – what are we as a city doing to address what is undeniably a problem that is faced by a vast swath of the population of the city? We are talking about major American cities with major demographic issues, demographics that show massive portions of the city are African American, massive portions of the city that see the police as an occupying force, not as one that is there to protect them. So you have to address a sociological phenomenon before you can start any high-minded talk about reform.

In a 2015 interview by Luke Brinker for Salon Magazine, linguist and left-wing activist, Noam Chomsky astutely analyzed America’s institutionalized racism in its historical context: “The first black slaves were brought to the colonies 400 years ago. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that during this long period there have been only a few decades when African-Americans, apart from a few, had some limited possibilities for entering the mainstream of American society,” Chomsky says. “We also cannot allow ourselves to forget that the hideous slave labor camps of the new “empire of liberty” were a primary source for the wealth and privilege of American society, as well as England and the continent,” he adds. “The industrial revolution was based on cotton, produced primarily in the slave labor camps of the United States.”

Throughout the country’s history, Chomsky notes, enforcers of racial subjugation have been gripped by fears that the oppressed will rebel against the racial hierarchy.

“Some of the slave-owners, like Jefferson, appreciated the moral turpitude on which the economy relied. But he feared the liberation of slaves, who have ‘ten thousand recollections’ of the crimes to which they were subjected,” Chomsky says. “Fears that the victims might rise up and take revenge are deeply rooted in American culture, with reverberations to the present.”

The harsh realities of American racism and how it functions are seldom acknowledged, Chomsky argues — the willful result of national myth-making and truth-shrouding.

“There is also a common variant of what has sometimes been called ‘intentional ignorance’ of what it is inconvenient to know: ‘Yes, bad things happened in the past, but let us put all of that behind us and march on to a glorious future, all sharing equally in the rights and opportunities of citizenry,’” he explains

In the preceding paragraph, Chomsky is describing our compulsion to bury the collective shadow of racism in our past and focus only on the strides we have made since the end of the Civil War. However, Jung warned that, “Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

The eruption of racial tension in the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century appears to eerily echo Jung’s incisive caveat.

During the protests across the United States in response to the Brown and Garner deaths, a frequent slogan shouted and written on placards was “I can’t breathe,” which were the last words of Eric Garner as he was being subdued by New York police officers, and “black lives matter,” in response to the deaths of both men. The Black Lives Matter website states specifically: “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.  It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

How is it that 149 years after the conclusion of the American Civil War, we are witnessing an epidemic of young black men being shot by white police officers and an ensuing upheaval of protest in American society in response to these atrocities? In 1992 the City of Los Angeles erupted in massive riots following the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers who had stopped Rodney King for speeding, then subsequently tased and brutally beat him while he was lying on the ground. The beating was caught on camera and became an iconic example of American police brutality. Other than the Rodney King incident, rioting and protests with regard to race relations in the United States have been sparse since the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement—until now.

The recent rash of police brutality incidents in the black community have occurred alongside the dramatic militarization of police in America. In recent years since the conclusion of the Iraq War and the winding down of the Afghanistan War, the Pentagon has issued unprecedented amounts of military equipment to local police departments, presumably because it does not want excess equipment sitting idly in mothballs while local police could be utilizing it. Concurrently, the training of local police officers has taken on more of the flavor of permanent combat as if police officers are not just protecting the community but are actually engaged in war. In her August 30, 2014 article in Salon Magazine entitled “Militarized Police Are Everywhere,” Ann Hagedorn states that “When police officers are armed and trained like soldiers, it’s not surprising that they act like soldiers”

The juxtaposition of increased police aggression against the African American community in the United States and the militarization of police throughout the nation depicts the reality of two enormous American shadows playing out in tandem. In terms of racism, Americans have never fully come to terms with the institution of slavery. Inasmuch as excellent historical accounts have been written and portrayed in film and other media, few white Americans have absorbed the horror of slavery and experienced the agonizing remorse necessary to commit to the journey of confronting personal and institutional racism. While white Americans revere Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and enthusiastically celebrate his birthday every January, we have been seduced, in my opinion, into the illusion that the Civil Rights Movement he spearheaded resolved the race issue, and that we can now put it behind us. At this writing, however, the nation is once again being torn apart by racial strife. The names of young black men murdered by white police officers, the cacophony of protest, and the horrific assassination of two New York City Police officers by an African American man in December, 2014 in retaliation for the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, are searing reminders that nothing has been put behind us.

Institutional racism is the elephant in the room that has never been sufficiently addressed by white America. While talking heads on cable news channels debate the use of body cameras by local police officers as the magic bullet (no pun intended) that will alleviate police brutality, and as white Americans attempt to convince themselves that yet again, technology is our savior, no one is seriously discussing institutional racism—the shadow of all make-nice appearances of racial harmony and healing since the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement.

In his December, 2014 Common Dreams article, “What Ferguson, Eric Garner, and CIA Torture Have in Common,” Shahid Buttar, notes that “Parallels between CIA torture and police murders in New York, Ferguson, Cleveland, and elsewhere may be easy to overlook. Unfortunately, both sets of abuses reflect similar patterns: severe crimes committed by powerful people, officially endorsed cover-ups, and formal legal impunity that compounds the original crimes.”

If directly questioned about their attitudes toward people of color or their misuse of power, the CIA contractor/torturer is likely to insist that he is not racist and that he was only doing his job. Likewise, the white Cleveland police officer who shot and killed twelve-year-old Tamir Rice on November 22, 2014 as Tamir was playfully brandishing an air gun, would deny fear of young black males and swear that he was merely attempting to protect and serve the community. Meanwhile, an epidemic of deaths of young black males at the hands of white police officers continues with the ghastly murder of Eric Harris in April, 2015 by a poorly-trained white reserve police officer and the death days later of Freddie Gray in Baltimore—a twenty-five year-old black man who was arrested by police and during detention sustained a severe neck injury that severed his spinal cord resulting in his death.

On the other end of the shadow’s spectrum, we have voices such as Nicole Wallace, former White House Communication Chief during the George W. Bush Administration, who with respect to America’s torture program shamelessly states, “I don’t care what we did.” And of course, former Vice-President, Dick Cheney, says he’d torture again in a heartbeat.

While it is useful to view the historical events that have led up to the present moment and connect the dots, it is equally useful, and I believe, necessary, to view current manifestations of the shadow in terms of the collapse of empire. Exceptionalism, entitlement, and excesses of power tend to exacerbate as civilizations crumble. “I was just doing my job” and “I’m a cop; my job is to protect and serve” are simply shadow defenses that seek to justify brutal behavior with no intention whatever of altering it.

The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated. With financing from Wall Street, for-profit prison companies seek to keep their jails full and expand them. Likewise, we lead the world in police brutality. We are second-to-none in terms of police killing civilians.

Surely, we’re not South Africa under Apartheid, we say as we attempt to rationalize current events. Ethnic cleansing only happens in places like Bosnia, right? Meanwhile, the institutional racism we refuse to address, within ourselves and within our communities, the terror of young black males and the terror of a society out of control that must be subdued with increasingly sophisticated military hardware—all of this is the American shadow writ large across a disintegrating empire.

Jungian analyst Sylvia Brinton Perera has written extensively on the Scapegoat archetype. “Scapegoating,” according to Perera, “as it is currently practiced, means finding the one or ones who can be identified with evil or wrong-doing, blamed for it, and cast out from the community in order to leave the remaining members with a feeling of guiltlessness, atoned (at-one) with the collective standards of behavior.” [“The Scapegoat Archetype,” from The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul Of A Nation, Edited by Jeramiah Abrams, Nataraj Publishing, 1994, p. 219] Scapegoating is a form of denying the shadow. What is seen as unfit to conform to the ego ideal is split off and called “evil” or “undesirable” or as Barry Spector names it “the Other.” Whether the one scapegoated rejects the attribution or not, Perera notes that they will inevitably feel its sting and “may unconsciously feel responsible for more than their personal share of shadow.”

So how do we cease scapegoating, and what are the rewards of doing so? Jung suggested that struggling with one’s own shadow and becoming brutally honest regarding one’s own scapegoating of the other, including opening to ways we do this of which we may not be fully aware, is the beginning of the healing journey. Jungian analyst, Erich Neumann more specifically suggested:

In contrast to scapegoat psychology, in which the individual eliminates his own evil by projecting it on to the weaker brethren, we now find that the exact opposite is happening: we encounter the phenomenon of “vicarious suffering.” The individual assumes personal responsibility for part of the burden on the collective, and he decontaminates this evil by integrating it into his own inner process of transformation. If the operation is successful, it leads to an inner liberation of the collective, which in part at least is redeemed from this evil. [Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and A New Ethic, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969, p. 130]

Within this astringent shadow work lies the possibility of personal transformation enabled by a willingness to deeply ponder the qualities within oneself that one is projecting outward. Equally important are deep grief regarding one’s scapegoating behavior and a willingness to form authentic relationships with those one has “Othered.” As a result, not only personal healing but healing of the larger community is possible.

In his article “An Archetypal Dilemma: The LA Riots,” Jerome Bernstein notes that in Western culture, skin color plays a powerful role in the projection of our nation’s shadow. “The darker the skin color, the greater the shadow projections and the worse the discrimination.” He suggests that, “In a psycho-spiritual sense, a culture that subscribes to a religious gospel that holds that its principle god is one who ‘is light and in him is no darkness at all’ very much loads the relative value of light and dark in that society.” [Jerome Bernstein, “An Archetypal Dilemma: The LA Riots,” from The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul Of A Nation, Edited by Jeramiah Abrams, Nataraj Publishing, 1994, p.241]

From Bernstein’s perspective, “Blacks as a group carry the collective shadow of the culture as a whole. This archetypal fact, in my view, accounts for the extraordinary rage and hopelessness at the core of the collective unconscious of the Black community in this country…Nothing will heal the alienation with the Black community of this country that does not recognize and take responsibility for the fact that Blacks have been and remain the permanent scapegoat of our culture in ways that are manifested in no other minority group…As the archetypal scapegoat of the dominant culture they remain caught in a dilemma from which there is seemingly no escape, where virtually all the cards are in the hands of the perceived persecutor. As long as they are the scapegoats, the Black community will remain the outcast of the nation, forever used to carry the country’s sins. Having been cut off from their roots, with literally no place to go, the disenfranchised are strongly predisposed to rebel against their assigned role with violent rage.” [Ibid, p. 241-244]

Following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, significant gains were made by African Americans economically, socially, politically, and educationally. Yet the core shadow issue of white-black relations was never addressed. An African American President of the ruling elite who abhors conflict and seeks to maintain the image of “rational” former Professor of Constitutional Law shows little interest in entering the raging waters of America’s scapegoating of the Black community. Rather, he appears to assume that by virtue of his election to the Presidency and an election to a second term, race relations in the United States have made such enormous strides that the nation need not enter the messiness of untangling what four centuries of scapegoating have wrought.

The shadow is relentless in seducing us into easy answers that are not answers at all. Surely, the election of an African American President will produce overnight a post-racial society. At the shadow’s behest, we preen and pontificate and pride ourselves in our advancement. How far we have come since Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech! Yet that great Black Lion of the Civil War era, Frederick Douglass would unapologetically confront our blithe dismissal of what is required to heal the racial divide:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. [Frederick Douglass Selected Speeches and Writings]

**********************************************

SUGGESTED PRACTICES/EXERCISES: I believe that every individual on earth who is not a person of color carries some aspect of racism is his/her psyche. In addition, many people of color harbor attitudes of “Othering” toward other people of color as well as those who are not persons of color. These specific attitudes of “Othering” have been passed down through countless generations for centuries and inflicted on human beings of different ethnicities whom we fear or scapegoat. Healing our tendencies to “Other” our fellow humans is, I believe, a lifelong process, but the rewards of engaging in the process are incalculable. A host of resources for understanding the dynamics of oppression and deepening our compassion, as well as our sense of one-ness with all human beings are readily available.

1. I suggest extensive journaling after watching this documentary, paying particular attention to the feelings it evokes and especially moments when you feel defensive, angry, impatient, or sad. Also notice the moments that warmed your heart. After viewing the documentary the first time, a more challenging exercise might be viewing it with a multicultural group of friends and reflecting together on your experiences.
2.Contemplate Chapter 3 entitled “Interbeing” from Charles Eisenstein’s book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. The focus of the chapter in the author’s words is: “The fundamental precept of the new story is that we are in-separate from the universe, and our being partakes in the being of everyone and everything else.” To what extent have you experienced inter-being in relation to other humans and the earth community? How has that influenced your life? What challenges have you encountered in practicing inter-being?
3. I highly recommend viewing the 1994 documentary “The Color of Fear” from film maker Lee Mun Wah, produced by Stir Fry Seminars in the San Francisco Bay Area. This powerful dialog among a small, multicultural group of men is a deeply moving exploration of conscious and unconscious “Othering” which also includes breakthrough moments of healing and union.
4. Highly recommended are books and trainings by Tim Wise author of Dear White America: A Letter to A New Minority.Additionally recommended are specific racial justice trainings such as those offered by the Social Justice Institute, the Aspen Institute, various local branches of the YWCA, and the Racial Justice Training Institute of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.