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Breaking White Silence on Racism

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(NNPA) On September 15, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka did something quite fascinating. He spoke to a labor audience in St. Louis about race and racism. What was particularly noteworthy is that he was not speaking to a largely Black or Latino audience. [To hear and see the speech, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny8loBhqmhc.]

I have known Richard Trumka for almost 25 years. He has been outspoken against race and racism, but what is significant here is that all too often Whites speak about race and racism to the victims of this oppression, specifically, to African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. No matter how powerful a speech it may be, it always begs a simple question: Why are you telling us what we already know?

Trumka decided to flip the script. Seizing on the anger that has arisen in connection with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Trumka went to the Missouri AFL-CIO Convention to, among other things, speak about race and class. His audience was not the tried and true. Although it was racially mixed, Trumka was especially targeting his remarks towards White trade unionists, many of who have contradictory attitudes toward race and racism.

Trumka’s remarks have set off a whirlwind of excitement on the Internet, and so they should. Yet the problem that we confront is one that the union movement confronted in 2008 when the same Richard Trumka challenged White workers to put aside their racial biases and vote for Barack Obama. The problem is that his speeches—in both cases—were courageous and progressive. Nevertheless, the 2008 speech was not followed up by a broader dialogue in the trade union movement about race and it is far from clear whether such a discussion will happen this go-round subsequent to his September 15th speech.

Organized labor desperately needs a discussion about race. Such a discussion is not only about African Americans and Whites, but concerns the entire racial spectrum of the USA. We are in need of a discussion that helps Whites in particular, to come to understand how and why “race” as a method of social control was introduced into North America. Such a dialogue is not a ‘touchy/feely’ exchange along the lines of too many well-intentioned but misguided multi-cultural programs. Rather, the dialogue needs to rest on history such that workers generally grasp the means through which they have been played against one another and who has actually gained.

The sort of dialogue we need must also tackle questions like immigration, and specifically, why the dramatically different attitudes in White America towards immigration to the U.S. from Ireland and Russia, compared with their attitudes towards migrants from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Nigeria.

Trumka deserves praise for his remarks. One does not have to agree with every word, and it is not the speech that I would have delivered. But it was a speech delivered by a White union leader seeking to move White union members to rethink the racial instinct that has been implanted within them, and within generations preceding them. That said, we need to go much further and move a broader discussion and then, of course, together take some very concrete steps to challenge racist oppression.

The silence has been broken by the solo. Now we must have the chorus.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is also a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjrs.com.

Violence Against Women and Children is Wrong

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“I also understand after meeting with a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining a child that may be more appropriate.” — Adrian Peterson

(NNPA) The NFL may have inadvertently done us all a favor by shedding light on a problem that is too often ignored or swept under the rug. Recent incidents of abuse of his then fiancée/now wife by former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and alleged child abuse by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson are stark reminders that domestic violence against anyone has no place in any relationship, even when it is not captured on camera or doesn’t become a national news story.

As the president of a civil rights organization that is steeped in a tradition of peaceful change, and as a husband and father of two daughters, I have consistently spoken out against the lack of value placed on the lives of Black males, including Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and too many more across the nation.

Today, I want to send a similar message about the value we place on the women and children who live in our homes.  Non-violence has always been the cornerstone of what Dr. King and John Lewis have called “The Beloved Community” – and non-violence begins in the home.

While a wide range of disciplinary choices are available to parents, we must ask ourselves if the way we were raised is the same way we want to raise our children. What lessons are we teaching children when disputes between fathers and mothers are more likely settled with physical confrontations instead of reasoned conversations?

While spanking – sometimes with belts and switches – might have been a part of many of our childhoods, what are we saying to our children when we whip them until their butts are black and blue?  Charles Barkley was a formidable basketball player and is an entertaining sports commentator, but Chuck got it wrong when he recently downplayed Adrian Peterson’s use of a switch which caused lacerations and bruises on his 4-year-old son.  Barkley responded by saying, “I’m from the South.  Whipping — we do that all the time.  Every Black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Responding to the fumbling response of the NFL in the wake of recent incidents and allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse involving professional football players,  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted, “I got it wrong and I am sorry.”  Saying that “Domestic abuse and sexual assault have no place in the NFL,” he also pledged to re-examine and change NFL policies to prevent future incidents and toughen sanctions for players who break the rules.

But this is a problem that affects all of us. Domestic violence occurs among all races and in all communities. Parenting is not easy, and none of us are perfect; but when loving discipline crosses the line into angry and hurtful punishment, it is time to take a step back and seek healthier ways to teach our children right from wrong.  Many urban families facing the twin stresses of poverty and single parenthood may need special help. That is why many Urban League affiliates across the country offer parenting counseling as part of their services to the community, and it is why the National Urban League has been such a strong supporter of Early Childhood Education and programs such as Head Start, which include parenting classes.

This issue is about more than Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and the NFL. It is about who we are as a nation. It’s time for all of us to take a stand and make it clear – domestic violence is wrong – no tolerance, no excuses.  Our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends are counting on us.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Pressure Mounts to Drop Name of D.C. Football Team

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(NNPA) Well, the season has begun and with it another round of calls for the Washington football team to rid itself of its insulting and racist name. What was, only a few years ago, a shout in the wilderness that was largely ignored except by Native Americans and some of their allies, has now become something of a clarion call which has entered the mainstream.  The Washington Post, to the fury of some of its readers, decided to take the symbolic though significant step of ceasing to refer to the Washington football team by their official name on their editorial page.  This action has been one of many that seem to be sweeping the scene.

Despite these repeated calls for a name change, including an implicit call by President Obama, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington football franchise, refuses to budge.  Under other circumstances his actions would actually be quite hilarious.  He has done virtually everything imaginable in order to convince the public – but probably to convince himself – that there is absolutely nothing insulting, racist, etc., about the name of his team.  The problem is that his actions are simply not working.

Snyder’s adamant refusal to budge forces us to come to grips with the ramifications of racist demonization. The notion of a “red skin,” as articulated by the descendants of settlers who ravaged North America and nearly exterminated Native Americans, cannot be value neutral any more than the N-word. Despite the fact that such derogatory terms may be used within the racial/ethnic group that is being attacked, such usage is quite different than when applied by society as a whole. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the late Richard Pryor’s notion that there “…are no n—— “ (a statement with which I happen to agree), there is a profound difference between two Black people using the term vis a vis one another, and a White person using it.  The White person uses that term as a bat with which to suppress us and remind us of our marginal and subordinate status.  In that sense, names can and do really hurt.

The same is true with regard to the notion of “red skins.”  It really does not matter how many Native Americans Daniel Snyder can dig up who claim that the term is value neutral. The reality can be found in the history of the term and the manner in which it accompanied the process of the removal of Native Americans from their land – and in many cases –  from Earth entirely.

They have been placed them in a status whereby they exist almost in a mythical state, except for the fact that most of them live under conditions of oppressive subordination even if and when they happen to have a gambling casino on their reservation.

Daniel Snyder:  it really is not all that difficult.  Just change the name and keep moving.  History and current political realities stand against you.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of “The Global African” on Telesur-English and is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

A Black Life is Worth Less than a $50 Box of Cigars?

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(NNPA) Under other circumstances one could simply ridicule the explanations offered by the Ferguson police regarding the killing of Michael Brown. To suggest that the killing was the result of the alleged theft of a $50 box of cigars or, for that matter, an angry exchange in connection with jaywalking, defies belief. To think about the number of people in this country who, in their youth, engaged in some degree of shoplifting or who have jaywalked suggests that there would need to be mass executions on a scale never before seen in the history of humanity.

Clearly, the killing had to do with neither the alleged theft nor alleged jaywalking. It had to do with power and life. The power was the power of a White-dominated police department to assert its total control over the activities of a population that has been largely disenfranchised from a supposed democracy. In that sense, Michael Brown was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That said, while circumstances could have resulted in Brown not having been at that precise location, the reality with which African Americans are all too familiar is that we are all potentially Michael Browns. There are no safety zones; there are no no-shooting zones in the USA when it comes to Black America. It is that point that many Black youth are attempting to capture with photos, tweets and slogans.

The killing was also about life. What White people in the U.S. need to ask themselves is whether there are any circumstances in their respective communities where the killing of a young White man for either allegedly stealing cigars or for getting into an argument with an officer regarding jaywalking would be tolerated. If the answer is “no,” then the follow up question is simple: Why should it be acceptable in African American communities?

The answer is implicit in the reality for African Americans throughout U.S .history: There is not an equivalent value on African American and White life in this society. There is not only the presumption of guilt, when African Americans have an encounter with the police, but an additional presumption that the police are justified in utilizing any means available against a Black alleged criminal, even if no crime has been committed.

Ferguson brought to my mind Gaza and the way in which Palestinian life has no value for the Israeli government. Three Jewish Israeli boys were brutally kidnapped and murdered and the Israeli political establishment decided to unite to punish all Palestinians, and especially those in Gaza, without a shred of evidence. No matter how many Palestinian civilians are killed, it is justified by the Israeli government on the grounds of their need to punish. What is implicit is the math: the deaths of three Jewish Israelis are compensated for by the deaths of more than a 1,900 Palestinians. When the proportions are that extreme the bottom line is simple: Palestinian life holds no value.

Oppression and tyranny can continue and gain popular support when those who are oppressed are deprived of the recognition of their humanity. When African Americans are presumed to be dangerous criminals or when Palestinians are presumed to be murderers, then there is no need for a trial. There is only need for an execution…and be done with it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

From 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' to 'Hands Up, Vote'

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(NNPA) Out of every momentous national tragedy that Black Americans have continued to endure in the United States, there has always emerged a redeeming moment to push harder and further on the long journey toward freedom, justice and equality. The continuing unrestrained fatal police killings of Black American males in St. Louis County, Missouri is now described as part of a national “open season” to kill Blacks in America. What should we do now? What is the redeeming action that should be taken?

In the aftermath of the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and so many others, what should be our next course of action? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing in his last book, pointed the way.

Writing in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King stated in 1967: “The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in the North and South.’’

Dr. King’s prophetic words, written 47 years ago, are equally true today. With the “browning of America,” there has been a steady increase in racially-motivated police violence against Blacks and Latinos.

The tragic murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has reverberated around the world. It is just the latest example of a society that refuses to end racial oppression or acknowledge its racist past. I remember that Dr. King responded to police brutality in the 1960s by telling his followers: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

As we say of faith-witnessing in the Black church tradition, “Lord, have mercy, we sure have received a lot of unearned suffering…… now it is time for us to get some redemption.” This bring me to my central point. With all that is going on in Missouri, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, New York, California, Louisiana, Illinois, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, we must transform our anger over police brutality, poverty, and economic inequality into a massive voter turnout. We should be preparing right now in every voting precinct in every congressional district and in every state where we live to have an unprecedented high voter turnout this November. We did it in 2008 we did it in 2012 and we can do it again in 2014.

Too often we live in communities where we have the potential margin of victory for local, congressional, statewide and national elections, but we simply do not go to the polls and vote, even though so many of our people died, bleed, went to jail, and “suffered” for us to get the right to vote. Having a right to vote is not enough. We all must exercise the right to vote not once but in every election. It’s extremely important that we do so this year because people expect us to because Obama’s name will not be on the ballot and mid-term voting is traditionally lower than in presidential years.

Voting our political, economic and spiritual interest is not only “redemptive,” it is also the right thing to do. Very often police officers are not prosecuted for acts of racial violence against Black Americans because locally “elected” prosecutors and district attorneys get elected and stay in office because we do not vote at the rate that we should. Citizens in Ferguson, Mo., a community that is at least 2/3 African American, only vote at a rate of about 12 percent – about a third of their representation in the population. That is a terrible reality that must now change. Understand, I am not saying that voting in record numbers will solve all the problems that we face in America. But what I am saying clearly is that our failure to understand the power of the vote holds back our progress in the United States.

I was so proud to see thousands of people marching nonviolently every day in Ferguson in protest to Michael Brown’s murder. The unified chant, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” captured the energy and aspirations of millions more throughout the country and indeed around the world. Let’s keep that energy going strong. Let’s remain vigilant, vocal and visible. As we move forward over the next 60 days, let’s also organize and mobilize to register to vote and to massively turnout the vote everywhere. Election Day should be Pay Back Day. Let’s also begin to chant “Hands Up, Vote!” Let’s make the difference.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

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