Anti-Racism 101

10 Historic and Current Fight Against Equality


“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.“ –Assata Shakur

Emblematic lynching event:

On February 7, 1904, a black man and woman were tortured and killed in Sunflower County, Mississippi, as hundreds of white people watched and cheered. The man, Luther Holbert, was accused of fatally shooting James Eastland, a white landowner from a prominent and wealthy family. Eastland’s brothers, Woods and Hiram, led the posse that captured Holbert as he fled with a black woman whose name was not reported.

Eyewitnesses reported that members of the mob prepared funeral pyres while Luther Holbert and the [unnamed] black woman, each tied to a tree, watched. They were forced to hold out their hands as their fingers were chopped off, one at a time, and distributed as souvenirs. Then their ears were cut off and handed out as prizes. Holbert was beaten until his skull fractured and one eye hung from its socket. Mob members then used a large corkscrew to bore into their arms, legs, and torsos, pulling out large pieces of flesh before throwing both victims on the fire to burn to death. The event was described as festive, with 600 spectators enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey.

For a generation of white Americans who bitterly fought civil rights progress, Eastland and leaders like him linked the era of racial terror in which they were born to the era of inequality and Jim Crow segregation. –Equal Justice Initiative “From Slavery to Segregation”

Read more here:

“It is bad enough that much of white America sees fit to lecture black people about the proper response to police brutality, economic devastation and perpetual marginality, having ourselves rarely been the targets of any of these. It is bad enough that we deign to instruct black people whose lives we have not lived, whose terrors we have not faced, and whose gauntlets we have not run, about violence; this, even as we enjoy the national bounty over which we currently claim possession solely as a result of violence. I beg to remind you, George Washington was not a practitioner of passive resistance. Neither the early colonists nor the nation’s founders fit within the Gandhian tradition. There were no sit-ins at King George’s palace, no horseback freedom rides to affect change. There were just guns, lots and lots of guns.

We are here because of blood, and mostly that of others; here because of our insatiable and rapacious desire to take by force the land and labor of those others. We are the last people on Earth with a right to ruminate upon the superior morality of peaceful protest. We have never believed in it and rarely practiced it. Rather, we have always taken what we desire, and when denied it we have turned to means utterly genocidal to make it so.

Which is why it always strikes me as precious the way so many white Americans insist (as if preening for a morality contest of some sorts) that ‘we don’t burn down our own neighborhoods when we get angry.’ This, in supposed contrast to black and brown folks who engage in such presumptively self-destructive irrationality as this. On the one hand, it simply isn’t true. We do burn our own communities, we do riot, and for far less valid reasons than any for which persons of color have ever hoisted a brick, a rock, or a bottle.We do so when our teams lose the big game or win the big game; or because of something called Pumpkin Festival; or because veggie burritos cost $10 at Woodstock ’99 and there weren’t enough Porta-Potties by the time of the Limp Bizkit set; or because folks couldn’t get enough beer at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake; or because surfers (natch); or St. Patty’s Day in Albany; or because Penn State fired Joe Paterno; or because it’s a Sunday afternoon in Ames, Iowa; and we do it over and over and over again. Far from mere amateur hooliganism, our riots are indeed violent affairs that have been known to endanger the safety and lives of police, as with the infamous 1998 riot at Washington State University.” –Tim Wise

We can’t understand the present without understanding Reconstruction.

“The Union victory in the Civil War in 1865 may have given some 4 million slaves their freedom, but…under the administration of President Andrew Johnson in 1865 and 1866, new southern state legislatures passed restrictive ‘black codes’ to control the labor and behavior of former slaves and other African Americans. Outrage in the North over these codes eroded support for the approach known as Presidential Reconstruction and led to the triumph of the more radical wing of the Republican Party. During Radical Reconstruction, which began in 1867, newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government for the first time in American history, winning election to southern state legislatures and even to the U.S. Congress. In less than a decade, however, reactionary forces–including the Ku Klux Klan–would reverse the changes wrought by Radical Reconstruction in a violent backlash that restored white supremacy in the South.”

In July 1868, the United States adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, granting citizenship to black people born in the United States, and in 1870 ratified the Fifteenth Amendment, explicitly prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. But bloody conflicts over voting rights erupted again and again, in the Louisiana communities of Opelousas and Colfax; in Eufaula and Eutaw in Alabama; and throughout the South. 

Federal troops abruptly left the region in 1877, and by 1900, black voters were a rarity.  Poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses reigned for decades until the 1965 Voting Rights Act created federal prohibitions and oversight to eradicate most, but not all, of those suppression tactics. Felony disenfranchisement policies that ban citizens from voting due to past criminal convictions have proved the most enduring and persistent remnant of 19th century voter discrimination efforts – shielded from challenge by the very Fourteenth Amendment recently celebrated for 150 years of ensuring equal justice.

According to the Sentencing Project, over six million Americans with criminal convictions cannot vote due to a patchwork of laws in 48 of the 50 states. Some disenfranchise only those in prison for a felony, while other states bar from voting anyone on probation or parole. Still others impose waiting periods or other conditions before voting rights can be restored, and a small number permanently prohibit voting after a felony conviction.

Louisiana and Alabama today remain legal and political battlegrounds. The once-controversial question of “Negro suffrage” has given way to debates over the electoral fitness of people with criminal convictions, but the racial results are still striking:  2.2 million black Americans are disenfranchised – that is one in 13, and four times the rate of all other racial groups combined. In 23 states, including Louisiana and Alabama, at least 5 percent of black voting-age residents are banned from the ballot box.” –Equal Justice Initiative

The sanitized version of King’s life and work — the colorblind ‘I have a dream’ narrative — often fails to acknowledge how King’s increasing profile as a radical, anti-racist organizer drew antagonism from the FBI and its director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, which began as early as 1964, four years before he was assassinated.

In fact, in October 1963, U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy authorized secret wiretapping of King’s phones and kept the surveillance under wraps until a few weeks after the assassination. The FBI’s continued use of surveillance, in tandem with its efforts to defame King as a Communist sympathizer, hardly comports with passive stories one would expect of the peaceful, nonconfrontational character often described today. But rather than a truthful reckoning with his radical positions on justice, many cling to King’s earlier quotes and work, misrepresenting the full gamut of his contributions to the justice tradition. Just last year, the FBI attempted to “honor” King by quoting him on Twitter. Yet the bureau didn’t follow up its tweet with any explanation as to how such an honorable man was once one of its greatest adversaries.” –Jenn M. Jackson

“In response, Mississippi state Rep. Karl Oliver wrote that those [confederate] statues were ‘erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans,’ and if Landrieu, and the lawmakers supporting his plan [to remove them], want to ‘destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED!’ Oliver later apologized for using the word lynched, but the fight is a reminder that America in 2017 is still deeply, even violently, divided over the legacy of slavery, and those who fought to defend it.

None of this surprises Stevenson [founder-director of Equal Justice Initiative]. For years, his organization has been documenting and memorializing the actual lynchings that happened in America after slavery was abolished, and is now building a museum that will explore America’s brutal history on race with more honesty. He has thought deeply about the work America resistance to confronting the reality of our past, and the damage that that national act of forgetting — or, worse, of lying — has done to our present.

‘We’ve created the counter narrative that says we have nothing about which we should be ashamed,’ says Stevenson. ‘Our past is romantic and glorious. In my state of Alabama, Jefferson Davis’s birthday is a state holiday. Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday. We don’t even have Martin Luther King Day in Alabama. We have Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. Our two largest high schools are Robert E. Lee High and Jefferson Davis High. They’re both 90-some percent African-American. If we don’t think it matters, then I think we’re just kidding ourselves.’” –Ezra Klein

Civil rights activism fighting segregation and demanding equal voting rights spread throughout the 1960s. Lowndes County and the surrounding Alabama Black Belt became a major battlefield as organizers like Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee focused on the area as a place to expose injustice and mobilize a grassroots movement. After law enforcement brutally attacked voting rights protesters trying to march across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday (February 18, 1965) photographs and video footage of the violence made national news.

Soon, people from all over the country heeded Dr. King’s call to come to Selma and join the march. On March 21, 1965, the march set out from Selma, headed for the state capital on a route leading through Lowndes County. On March 22 and 23, the marchers crossed Lowndes County in the rain and camped overnight at the Rosie Steele Farm in Hayneville and the Robert Gardner Farm in Burkville. The march reached Montgomery on March 26, and just four months later, in August 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Finally backed by federal law, organizers led by Stokely Carmichael and SNCC began intensive voter registration efforts in Lowndes County, including registration drives, political education classes for local black residents, and the launch of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a local independent black political party that sought to build political power by registering African Americans to vote….

The LCFO adopted the Black Panther as a visual contrast to the regression of the Democratic Party, and faced significant backlash. White business owners refused to serve known LCFO members in their stores and restaurants, and black tenant farmers were evicted from their homes. Many African Americans were left homeless and unemployed, and SNCC organizers and local leaders worked to purchase tents, cots, heaters, food, and water to establish a “tent city” where these families could find shelter and resources.” –Equal Justice Initiative  

Though voter purging may currently be on the rise, the history of voter suppression in America has deep roots. This month, EJI released Segregation in America, a report and companion website documenting the organized opposition to racial equality that was widespread throughout the country during the civil rights era. When activists secured federal laws to combat outright racial discrimination, more covert practices emerged to weaken growing black electoral power. Just three years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voter registration in the South had increased by 1.3 million. Segregationists desperate to suppress that political threat re-branded themselves ‘conservatives’ and spread manufactured ‘voter fraud’ fears to justify restrictive electoral policies for decades.

In the 1970s and 1980s, proponents defended voter purging as a way to identify and prevent fraud, but a 1981 internal memo by the Republican National Committee in Louisiana revealed other motives. ‘I know this race is really important to you,’ the memo read. ‘I will guess that this program [of voter purging] will eliminate at least 60,000-80,000 folks from the rolls . . . If it’s a close race, which I’m assuming it is, this could keep the black vote down considerably.’

Voter suppression has survived civil rights advancements and courageous activism because powerful narratives of racial difference and white supremacy have never been confronted and rejected. As a result, our nation continues to tolerate a democracy that excludes millions. Through voter purging and other tactics, many states have intensified barriers to voting since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County declared voter protection no longer necessary.” –Equal Justice Initiative

This fall, millions of Americans may head to the polls only to find their names aren’t on voter registration lists anymore. These voters may have to cast provisional ballots. Or worse, they could be turned away.

The cause? Voter purges, an often flawed method of cleaning up voter registration lists by deleting names from voter rolls.

Purges aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Election officials have a real need to ensure voting lists are up-to-date. People move. People change their names. And inevitably, people die. Voter rolls should reflect those changes.

But purges are a growing threat that may imperil the right to vote for millions of Americans in the midterm elections in November.”

Purges are on the rise across the country, and particularly in a cluster of Southern states no longer under certain protections of the Voting Rights Act. And unlike anti-voter legislation, bad purges often happen in an office with the stroke of keyboard — so voters knocked off the rolls may not realize what’s happened until it’s too late.

Over the past year, my organization, the Brennan Center, pored over data from 6,600 jurisdictions and found the median rate of purging across the country has risen from 6.2 percent of voters to 7.8 percent since 2008. That jump may seem small, but it’s statistically significant and cannot be explained by population growth. It amounts to an additional four million people being struck off voting lists.

But in 2013, the Supreme Court knocked down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. Two million more people were booted from registration lists between 2012 and 2016 in jurisdictions once covered by preclearance than would have been kicked off if purge rates in those areas continued at the same rate as jurisdictions that hadn’t been subject to preclearance.

And as regions that used to be covered by the preclearance provisions increased their purge rates, we found, so too did the number of people who showed up to vote at their polling place but were unable to cast a regular ballot. This suggests that voters had been wrongly removed from the rolls.

Our concern isn’t limited to Southern states. We found that over the past five years, four states have engaged in illegal purges (Florida, New York, North Carolina and Virginia), and another four states (Alabama, Arizona, Indiana and Maine) have written policies that violate the National Voter Registration Act, which helps protect against wrongful purges.

In particular, Alabama, Indiana and Maine have policies that disregard the federal requirement to allow at least two elections of nonvoting before tossing voters from the rolls. Instead, all three states allow the use of a problematic multistate database called Crosscheck to conduct immediate purges. Crosscheck purportedly compares registration lists across states, but it might flag a voter if only name and date of birth match, which is not precise enough to prevent mistakes.” –Myrna Perez

He continued: ‘You cannot stop these sentiments of people who want to live together with their own and they want their borders protected.’ Make no mistake here, Buchanan is talking about protecting white dominance, white culture, white majorities and white power.” –Charles M. Blow quoting Pat Buchanan

Strip all the other rationales away from [Trump’s} draconian immigration policy. This is at the core: White extinction anxiety, white displacement anxiety, white minority anxiety. This is the fear and anxiety Trump is playing to….

Trump is president and is beloved by his base in part because he is unapologetically defending whiteness from anything that threatens it, or at least that’s the image he wants to project. It is no more complicated than that. These immigrant children crying out for their mothers and fathers are collateral damage, pawns in a political battle to wring strict legislation out of Congress — medieval torture displays meant to serve as deterrents.” –Charles M. Blow

Conservatives spent the Obama era whipping themselves into a racialized hysteria, imagining the consensus-minded moderate president was waging an attack on their way of life. Trump won the party’s nomination because, at some elemental level, he grasped the fact that the impulse driving Republican voters had nothing to do with small government or policy at all, but an amorphous cultural backlash propelled by a belief that minorities were taking over.

Conservative intellectuals spent this period either stoking the backlash or denying it. Their most basic technique consisted of ignoring the conciliatory universalism of both Obama’s message and his agenda, while concocting out of thin air an imaginary Obama as a race-baiting radical.” –Jonathan Chait

Questions to ask white people who think white privilege doesn’t exist!/2017/08/conversations-on-racism-with-white.html

A law professor responds to student complaints about the slogan “Black Lives Matter” by stating and then critiquing the premises of their letter to her (author and the law school are anonymous):

“Premise: There is an invisible ‘only’ in front of the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Critique: There is a difference between focus and exclusion. If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does. If l say ‘Law Students Matter’ it does not imply that my colleagues, friends, and family do not. Here is something else that matters: context. The Black Lives Matter movement arose in a context of evidence that they don’t. When people are receiving messages from the culture in which they live that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough.

As applied specifically to the context in which I wore my Black Lives Matter shirt, I did this on a day in Criminal Procedure when we were explicitly discussing violence against the black community by police.

There are some implicit words that precede ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and they go something like this:

Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular. It is important that we say that…

This is, of course, far too long to fit on a shirt.

Black Lives Matter is about focus, not exclusion. As a general matter, seeing the world and the people in it in mutually exclusive, either/or terms impedes your own thought processes. If you wish to bear that intellectual consequence of a constricting ideology, that’s your decision. But this does not entitle you to project your either/or ideology onto people who do not share it.

Premise: Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an expression of racist hatred of white people.

Critique: ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not a statement about white people. It does not exclude white people. It does not accuse white people, unless you are a specific white person who perpetrates, endorses, or ignores violence against black people. If you are one of those people, then somebody had better be saying something to you.

Premise: History doesn’t matter. Therefore sequences of cause and effect can be ignored (or even inverted).

Critique: To assert that the Black Lives Matter movement is about violence against the police is to ignore (and invert) the causal reality that the movement arose as an effect of police violence. Yes, the movement is about violence, in that it is about the subject of violence, but it is not about violent retaliation against the violence that it is about. It is a tragic fact that rage as a consequence of racial injustice sometimes gets enacted as violence (although not nearly as often as we might expect, given the longstanding causes of that rage). We can all lament the fact that violence begets violence. But we can’t even do that if we ignore the violence that has done, and is doing, the begetting.

Premise: What you think something means is the same as what it actually means.

Critique: We are all entitled to (and should make every effort to) discern meaning. There can be reasonable differences of opinion about what something means. Something can even carry a meaning that has a larger life of its own, regardless of the meaning ascribed to it by a particular person. For example, the flag of the Confederacy carries the meaning of white supremacy. Even if a particular person thinks it only means ‘tradition.’ One person, or even a group of people, cannot take away the flag’s odious meaning just by declaring that it means something else. Similarly, ascribing a negative meaning where none exists does not bring that meaning into being.

Unless you speak for the Black Lives Matter movement you have no authority to say what those words mean to the people in it. You certainly have no authority to say (and apparently not even any knowledge of) what it means to me. Your interpretation of something and your reaction to it based on that interpretation are not the some as what something actually means. Things in the world have meanings that exist outside of you.

The point I am making here is different from the points above that address your misunderstanding of the movement and the three words that embody it. This is a point about aggrandizement, not accuracy.”

Interesting analysis of the differences in viewpoints of TaNahisi Coates and Jonathan Chait