Henry Louis Gates arrested in his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Joseph “Shem” Walker shot in front of his home in Brooklyn, New York. A private Philadelphia swim club refuses entrance to black youngsters, the fixation on the two paragraphs of President Obama’s speech to the NAACP where he speaks of personal responsibility of African-American young people and parents.
All of these things it is connected by the thread of the post-slavery trauma that continues to express itself in many ways and remains unaddressed. Gates, a world renowned Harvard professor, is arrested in his home, for what some would describe as being “uppity”, that is speaking as a man, to a white police officer who took offence. It is what Shem Walker may have encountered when he told the officer to leave his property. The officer did not leave when the demand was made, because of a visceral response to show Mr. Walker, that he would not be spoken to that way by a Black man.. It is those visceral responses reinforced over centuries, that the police department has to examine and reprogram as they look for police recruits. And officers who cannot recognize and control their impulsive nature, should be held accountable to the point of jail. “The devil made me do it,” it not a valid defense.
The demand for accountability will not be met without a struggle. That is why the mass media pounced on the personal responsibility portion of the President’s NAACP remarks and made it the theme of his speech, directing attention away from areas of concern to ruling elites. This delighted progressive Black commentators who at last see an opportunity to be righteously offended by Obama. “Why does he keep demanding that Black men take responsibilities for themselves and their actions?” Because a lot of our stuff is raggedy. We know the President said families, but you know who he meant.
While this squabble goes on, lost is the far greater emphasis the President placed on the need for structural changes of systems born ultimately in slavery.
“But we also know that prejudice and discrimination — at least the most blatant types of prejudice and discrimination — are not even the steepest barriers to opportunity today. The most difficult barriers include structural inequalities that our nation’s legacy of discrimination has left behind; inequalities still plaguing too many communities and too often the object of national neglect.
“I think all of us understand that our task of reducing these structural inequalities has been made more difficult by the state and structure of our broader economy; an economy that for the last decade has been fueled by a cycle of boom and bust; an economy where the rich got really, really rich, but ordinary folks didn’t see their incomes or their wages go up; an economy built on credit cards, shady mortgage loans; an economy built not on a rock, but on sand.”
The community organizer in the President was speaking of the mountain of organizing and work that needs to be done to make the myriad structural changes necessary to help people around their kitchen tables. Because it is needed there where a paycheck is divided up and homework is done. He was saying to organize and force his administration in the right direction.
But paying attention to these things may cause a citizen to also think about the benefits of the death of health insurance companies in a single-payer health world, or even ask “why are we giving Goldman Sachs all that money?” That is why mass media, acting in ways big and small, directs the conversation away from such things and toward the arena of social pathology, cut off from causes, keeping the elite safe.