Responding to Racism

    Two nooses in the District of Columbia and one in suburban Maryland have been found over the past three weeks. Thursday, a noose was found hanging from a tree in an integrated Montgomery Village, MD, neighborhood. On May 31, one was left in the Segregation Gallery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Less than a week earlier, a noose had been discovered on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum.

    For me, a white man living in Kensington, these are deeply disturbing reminders of an angry and divided world. A world in which racism remains a strong presence, even in the cosmopolitan DMV, and overtly hostile acts seem only to have grown in frequency since the beginning of the last year’s election cycle.

    In order to understand better how African-Americans perceive these incidents, I spoke to Danny Cardwell - a community radio executive, ordained Deacon, and popular blogger. Danny argues that the rising number of incidents involving public displays of nooses are part of a pattern that includes the increasing popularity of racebaiters, like Milo Yiannopoulos, and white supremacists, like Richard Spencer. Liberal Bill Maher’s recent use of the N-word on his HBO show does not escape Danny’s censure either. He deplores any normalization of words and images that dehumanize African-Americans.

    I asked Danny whether his community feels intimidated by this ongoing process and, what is worse, recent hate crimes like the murder of an African-American student on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland. He said the reaction is more generally one of concern and, to a degree, bewilderment than an elevated level of fear. But, he insists, the intent is intimidation.

    Nooses conjure up, especially in the minds of African-Americans, the approximately 4,000 black men, women, and children murdered by groups of whites in the century following the Civil War. For Danny, one challenge blacks face is to remain outward-looking and to continue to engage with whites rather than to withdraw into the more welcoming arms of the black community. In order to create a better America, Danny believes it is crucial for African-Americans to resist the temptation to view most whites as either complicit in the overt racism of a few or, at best, indifferent to it.

    When questioned about how white allies can support people of color who understandably feel threatened, Danny urges us to step out of our comfort zone. He believes whites must confront relatives and friends who casually or for shock value use racial slurs or tell racist jokes. It is equally important to challenge the notion that economic anxiety or even hardship excuses hateful rhetoric or violence.

    There is no doubt that grave race-based suspicions and economic tensions divide us. The current President was a reality TV host who rose to political prominence in part because he absurdly questioned whether President Obama was born in America. He defeated a candidate who ran a racially inclusive campaign but appeared at times indifferent to the economic stratification that defines our nation.

    Bernie Sanders and other progressives argue that the Democratic Party will only return to power when it addresses the real economic anxiety that is cutting across race lines and likely exacerbating racial tensions. But, while necessary, this is an insufficient response to injustice in America. As Danny eloquently argues, we must also condemn the actions of white racists while siding unequivocally with the individuals and communities they attack.


    It is neither easy nor agreeable to dredge this abyss of viciousness, and yet I think it must be done, because what could be perpetrated yesterday could be attempted again tomorrow, could overwhelm us and our children. One is tempted to turn away with a grimace and close one's mind: this is a temptation one must resist. In fact, the existence of the death squads had a meaning, a message:

    'We, the master race, are your destroyers, but you are no better than we are; if we so wish, and we do so wish, we can destroy not only your bodies, but also your souls, just as we have destroyed ours."

    Primo Levi

    The nooses are concerning. The fear is the reality that there are few circumstances under which a police officer will be found guilty when they kill an unarmed black man. Black people fear that family members and friends may not return home. They realize that if a loved one is killed by law enforcement, there will be no justice. That is the terror.


    Hey Hal, thanks for reaching out to me. White people have a moral responsibility to work to destroy a system that places people of color in a second class tier of society; likewise, people of color can't disconnect from greater society writ large. America is as much ours as much as it's anyones. It's harder to keep walking down a path that doesn't seem to end than trying something new. We are in a dark place, but the truth is: we've always moved from varying degrees of darkness.

    "White people have a moral responsibility to work to destroy a system that places people of color in a second class tier of society."  Hear hear!

    Danny - Thank you for always being a great friend, resource, and inspiration - even in those (rare) moments when we disagree.  I tried to do your words justice here.

    Here's one white person of the billionaire class putting money exactly on that problem, to the tune of $100 million:

    Agnes Gund Sells a Lichtenstein to Start Criminal Justice Fund

    By Robin Pogrebin @, June 11


    Ms. Gund is confirming that sale now, revealing that she parted with the painting (for what was actually $165 million, including fees) for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.

    This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein (which was sold to the collector Steven A. Cohen through Acquavella Gallery).

    “This is one thing I can do before I die,” Ms. Gund, 78, said in an interview at her Upper East Side apartment, where the Lichtenstein used to hang over the mantel, along with works by Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko. “This is what I need to do.”

    Ms. Gund, together with the Ford Foundation, which will administer the fund, has asked other collectors to do the same, in the hopes of raising an additional $100 million over the next five years.

    The effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever.

    “The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation’s president. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”

    Those who have already committed to the fund — and are being called founding donors — include Laurie M. Tisch, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive of American Express, and his wife, Kathryn; the philanthropist Jo Carole Lauder; the financier Daniel S. Loeb; and Brooke Neidich, a Whitney trustee.

    “I was moved by her passion,” Ms. Tisch said of Ms. Gund, adding that she would contribute $500,000 in proceeds from a Max Weber painting she recently sold. “It’s ambitious, but when Aggie puts in a $100 million, that’s a real signal that it’s important and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

    The fund will make grants to organizations and leaders who already have a track record in criminal justice reform — like the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala. — that seek to safely reduce jail and prison populations across the country and to strengthen education and employment opportunities for former inmates. The fund will also support art-related programs on mass incarceration.

    “There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”

    The impetus for the fund was personal. Six of Ms. Gund’s 12 grandchildren are African-American, and she has worried about their future as they’ve matured, particularly in light of shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida.

    “I have always had an extreme sensitivity to inequality,” Ms. Gund said.

    She added that she was also deeply affected by Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” and by Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, “13th,” about African-Americans in the prison system.



    Good to see Chenault, an African-American, as one of the founding group.

    The above story brings up another issue. If people are wondering about the difference between the $100 million foundation starter and the $165 million sale price. Well, there's the sale commission and then there's the capital gains tax she had to pay on the sale, probaby like $40 million or more.

    Private charity to address social ills is a Republican belief that many on the left of the aisle loathe. The latter think that the government can do better with the wealthy's money and that they should be taxed more heavily.

    But does that work that well when the government is like a situation like Jim Crow?

    Who thinks the government that got those taxes will do better with the money they got then the Foundation she started with the net amount?

    Yes, I know I am bringing up the "noblesse oblige" argument. We can't rely on the kindness of the rich. But it strikes me that to not have the latter means: everybody, everybody has to vote and their vote must truly be "one person, one vote" and not gerrymandered or Electoral-Colleged into meaninglessness. The countries that have required voting have the right idea. It's a start, other things like education and more regulated, shorter campaigns are probably important too.

    Otherwise, we will always have to rely  on the kindness of the rich, especially in this day and age when money can buy manipulation of information.

    The Republican in GA-6 supports voter suppression. If there is a "Joe Louis" in Georgia and Detroit, the guy in Georgia can be purged. The middle names can be different, but the purge can still happen.

    Who thinks the government that got those taxes will do better with the money they got then the Foundation she started with the net amount?

    If we look at individual foundations and one by one judged the merits I suspect we'd find some that did better than the government. Over all if we looked at every single tax exempt non profit I, more often than not, thinks the government that got those taxes will do better with the money.

    But with the specific point being addressed with this foundation, many Afro-Americans feel the Fed. and local governments aren't handing it right at all. Nor the political parties, as we have heard in innumberable posts on this site.

    That was why I said "but what about a government that is Jim Crow?" 

    That was a theoretical. What then when everyone is highly taxed?  Liberal peaceniks were all for high taxes in the LBJ years, until Vietnam and feeding the U.S. war machine ramped up, then some of the more radical wanted to withhold all taxes.

    It's hard to take back the money from a Congress once they have it. Actually, for a long time they kept spending it in advance of getting it....

    I just raise this as a theoretical because: I think it is deep in the American spirit, to be mistrustful of especially giving "the gummint" especially the Federal government, too much power over funds, Boston Tea Party and all


    Michelle Alexander can go piss up a rope - the worst kind of sellf-promoting pimp, got a book to peddle, doesn't care about real results of her hyperbolic cherry-picked ahistoric framing that helped depress the (male primarily) black vote and elect Trump. Will she ever apologize for her blind stupidity? Not a fucking chance - self-absorbed careerists never do. She probably thinks it a compliment that Trump directly used her ahem trumped-up arguments to pitch the black vote in Michigan. A special place in hell indeed...

    Why are you so restrained in your opinion about Michelle Alexander?

    She relishes the idea that racial discord that went unaddressed during the Obama administration will be confronted during the Trump era. Of course she will be on the sidelines writing a book about the events.

    This is funny/sad:

    if there’s any silver lining in all of this, [it’s that] the curtain has been pulled back and we can all see very clearly that there are real racial dynamics at work here, and that the punitive impulse comes from a place of deep racial divisions that have not been meaningfully addressed even in the era of Obama, where people believed we were entering into a post-racial era. 

    1) this ain't no Wizard of Oz - that curtain's been pulled back so many times they pulleys are all but broke

    2) what sane person thought just electing Obama would put us in a "post-racial era"? (or more precisely, a "post-racist era" - I somehow can't imagine how a change elicited by electing a man of some particular race would signal an end to race significance - do people read what they write?)

    3) in the 90's we recognized that there was significant lawlessness in black communities and something had to be done about it - preferably cooperating with the leaders of the black community.. The new hip anti-Jim Crow position intimates that those crimes are just made up - there is and was no black crime epidemic. How far we've come

    "The new hip anti-Jim Crow position intimates that those crimes are just made up - there is and was no black crime epidemic."  Nobody intimates this. What many say now and some said then is that locking people up for non - violent drug offenses and financing private prisons were terrible ideas. Do you think they were good ones?

    Bullshit, they were intimating anything and everything that might stick. "Superpredators" was a mid-speech term about black early teens already joining gangs, carrying guns, killing "friends" and neighbors, and of course dealing crack, not about "non-violent drug offenses". It was a term in common use then due to a book at that time -23 years before - on the crime epidemic. Blacke leaders certainly used this and worse for these teen thugs in training. She was roasted mercilessly.

    Liberals often don't give a shit about victims, especially when it comes to winning elections. Alexander rehashed the bit about the "retarded black man executed by Bill Clinton" - a black man who had killed 3 people including a. bouncer over a $3 cover charge he didn't have and a cop *friend of the family* point blank in the back *sitting at his mother's table chatting", who was only "retarded" because he tried to shoot himself in the head and slightly missed, facts that were ignored again and again in that glib condemnation of anything Clinton.

    Did executing Ricky Ray Rector resurrect his victims?  Yes, we all agree that violent crime rates were very high at that time.  Because of the high rate of violent crime, do you think that locking up non-violent drug offenders and financing a massive expansion of private prisons was a good idea?

    1) fuck Ricky Ray Rectir, thatthat piece of shit - if it gives any joy to his victims' families, white and black, cool. Was bringing him up worth electing Trump who no doubt will increase death and suffering of people worth our sympathy?

    2) that's been apologized for dozens of times as a poor overreaction/unacceptable strategy to a pressing national crisis, a strategy made in consort with black community leaders. Do you know anyone else in politics who *sincerely* apologizes for wrong choices? Have you eber once risked saying somerhing even feebly useful you might have done in their place? Oh right, hand everyone $100k and all class probs like gun violence and crack addiction go away.

    Are there specific statements or allegations that Michelle Alexander has made that you believe are false or is it that you just didn't want her to speak her truth?

    Alexander is not being prevented from speaking her truth. When she says that Hillary did not deserve Noir votes then says that she is "stunned by being stunned" by Trump's victory, one wonders what she thought would happen if Hillary didn't get our votes.

    Alexander said, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, that Hillary Clinton did not deserve black votes over Bernie Sanders in the primary.  She never said that blacks should not vote for Clinton in the general election.

    She slandered Clinton(s). And fuck their "deserve" - Bernie didn't do fuckall compared to her - what, 7 black people in all of Vermont? He never had to deal with competing constituencies in the politcally charged world of racial politics - he was driving go-karts while they were doing Formula One.. Sounds like someone wanted her to crawl on her knees and kiss their ass, not solve real problems. I don't mind "Bernie's better because x, y, z", but this "deserve" shit is a bunch of unserious people pushing some kind of purity partisan bullshit. Well they succeeded - they helped elect Trump, so have all of them crawl the floor and kiss Hillary's ass and say they're sorry. Black guy gets shot in cold blood by a cop - Hillary would say/do something, Trump will do the least useful/most hateful, and Bernie whatever his charms never ever had a real chance. The choices were clear, the results obvious.

     It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that.

    Alexandra is telling us that black people are so stupid and easily led that Clinton simply putting on some shades and playing sax was enough to get them. Is that why Tori Morrison called him "our first black president?" Are black people, even the Professor Emeritus at Princeton, that stupid and shallow? I doubt it. I think Michelle Alexander is massively spinning, i.e. lying, to attack Hillary and Bill to support Sanders.

    The whole piece is so overtly propagandized that I can't understand why anyone would buy it. It's worthless trash. But maybe I'm wrong. Do you believe black people are as stupid and shallow as Alexander portrays them? So stupid and shallow that even Morrison was conned by shades and a saxophone?

    I think that Michelle Alexander, a law professor at Ohio State, paints too simplistic a picture of the relationship between the Clintons and African-Americans.  The fact is that the Clintons were the first first family that truly appeared comfortable around blacks, had friends who were blacks, and appointed many African-Americans to positions of authority.  They also assiduously courted the black vote.  This matters a lot and it is very understandable why these actions touched tens of millions of people who had previously been on the outside looking in.

    But, Alexander's more trenchant point is that the actual policies that the Clintons pursued hurt blacks.  I have made pretty much the same arguments as Alexander for years and been scorned by many here for doing so.  I will not repeat them.  But I would ask those who are so quick to attack black intellectual like Alexander, Princeton's Cornel West, and Penn's Adolph Reed to engage their arguments in a respectful debate where facts and evidence replace ridicule.  I note that these three progressives are very highly reputed scholars at top universities. 

    There is zero evidence that they got where they are because they're cranks or blatant self-promoters.  In fact, they are truly accomplished in their fields and outstanding writers. Regardless of how certain you may be that they are wrong, they deserve more than a modicum of respect.

    Cornel West's long gone from Princeton, but I defended his anti-poverty tour (arguin with rmrd, for example) and various other positions, even though as a "serious scholar" he can sometimes be a real clown. Michelle Alexander's less serious despite more professional writing style - she just wanted to be an attack dog and sell books, not find solutions, and she succeeded. A special place in hell indeed - tell me a better advocate for black children and black women that can work the power structure that will come along in the next generation. Instead it'll be Al Sharpton clowning on MSNBC or a bunch of uninterested white politicians more comcerned with "Blue Lives Matter". Screw her, she blew it. Respect? That's Aretha. Someone who hatingly garbles the truth just to climb the money/power tree doesn't "deserve" respect.

    I don't know much about Alexandra but I took a direct quote from her article and I think I critiqued it fairly. Even the best of our intellectuals can get caught up in spinning when they fervently support a candidate. I think her article lacked historical context and nuance. But it would take a significant amount of time to debate it point by point.

    I've read West over the years so I can offer a brief criticism of him. Early on found much of value in his writings. When he was discussing social conditions or foreign policy. I never valued his political analysis though and during the Obama years I thought him more than over the top, he often became unhinged. I critiqued Obama often here, there was a lot to criticize, but I thought West became irrational. You may think I don't like him for his support of Sanders and his subsequent endorsement of Stein. I imagine he said a lot of nasty things about Hillary during the campaign, that's his political style. But some years into the Obama presidency I stopped reading him. So I never saw the things he said about Hillary that I'm pretty sure would have pushed me into a rage.

    Both Cornel West  and Michelle Alexander view Hillary and Trump as identical evils. Trump demonizes Muslims ands wants to take away health care from tens of millions. They are ridiculed because they cannot identify the greater evil. The fact that West had no response to Bill Maher pointing out that Trump was taking away healthcare and that Hillary would not have destroyed Obamacare but made it stronger shows that West is in a bubble. Alexander was stunned that the country that incarcerated blacks as sport elected Trump. If she was that clueless about the danger of Trump, where has she been living. For the most part West and Alexander attend conferences that only give them positive feedback. They are rarely confronted on the consequences of their positions.

    Edit to add:

    Reed was woke enough to realize, begrudgingly, that Hillary was the better choice.

    Woke enough to realize long before the election, not after. Very nicely written  - a number of issues he presents. I don't have to agree with each and every facet, but his voting calculus is interesting for me for a number of reasons, and his tamping down idealism with some intellect is needed.

    Just out of curiosity: has anyone commenting on Michelle Alexander's book actually read it?

    Just downloaded and skimmed it. Before I comment, what do you find wrong in it? (Whatever good you might see in it, I want to hear your thoughts on its flaws, if any)

    My problem with Alexander is not her analysis connecting mass incarceration to slavery and Jim Crow. I have no problem with her pointing out that everyone ( black, white, Libersl, Conservative) participated in mass incarceration. I disagree with her analysis about Hillary Clinton. Alexander never fully endorsed Sanders either. The choice was going to be Clinton or Trump. Trump is a disaster.for black people.

    Was hoping Danny would answer, but while Alexander provides some interesting parallels, nothing is proven to any degree, the references are spotty ("read this book" rather than specific data/pages), and the coverage is a huge thoughts-on-racism rather than a focused thesis proving anything well. Drugs have been a problem for black communities since the 30's or earlier. Sure white mafia targetted poor blacks for addiction, and this has continued. But is it government conspiracy?

    Worse, she seems to go through every tangent of American racial politics, but can't find the time to discuss the crime epidemic, the murders in black communities, the spread of automatic weapons that alarmed most sensible people white or black, the retreading the irrelevant issue of crack vs powdered coke sentencing (note that household chemicals are perfectly legal until assembled to make a bomb, and light beer from 7-11 can be sold on Sundays while moonshine containing the same alcohol in higher concentration is completely illegal). Alexander never really addresses the fact that blacks really did have the option of not using so many hard drugs, and continues the myth that all the incarceration was over victimless marijuana, vs much more toxic crack which both had a devestating effect on users, but was also the cool trendy currency and rite-of-passage of the gangbangers that were making communities unlivable. The only murders Alexander can address are murders of blacks by whites, and while I'm ferociously upset about the current wave of police brutality, but Alexander's blind spots to black involvement in their own affairs and inabiluty to address the complexities on the road to drawing conclusions make her book next to useless - a good rousing blog perhaps, but with questionable logic, and hardly a masterful academic treatise. As you rmrd have reminded as well, most of the sentencing was at state level, seemingly before Clinton's efforts, but perhaps inspired and largely caused by Reagan's tough approach? Again, it doesnt really show

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