Race and the Race for the White House

Is racial justice on the ballot in 2016?

In the past year, Charleston, South Carolina, grieved twice. First, Walter Scott was shot in the back by a police officer, and a Taser was planted next to his body. Then a young white supremacist gunned down nine people at Bible study at “Mother Emanuel,” one of the America’s most significant black churches.

Before the state’s assembly, in a moment of shame and anger, could decide to remove the Confederate flag from the state house veranda in Columbia, activist Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole and took it down herself.

Our leadoff guest, the human-rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, reminds us that we still live in a country where Martin Luther King shares a memorial day with General Robert E. Lee in Southern celebrations; where the Confederacy is memorialized but the victims of lynching are not; and where woes of every kind — from environmental risks, as in Flint, to criminal records, as in Ferguson — visit black homes, northern and southern, in overwhelming disproportion.

Half a year after Charleston’s bloody summer, the Democrats of South Carolina go to the polls in the race to replace Barack Obama. We’re wondering, what good is a four-year presidential ballot when a fiery, four-hundred-year history is what’s at issue?

We’ve convened our favorite commentators of color to discuss the big issues beyond the election — and maybe the election, too: from Barbara J. Fields, the formidable historian against race; organizers old and new, Bill Fletcher, Jr., and Mychael Denzel Smith; and brilliant friends like Jacqueline Rivers and Calvin McCrevan.

Tell us: can you say “Black Lives Matter” with a ballot this year, and if so, how do you vote?

Header photo by: AP Photo/WCSC-TV, Philip Weiss.

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  • rick

    “We are smart people?” Well the propagandtastic corporate media machine has spun a Web of lies so confusing and complete that it’s difficult to find a toe hold to even start tugging on the tortured narative that the general public is supposed to swallow…

    Let’s start with one fact. The United States is the most powerful war machine in the known history of the Universe. That is the one primary role for its creation. The United State government is fundamentally designed and structured to, as that lovable conservative fuzz ball likes to remind us, KILL PEOPLE and BREAK THINGS…

    People who believe that they can make a choice every few years for a NEW commander and chief of this assasination system and that somehow B2 bombers are going magically begin delivering valentine’s are smart?

    The federal government is a dark age death cult.

    Begin to allow this sad fact to enter into the narative, because to ignore it is to the detriment of us all…

    The only way out of this mess is to create new life based institution from the ground up based on cooperation and thoughtfulness instead of force, coercion, mass murder and ignorance…

    The longer the ivory tower intelligencia tries to cover it’s eyes and ears and ignore the elephant in the room with a salve of false distracting narratives, the situation will slide further toward the cliff of no return…

  • Priyanka Shah

    I just want to comment on the much repeated comparison of America’s silence on racism with Germany’s public acknowledgement of the holocaust. The comparison of the holocaust with racism towards in blacks in America doesn’t hold up, I think, because Germany never profited from the Holocaust to anywhere near same degree as white America profited from slavery. The United States could not have laid the foundation of becoming an economic super-power without black labor, and it continues, everyday, to profit form it. Copping to slavery and racism is not the same as acknowledging an, albeit vast, criminal event never to be repeated. It is saying the inequality on which the American economy was built was unjust. It will not end at marking slave trading and lynching sites, It will not only lead to reparations, it will raise questions of inequity now, because we are still very much in exploitative modes of productions.

    Holocaust acknowledgment was not a slippery slope for the Germans. And it’s no small matter that the Jewish community, even as it was discriminated against and victimized, was then a high-achieving and now a politically powerful community – and they bore the same color of skin. These conditions are diametrically opposite to those of African slaves and their descendants, systematically kept away from education, access to opportunities, politically dis-enfranchised and dark-skinned.

    • Potter

      I think the comparison was made referring to formal societal acknowledgement of sins in the spirit of trying to repair or heal or both. There are your differences. Nazism did profit from the Holocaust though, gaining power by appealing to racism and by using the labor, assets, and even (horribly) human substance of it’s victims. The time spans are different: the repercussions of American slavery continues for generations. It can be argued too, perhaps easily, that the Holocaust has it’s reverberations to today ( for example in the politics of the Middle East and in the psyche of Germans and their victims and survivors).

      The larger and harder issue for me is the realization that we all have racism built in. I grew up with it in the 50’s and 60’s in New York City. So I believe that this acknowledgment has to happen on an individual level. I don’t mind being reminded and reflecting about racism by the marking of sites and (for instance) reading Claudia Rankine. Nor should we think of the Holocaust only as a German phenomenon. Human nature and how people act, or are capable of acting in certain conditions under certain ideologies and conditions, is present. How people abdicate their better selves is right before us.