Despite what seem to be deliberate efforts to keep the Covid-19 epidemic foremost in the media, coverage of the many protests over unjust and violent treatment of Black people by police, called Black Lives Matter, is currently more in the forefront of people’s consciousness. The protests continue; most are peaceful, some are violent, all are persisting. We need the protests. They serve to call attention to severe injustice and wrongful attitudes and perceptions that need to be corrected. And they are the tip of a much bigger iceberg beneath the surface.
Although this particular injustice involving the police involves victimizing mainly Black people, it, and other injustices stemming from a common core involve other minority groups as well. Native Americans and Hispanics are among those most commonly noticed, but Asians of various origins, religious groups such as Muslims, immigrants of all kinds, especially newcomers, and the poor whites who live subsistence lives in, say, the coal country of Appalachia are also among them.
The underlying wrong is economic. It is described as capitalism carried to its destructive extreme, but it also uses racism as an effective support for funneling the wealth of the nation to the top, mostly white, international, corporate, and social elite. Racism justifies this action by positing that some human beings are better than and more worthy of wealth and power than other human beings. A bit of thought shows that race is actually a construct – not only because it devalues some at the expense of others, but because it is actually unreal. Think – when one is asked to declare one’s “race” it might be color, language, ancestral birthplace, culture – there is no real definition of race. It seems to mean only “other than myself”. When I was in college, I took an anthropology course that defined race as being of only three types, Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongloid. However, within those classifications determined by academics, there are black Caucasoids(e.g., on the Indian subcontinent), white Negroids (some African indigenous) and Mongloids who are both tall and short, some with curly hair and who are certainly not yellow. I have never seen a truly yellow person, a truly red person, a truly black (piece of coal color) person or a truly white (sheet of paper) person other than an albino. Race is a highly inefficient attempt to classify people; it contains many exceptions and has no real meaning. In addition, people are so mixed now from intermarriage that the concept is even more illusory. However, it serves the purpose of the elite who wish to retain wealth and power. It helps if the general populace believes in it and are willing to set themselves apart in competitive groups, some with more advantage so that the dissonance persists, and so that attention remains on those divisions instead of on the true movers of radically unequal wealth and power.
As we are taught in school, when our nation declared itself independent, it was led by rich white men separating from the control of Great Britain, where existed more rich white men in power over a poorer populace. Those who could vote at the time of the Constitution were rich white men who owned land or property. No Native Americans, from whom the land had been taken, no Black people, most of whom worked the land for free, no indentured whites, no poor whites, no women – only rich white men. Amendments were later made to the Constitution to purportedly remedy the imbalance of power, but they seem to have had limited value. Women are still paid less for equal work and harassed in the workplace, Blacks are still mostly relegated to low-paying and riskier jobs and poorer housing and often blocked from voting, Native Americans are still discriminated against in mainstream employment and relegated to infertile lands. Their women can be raped without much consequence being placed upon the rapist. The land is still being destroyed, and Black people and poor whites are shunted to toxic locations or unhealthy low-income housing and food deserts. The problem has not been corrected.
I recently read an article which disturbed me in one of the magazines I receive. It includes some very good illustrations of how money has been stolen from Black people by collecting taxes from them and then denying them the benefit of the taxes (equal education, full admission to all State colleges, redlining to exclude them from housing and – not mentioned – blocks against Blacks actually owning the banks). This is something of which we all need to be aware, and which is never taught in economics classes. However, the author calls for restitution in a way with which I disagree. He calls for direct payments to Black families from whites, whom he regards as thieves. “Yes, all white people.” Whites, he says, have benefited from things such as good schools paid for by Black taxes, and as such, all white people need to pay restitution. First, to be a thief requires the intent to steal. Our children and most common white people have no such intent; there is often even no awareness, not through the fault of these people, but through the fault of an accepted system. In addition, even though there is a certain poetic justice in stripping whites of money and benefits and giving those to Blacks, it simply reverses the racism; it does not correct it. The concept of racism still exists, even though the beneficiaries have changed. The concept of reparations also fails to include Native Americans and Hispanics and others who have been stolen from or repressed. The elite on the top still enjoy the wealth and power and still continue to plunder the system.
If we are to correct the system which has deprived many of us of opportunities and the means of healthy existence and the benefits of our labor and creativity, and which has blocked us from effective power to make the rules of the system, then it will take the efforts of all of us – Black and white, Native and Hispanic and Asian and Islamic and every other category into which the system has relegated us. We must work together as allies, not divided and arguing about who owes what to whom. We must put our experiences and intelligences together to create a new system that works for all who will participate, and which also supports the planet on which we live. We need to drop both the concept of race and also the idea that many still harbor that some people are better than other people and that we cannot trust those who are different from ourselves. We must also drop the concept that there is not enough for all and that we must compete, creating haves and have nots. It is a time for coming together and creating the new; it is not enough to attack the top and dismantle it. We must create a new way of being to replace what currently exists. This requires the cooperation of all of us.
Let us all look carefully at the assumptions and emotions that keep us apart, whether those be racism, fear, anger or even greed. Let us recognize these for what they are, lay them aside, and give ourselves fully to acting as a member of the human community. Let us build systems that work for all and hold in respect the Earth on which we live and the denizens with whom we share our lives. Covid-19 is not the real enemy; it is a mighty distraction attempting to protect what is by keeping us from uniting to do what we need to do. We do not have to be distracted.