An ‘Unflinching’ Discussion On Racism
A dialogue between two congregations reveals how people live in racial ‘bubbles.’
Oakland, California March, 2017
Recently, my wife and I attended a Lenten service at a local Oakland church. The pastor and flock from a predominantly white congregation attended the Lenten service, hosted by the pastor of a predominately black church. The integrated Lenten service was followed by an ‘unflinching’ discussion on racism.
The pastors ___ the white pastor having grown up in the Midwest and the black pastor having grown up in the Deep South ___ started the discussion off by sharing their own experiences. The black pastor, who resembles the former New York Congressman, Charles Rangel, assured the assembly that, despite comments to the contrary, he was, indeed, an African-American. The white pastor recalled that no blacks attended his high school until one day, without notice, the school district bussed in a few blacks. The bussing met with resentment from the white students, but when blacks joined the basketball team, the white pastor who was a member of the team, had his first opportunity to become acquainted with a black person. The black pastor recalled that, when he was a youngster, his father took the family on a vacation. The family traveled north in their late model car until, spotting a sign on the highway advertising a nearby Bed & Breakfast, the black pastor’s father turned off the highway, stopped at a quaint little motel and went inside to register. However when the pastor’s mother and his siblings left the car, the motel’s immigrant manager told the pastor’s father that they had made a mistake. “Negroes are not allowed here,” the manager declared in an Irish brogue. The black pastor recalled how embarrassed his mother became, blaming his father for subjecting them to white racism. When the black pastor attended Harvard, he adopted an African name in order to overcome the confusion over his racial identity.
Others shared their own experiences with white racism. One black woman described how, after rising to a top position in her corporation, she often attended various conferences and high-level meetings, but very seldom had the opportunity to interact with “anyone looking like her.” A white woman told a story about two school children, one white, the other black who shaved their heads and proclaimed themselves brothers to the delight of their teacher and their classmates.
At an Oakland school, a first grader ‘acted out’ so badly that his teacher complained to her principal that the six-year old student was uncontrollable. The principal reminded the teacher that the child had recently witnessed his sister being shot to death at close range. The teacher remained unsympathetic and continued to use harsh and abusive language to force the traumatized child to obey her commands… .
As the ‘unflinching’ discussion about racism continued, a spirit of racial harmony animated the group. One white fellow at my table felt so comfortable that he told me a joke about native Americans. How was he to know that my great-grandmother lived on a reservation just outside of Woodland, California and my grandfather migrated to California from an Oklahoma reservation? Since Pope Francis’ visit to the US to canonize Junipero Serra, the infamous murderer, torturer and enslaver of hundreds of thousands of native Americans, white folks have felt less guilty about the native American genocide. Nor do they worry about the endless number of broken treaties, the most recent of which occurred on tribal lands at Standing Rock in North Dakota. White folks have never considered it necessary to keep any of the treaties they made with native peoples. The US government’s treatment of native peoples reflects white people’s attitude towards non-white people all over the world. The ‘unflinching’ discussion about white racism did not touch on these matters, but continued in the spirit of the integration achieved in America’s post-racial society. Once the discussion was over, the group joined hands for a congratulatory prayer. On the way home, my wife and I discussed how we had just witnessed how racial ‘bubbles’ function.
Pathways Between Racial Bubbles
Race was not the only thing that separated the two Christian congregations. A great ribbon of concrete that connected the Caldecott Tunnel to the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge also physically separates the two churches. This gigantic freeway speeds hundreds of thousands of suburbanites from Contra Costa County through Oakland to their jobs, for some in San Francisco, for others further south in Silicon Valley. This great-eight lane freeway joins four other freeways crisscrossing Oakland alongside rapid transit skyways and railroad tracks, connecting Oakland’s container and airport facilities in one, gigantic transportation hub. This transportation hub has made San Francisco and Silicon Valley the financial and technology capitals of the western hemisphere and turned Oakland into a crime-ridden ghetto.
Oakland’s maze of transportation facilities was created in the 1960s when whites began selling their homes to an emerging black middle class before fleeing through the Caldecott Tunnel into the suburbs. With ‘white flight’ in full swing, the government began confiscating great chunks of land from the recent black homeowners, asserting the right of eminent domain. Then the great freeways were constructed, ripping through the middle class neighborhoods and stultifying Oakland’s emerging black middle class just as it was beginning to benefit from recent advances in civil rights. The freeway constructions depressed property values and caused local businesses to fail, crushing Oakland’s black middle class under the weight of the government-engineered economic collapse. Black middle class neighborhoods were transformed into crime ridden ‘ghettos’ and black homeownership was replaced by renter-occupied housing owned by absentee landlords. Public housing units were erected all over the city into which the government dumped tons of drugs and arsenals of guns. Oakland was engulfed in drug trafficking, gang violence and murder. Gradually, thousands of people, lacking any economic opportunity, neither able to become homeowners nor renters, began to settle beneath those gigantic ribbons of concrete that take white folks from their comfortable middle class suburbs to their places of employment and entertainment. The concrete thoroughfares separated Oakland into racial bubbles, the most depressed occupied by a homeless black population living beneath the ribbons of concrete; the most prosperous of which are the whites living in the suburbs who even now are testing whether or not Oakland is safe enough for them to return.
Beneath The Concrete
Beneath the concrete, invisible to the whites speeding over Oakland’s freeways, thousands of black people camp our in their tents, blue canvas coverings, shopping carts and cardboard boxes. Trying to survive in what white people call the ‘greatest country in the world,’ the homeless struggle daily against hunger, against sickness, against the elements and against each other. Beneath the concrete, the homeless see America as it is: a fascist police state whose policymakers are interested only in creating more suffering and misery to further the interests of the billionaire class.
Thousands of homeless children live beneath the concrete. See that young prostitute screaming obscenities at her toddler for not keeping up. Homeless children receive their only hot meal from the Oakland School District’s school lunch program. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s billionaire education secretary, is making plans to cancel hot meals so that she and her cronies can steal government more of the charter schools funding. Homeless seniors troop to storefronts that serve hot meals provided by federal programs. Trump intends to cut these programs to pay for the “wall” that will make rich white folks feel safe from illegal immigrants. Some white folks question who will do the menial labor once all the ‘illegals’ are eliminated. Plans are being developed to create a convict workforce. Convict labor will be cheaper than illegal immigrants ____ and there will be no union agitation. Pope Francis approves of this strategy; after all, Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic. Once on the Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch, also a Catholic and the founder and president of the “Fascism Forever” Club at his Georgetown high school will guarantee that no legal challenge to a reintroduction of slavery will succeed.
Do you see that black man with one leg in his wheelchair trying to push a shopping cart filled with cans and bottles to the recycling center? He’s a Vietnam vet who lives beneath the concrete. He lost his leg while killing Vietnamese women and children, burning their villages and destroying their crops. Afterwards he, like many other black war veterans returned to the US to find their reward: joblessness, drug addiction and poverty. He and other Vietnam vets share their stories with black veterans who tortured and murdered women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. White folks fear non-white women and children all over the world and for decades have been killing them in the thousands. Today white folks don’t need as many killers as before. Now they can kill women and children with drones. Werner von Braun pioneered drone warfare for Adolf Hitler. Before coming to the US, the Nazi war criminal helped develop the V-1 and V-2 rockets that killed thousands of women and children in London. After WWII, American fascists told their government: We need that guy!
On Sundays, whether I attend Mass with my daughter or go to church with my wife, I take Oakland’s 27th Street off ramp. Great numbers of homeless occupy this particularly wide underpass area where the old Sears Department store ___ now vacated ___ once served thousands of shoppers. Some Sundays, however, the homeless are sitting on curbs ___ their arms pinned behind, their hands fastened in plastic cuffs ___ waiting to be loaded into police vans while their pitiful belongings are pitched into garbage trucks. A homeless roundup makes white folks feel real safe ___ safer than Trump’s wall, safer than Clinton’s war on terror and safer than Reagan’s war on drugs. Recent surveys say that San Francisco’s rising homeless rate is responsible for the dramatic reduction in San Francisco’s tourist trade. It seems that poverty and despair in the midst of such affluence is too distressing to some foreign visitors. When Donald Trump and his billionaire cabinet gets Congress to pass their military-police budget, there will be a lot more homelessness, not only in San Francisco, but all over the country. Then the fascists will be forced to come up with a final solution.
The Golden State Warriors
Oakland has a great basketball team. White folks come from all over northern California using the giant ribbons of concrete and rapid transit facilities to get to Oracle Arena and watch blacks athletes play basketball for the Golden State Warriors. Only one white player is on the Warriors team; he comes from Europe. White Europeans who play basketball have no problem getting into the United States, just as the thousands of Nazi and fascist war criminals had no difficulty immigrating here after WWII. Unlike blacks living under the concrete, America has jobs for fascists who are good at conducting inhumane social and medical experiments, managing concentration camps and handling spy networks. WWII fascists gave white folks the intelligence, the global reach and the sinister capability that America needed to assassinate political leaders, overthrow governments and engage in perpetual wars. But policymakers do not speak of American fascism; they speak of American ‘exceptualism.’ They do not speak about the police state; they speak of the military and industrial complex. From inside academia, research firms and corporations, fascists have transformed the American government into a criminal enterprise.
But the black basketball players with the Warriors are untroubled by such matters. They are prosperous and live in the suburbs with white people. When they play basketball, they use to the freeways to get to Oracle Arena to the delight of their fans. The black basketball players are as blind to the homeless living beneath the concrete, as are the prosperous, self-satisfied whites they entertain.
During a recent Golden State Warriors –Milwaukee Bucks game, the television broadcasters demonstrated how ‘alternate reality’ works in the age of Trump. When the announcement was made that the legendary Rock and Roll icon, Chuck Berry, had passed, one Warrior’s commentator asserted that Chuck Berry had gotten his start by copying the music of Marty McFly, the character in the movie, Back To The Future. In a fascist society, every means of propaganda ___ no matter how ridiculous ___ is used to extoll the achievements of white supremacy.
The Golden State Warriors will soon leave Oakland for their new home across the bridge in San Francisco. Next the white folks need to figure out how to transport all of the homeless people hurting San Francisco’s tourist trade into Oakland. This is the type of population problem the Third Reich faced in the 1930s and 1940s. Though US planners have adopted some of the Third Reich’s population policies, it will soon be forced to adopt many more. Fascists have been handling America’s population problems, here in the US and around the world, for nearly eighty years which is why thousands of homeless live beneath the concrete in Oakland. Getting them into permanent concentration camps is the next step. As Adolph Eichmann would have said: it is just a matter of logistics.
While at the University of California, I studied at Sweden’s University of Lund through the university’s Education Abroad Program. Last year I was invited to the special reception at the Presidio in San Francisco honoring dignitaries from the University of Lund and the University of California in advance of Lund’s 350th anniversary celebration. Initially, I looked forward to attending the event. However, with the rash of police shootings of unarmed black men, I decided that it would be unwise for me to go wandering through a military installation at night. After the reception, a former classmate told me that a number of them were going back to Sweden to participate in the festivities. But, though I was born in the US, have native American heritage and a US passport, Trump’s ‘make white folks feel safe’ travel ban makes it unsafe for a black man to travel outside the country. With the number of ‘black sites’ white folks maintain in the US and around the world, I could be detained indefinitely trying to return to the US, once I had left. This is the ‘unflinching’ reality of racism in America.
The Swedish Ombudsman
In 1968, the Swedish Ombudsman, Alfred Bexelius, exercised considerable moral authority over Swedish society. So while attending Sweden’s University of Lund, I decided to study the Justitieombudsman Institutionen, Sweden’s Ombudsman Institution. A political science professor directed my studies and a Lund court judge who sat on the Ombudsman’s staff served as my mentor. These two gentlemen gave me access to documents, tours of government institutions and interviews with politicians, journalists and government bureaucrats. It was a wonderful experience.
The theory behind the Swedish Ombudsman is contained in the idea För att gå till kungen ___ “To go to the king.” By tradition, all Swedish citizens have the right to take any grievance they might have against the government directly to the Swedish king. “To go to the king” gives Swedish citizens the expectation that their grievances will be resolved not in accordance with legal precedent or legislative intent, but on the basis of moral right and wrong. As the king’s representative, the Ombudsman observes the practices of governmental and non-governmental authorities, alike. The Ombudsman decides which practices conform with Swedish custom and meet the Ombudsman’s standards of morality and which practices do not. The Ombudsman holds those in authority to a strict standard of moral behavior.
Though the Ombudsman’s office accepts complaints from Swedish citizens, the office is far more proactive than reactive. The Ombudsman and his staff oversee conduct within Swedish society by identifying practices that conflict with common decency and moral behavior. Practices, such as inequities in pay treatment, substandard conditions in prisons, violations of the right of free speech, are exmpless of practices that the Ombudsman will investigate even before a formal complaint is filed. Once the Ombudsman completes his investigation, he renders an opinion that can range from a mere comment about the propriety of a certain practice to a formal reprimand. Because of his own prestige and the respect Swedes have for the judges on his staff, the office can identify practices that are entirely unacceptable. In these cases, the Ombudsman can recommend fundamental changes in entire operations without recourse to any legal or administrative procedures. Furthermore, the Ombudsman can require the offending official or institution to accept extra-judicial settlements. The Swedish Ombudsman could never function in an overly legalistic society such as the United States. In circumstances where the Swediah Ombudsman finds that a problem is not the fault of an individual, but a regulatory or legal oversight, the Ombudsman will recommend appropriate corrective regulatiory or legislative changes.
An institution like the Swedish Ombudsman would have no authority in the US where political power is acquired through corruption. In the US, the law favors those with money, political connections and a membership in a secret society. Power in the US is acquired through hypocrisy and deception and wielded by force and violence. Moral authority carries no weight, whatsoever. The government has even bought off religious criticism with the so-called faith-based funding. Bush gave churches federal funds nearly a decade ago to guarantee there would be no criticism of his illegal and immoral war on Iraq ___ a war that has plunged civilized society into a barbaric abyss. Bush’s faith-based funding so corrupted religious authority that recently a group of West Oakland preachers divided up a $1 Millon bribe ____ thirty pieces of silver in the time of Christ ___ to support the open air transportation of coal to ships in the Port of Oakland, despite the health risks to the residents of West Oakland ___ many of whom were members of the preacher’s own congregations. In America, corruption is an acceptable way of getting things done.
In Sweden, corruption at any level is challenged by the moral authority of the Ombudsman. Corruption in Sweden is so reprehensible that the entire society actively participates its suppression. On the other hand, Swedish socioligist, Gunnar Myrdal, the author of The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem In The American Democracy, proposed fascist solutions to halt the growth of the Negro population. Myrdal’s moral ambiguity when it came to race in America demonstrates that even the Swedish committment to a moral society operates within a racial bubble.