Will the wound of racism ever heal in America?

Black and brown men are criminalised in America from the moment they come into contact with the powers-that-be

Share

The fatal shooting of a black teenager by the police is an old tale, archetypal in its power to tap into a trauma never far beneath the surface of black American life.

The latest version of this old wound opened up at high noon last Saturday in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. While most of St Louis County is white, Ferguson, a town of 21,000, is predominantly black (“relatively stable, working – a middle-income community,” according to crimes and trends expert Richard Rosenfeld, a professor at the University of Missouri-St Louis).

READ MORE: Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson falls quiet as race campaigners rally across the US

Black people were once a minority there but the demographics have shifted in the past decade as white families moved further away – “white flight”. Ferguson’s leadership and police have remained predominantly white. Out of 53 police officers, three are black. And while blacks make up 63 per cent of the city’s population, they account for 86 per cent of traffic stops.

The details of Michael Brown’s death are in dispute. Witnesses say that he and a friend were walking home when they were stopped by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street; that the teenager’s hands were in the air when the last of several shots were fired. The police say he was shot during a fight over the officer’s gun. The following day, the St Louis County Police said Michael was unarmed but that he physically assaulted one of the police and during the struggle the teenager reached for the officer’s gun.

And so the archetype, the old tale, plays out. Michael’s parents demand justice; a candlelit vigil erupts into violence; the FBI opens a civil rights inquiry into the shooting; St Louis County Police begins an investigation; the President calls for calm; a moment of silence is held all over America with (predominately young) people, transcending race and class, city and suburb, all in this moment standing in silence with their hands up behind signs that read: “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

And there is the oldest, most poignant part of this tale: a black mother, this time Michael Brown’s mother, recounting her version of “black male life is cheap”. She said to the local TV station KMOV: “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway. They say: ‘They’re going to try to take me out anyway’.”

 

Black men and brown men are criminalised in America from the moment they come into contact with the powers-that-be, whether they are schools, work, or other institutions. It doesn’t matter. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has said that black and Latino students in general are more likely to have less experienced and lower-paid teachers, and are more likely to be suspended from school .

Black boys and Latino boys are more likely to be accused of “attitude”. This bleeds into the criminal justice system. This “burden of bias” is borne by the victim, not the perpetrator. Mothers and fathers often ask how is it possible to tell a boy to do right when there is little or no reward from the “system” and the nation that he’s a part of. And if you think that’s an overstatement, all a black boy has to do to see what might await him is look at the treatment meted out to the President of the United States .

Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. State Senator Claire McCaskill has called for the ‘demilitarisation’ of the police response Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. State Senator Claire McCaskill has called for the ‘demilitarisation’ of the police response  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barack Hussein Obama was elected President twice by the people of the United States, in democratic and free elections. But there is one media outlet, one television channel which could lead you to believe that there is something wrong, something illegitimate about the man, and by extension the electorate that brought him to high office.

I’m talking about Fox News, whose campaign of hatred and vitriol began when it appeared that Mr Obama might actually become President of the United States, after his defeat of Hillary Clinton in the primaries in the summer of 2008. I watched it happen.

I stumbled on Fox News one summer in 2007 while I was setting up a new television set. At first I thought it was a spoof, a kind of Saturday Night Live during the day. There was a woman calling people on the left “retards”, as an animation of an American flag waved gently in the breeze on the lower right of the screen. As I watched closely, I realised – like Mia Farrow’s character in Rosemary’s Baby as she was being assaulted by the devil – “This is no dream! This is really happening!”

Up until the end of the President’s campaign for re-election in 2012, I watched Fox News every day, and most of its programming. I witnessed Glenn Beck’s first broadcast, and watched as the self-proclaimed “rodeo cowboy” became the rallying point for some deeply disturbing theories about the President.

The mild end of his following formed into what became the Tea Party. The wilder shores of his audience consisted of “Illuminati” conspiracy theorists, and further out than that, people who would not have been given air-time anywhere else on the planet – people who created a growing sense that the President was an “Other”; a Muslim “Manchurian Candidate” nurturing an Islamic cell right inside the White House. He was commander-in-chief of a Muslim Third Column and, by the way, he was actually born in Kenya.

Glenn Beck: Between 2009 and 2011, when he appeared daily on Fox News, Beck was the public face of the Tea Party. Glenn Beck: Between 2009 and 2011, when he appeared daily on Fox News, Beck was the public face of the Tea Party.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beck didn’t expostulate these things himself, but his show became an Agora for those who did. As the Obama presidency proceeded, Fox News became more comment than news. And why not? Comment is its bread and butter, its reason for existing. In the beginning, the First Lady was attacked for saying – somewhere – that white people were “downright mean”. They played that tape over and over until it dawned on them that Michelle Obama was actually quite popular.

You would have thought the killing of Osama bin Laden, America’s Public Enemy No 1, would have been given some sort of kudos from Fox. But instead, it accused the President of taking the glory away from the Seals who did the actual deed; an absurd comment to make but one that found traction with viewers.

Fox is reporting on the Michael Brown shooting, making sure that “unarmed” is on the screen whenever his name appears. But what you get in the background on continuous loop is the night the town erupted; shots of a group of largely pompous prats calling themselves the New Black Panther Party; and black folks who can assure one and all that “guns are not the problem” in relation to the growing militarisation of the police in America.

Fox News as a business isn’t about hate. It’s about money – revenue – and there’s plenty of that among its disgruntled, angry, frightened and, in some cases, very hateful audience – over-65, mainly white – who have made Fox News No 1 on cable.

Fox News is cheap to have, easy to access, and full of people like Karl Rove who, in the guise of being an “expert” (you can still find his meltdown live on TV, the night of the President’s election, on YouTube) uphold their prejudices and help the “Stop The World I Want To Get Off” generation sleep at night.

Fox News is also the go-to-station for those who see black people, Muslims, Latinos, anybody who’s not them, as the Other, the Alien Force. Only on Fox will you see time given to people who espouse views close to what is called Christian Zionism. In the guise of talking about the crisis in the Middle East, what they are actually campaigning for is the End Time, Armageddon, the Second Coming – all neatly disguised as “Comment”.

And so the ground is laid; the template set, a picture drawn of an America out of control and black people – non-white people – in general as part of the problem. If the police of Ferguson are Fox News watchers, they’d see the world around them, the growing black population, as something that needed to be controlled, contained, culled.

I worry now for my elderly uncle, my brother, my brothers-in-law, my nephews; my great-nephews. I worry for my friends. I worry about the President of the United States, rapidly ageing before our eyes. Who knows what mail he receives, what threats?

Fox News is not the fount of all evil, but it looks the other way as America’s darkness emerges. It gives that darkness succour and space. It makes the unsayable and the unspeakable – unsayable and unspeakable for the sake of sheer civility– legitimate.

It turns the First Amendment into a loaded gun, something to blow away those it does not like, those it does not want to be accepted. It is helping a great nation – a nation with the highest of aims – turn itself into a cauldron, an abyss. It has made that night in November 2008, when a young black man and his family stood on a platform and thanked the nation for the “American Dream”, into a kind of lie.

No, Fox News hasn’t created all of this. But it’s there at the feast. As the US rages, clawing at its own flesh. You can catch it all – “fair and balanced”, of course – on Fox News, broadcasting in any bus station you care to choose, on your way to that Promised Land. Free of “Them”.

Bonnie Greer is a writer and critic. Her memoir ‘Parallel Life’ is published by Arcadia Books

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there