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Hate Crimes


Time Wise

There

is no question so irrelevant as the one to which all or nearly all can respond

in like fashion. Thus, asking people their views on child molestation, or

whether or not they’d like the schools to be "better" has always

seemed absurd: like asking if they’d rather be happy than sad. So too, with the

discussion of hate crimes, made especially relevant by the recent killing

rampage of Benjamin Smith, who, over the July 4th weekend, killed two and

injured nine, during a shooting spree against people of color and Jews.

Although

folks disagree about whether laws should be passed to enhance the penalties for

hate-motivated crimes, there is virtual unanimity about the horrific nature of

the act itself, and revulsion at the vitriol spewed by the group to which Smith

belonged: the World Church of the Creator. Even the Klan quickly condemned these

murders, much as with the dragging death of James Byrd, in Jasper, Texas.

So,

Americans are officially "against" hate crimes and hate groups. That

much is clear. But that much is also not particularly relevant: especially when

so many other forms of racism; so many other "crimes" against people

of color tend to go unnoticed.

When

the extreme act of violence occurs, the nation rises in collective agony. But

when the Centers for Disease Control reports that about 6,500 African Americans

and a few thousand more Latino/as and American Indians die annually because of

inferior health care relative to whites, few say anything.

When

Klansmen or skinheads on talk shows rant about the inferiority of black and

brown people, we roundly condemn them. But when two social scientists named

Murray and Herrnstein write The Bell Curve-which argues the same thing, only

with footnotes-we not only fail to condemn them, but whites make their book a

best-seller: half a million copies sold in the first 18 months. Furthermore,

Murray gets respectfully interviewed on every national news show in the country,

and is asked to address the GOP delegation, one month after they took over

Congress.

And

when we see Ben Smith spray "mud people" with bullets in two states,

we react with indignation. But how do most folks respond to the following

institutionalized forms of racism, which injure and kill people of color in

those same states every day?

In

Illinois and Indiana, white women are 26% more likely to receive early prenatal

care than women of color. Largely as a result, the percentage of babies of color

with low-birthweight is double the white rate.

Infant

mortality rates for black children in both states are 2.5 times higher than the

white rate.

The

child poverty rate for blacks in Illinois is 43%. For Hispanics and American

Indians it is 25%, while for whites it is under 10%. In Indiana, the gaps are

smaller, but black kids are still 3.6 times more likely to live in poverty than

white kids; Latinos, almost twice as likely to do so; and American Indian

children, 2.7 times more likely to live in poverty.

And

in both states, high-profile cases of police brutality have brought to light

patterns of institutional bias in law enforcement, which rarely, if ever, get

termed crimes of hate. In fact, hate crime laws would require enforcement by the

very police who have been involved in much of the racism meted out to people of

color across the nation.

In

other words, the problem of racism is not simply, or even mostly, to be found at

the extremes, and it’s not primarily driven by neo-Nazis. The biggest problem is

the everyday discrimination, inequity, and mainstream silence about these things

by folks who think they can prove antiracist credentials by condemning lynch

mobs: an act which ceased to be courageous about forty years ago.

To

that effect, we have groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center spending their

time taking a handful of professional bigots to court, tracking hate groups on

the internet, and sending out stamps reading "teach tolerance" to

folks on their mailing list so as to raise more money (despite an endowment in

the tens of millions of dollars), while largely ignoring the everyday racism of

mainstream institutions.

What’s

most disturbing about the way many folks selectively deal with racism-as an

interpersonal phenomenon in need of attitude adjustment-is that the

institutional forms of racial mistreatment which they tend to ignore, contribute

DIRECTLY to the overt hostility which often manifests itself in hate crime or

hate group activity.

After

all, is it so hard to imagine that whites who see police locking up people of

color disproportionately might conclude there was something wrong with these

folks? Something to be feared, and if feared, perhaps despised? Is it so hard to

believe that whites who hear politicians bash immigrants of color for

"taking American jobs," or "squandering welfare dollars,"

might conclude such persons were a threat to their well-being? Is it so hard to

imagine that folks taught from birth that America’s a place where "anyone

can make it if they try hard enough," but who looks around and sees that

not only are many not "making it," but that these "failures"

are disproportionately of color, might conclude that they must therefore be

either culturally or genetically inferior?

The

mainstream institutions of our society send out multiple messages that people of

color are "lesser," and need to be controlled: messages that are bound

to be picked up by individuals in that society. The growth of the

prison-industrial-complex is a prime example. Although black and brown crime

rates have remained roughly steady for two decades, their incarceration rates

have tripled, thanks to intensified (and highly selective) law enforcement in

communities of color.

What

message is sent when we allow, and even cause, the kind of housing segregation,

isolation and poverty which confront so many persons of color? When Blacks

working full-time, year round are three times as likely to be poor as similar

whites, and Latino/as working full-time, year-round are four times as likely to

remain poor? When white college grads are 2.5 times more likely to find work

than Black college grads? Why should we be surprised that at least some,

witnessing the way the institutions of our society neglect (at best), and

oppress (at worst) people of color, might conclude they were superior, and more

deserving, even of life, than those same persons?

In

other words, Ben Smith and others like him don’t simply learn their racism at

the knee of retail fascists like Matt Hale; and their racism is hardly

"against the grain" of American ideology or culture, despite the

claims by many that such attitudes are "fundamentally inconsistent with

what America’s all about." (Oh really??)

I

know for some that last comment is hard to take. But consider the recent flap

over whether or not the same Matt Hale should be allowed to practice law in

Illinois. Despite graduating from law school, Hale is being blocked from his

chosen profession by those who claim his participation in the administration of

justice would "pervert the process," and call into question the

state’s commitment to the administration of "color-blind justice."

Imagine that, in a state that has no doubt taught Hale about their lofty

adherence to such principle by sending at least nine innocent men of color to

death row in the past few years-men who have only recently been released after

these "accidents" were discovered.

So

who’s the bigger problem: Matt Hale, whom everyone knows is a bigot, or the Cook

County D.A. and some overzealous cops, willing to send black or brown folks to

prison just to proclaim a big murder case solved? To even ask the question is to

answer it. It is precisely the visibility of the former’s racism, contrasted

with the invisibility of the latter, which makes the latter so much more

problematic, and more worthy of our concern.

And

the same is true for hate crimes. Which ones should we punish? The retail

versions perpetrated by lone bigots, or the wholesale versions which form the

basis of institutional racism, and are the very fabric comprising the tapestry

of American society? And who makes this decision? Local D. A.’s and federal

prosecutors? And who sentences the hate criminals? Juries like the one that

thought nothing of the Rodney King beating? Thanks, but surely, there has to be

a better way.

Tim

Wise is a Nashville based activist and writer, and the Director of the

newly-formed Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE). He can be

reached at tjwise@bellsouth.net

 

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