Thursday, January 20, 2011


Noble Basin. Photo by Pinedale Online.
Noble Basin
I wonder what the tea baggers think of Wyoming residents who aren't happy with plans to wreck the environment in one more part of their state.

From JHnews and

Noble Basin sparks anger

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: January 20, 2011

Energy industry and Forest Service officials on Tuesday heard frustrations, sometimes in the form of expletives, from citizens worried about 136 gas wells proposed for the Wyoming Range.

Bridger-Teton National Forest supervisor Jacque Buchanan took questions from the standing-room-only crowd at Snow King Resort after telling the audience the decision on Plains Exploration and Production Company gas field in Noble Basin is one of the hardest she’s had to make during her career.

Western Wyoming residents at the forum said government and industry officials failed to keep the promises they made ahead of gas field development in Sublette County.

“The violations have been numerous,” Daniel resident Horton Spitzer said. “Do you know how much money has been collected for violations? Zero.”

“We have an air problem and we have a water problem,” Spitzer continued. “We’ve got problems in Sublette County, and we’ll have problems in Teton County. This should be stopped dead.”

The decision on whether to drill was made by the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1990s, Buchanan said.

“What’s in front of me right now is the implementation of the [development] side of it,” she said at the meeting. “This is the opportunity for all of us to work together to end up in a better place with a better product.”

Spitzer pointed to some of the problematic techniques used to extract natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing breaks up subsurface rock formations to release natural gas, but uses dangerous chemicals that have contaminated residential water supplies, Spitzer said.

“It is toxic,” he said. “To have the energy company say, ‘It’s not our fault’ is disingenuous. It’s a goddamn lie.”

Jacksonite Leigh Reagan said Plains Exploration and Production Company should be required to publicly list the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

“People need that level of detail [on hydraulic fracturing fluids],” she said. “Especially people who live near the well.”

In his expletive-laced comment, Teton County resident Philip Kos said the BLM employees who approved drilling in Sublette County during the Bush Administration for the most part didn’t care about the impacts and if they did care they were fired.

“I’m outraged,” Kos continued. “I’ve watched ... Sublette County turn into a f-----g drill pad.”

Better oversight is needed for energy development in the region said Wilson resident Leslie Petersen, who ran as a Democrat in the most recent contest for Wyoming governor.

“We’ve seen the failures in the drilling that has occurred in Sublette County,” she said. “We know that what’s been done in the past has not been good enough. We simply cannot allow this kind of shoddy oversight.”

At least one meeting attendee said he supports the proposed energy development, because development means more jobs for the region.

Officials said the publics concerns will be reflected in the decision.

Some meeting attendees questioned the validity of the leases, saying the BLM did not seek enough public comment when it first approved drilling.

“That was a BLM decision,” said Greg McGowan, an ecologist with Arcadis Inc. “I don’t know what the level of public involvement was at that time.”

Buchanan said “there had to be some public process; to what extent, I just don’t know.”

The plan, proposed by Plains Exploration and Production Company, calls for the upgrade of 14 miles of existing roads, the construction of nearly 15 miles of new roads, drilling 136 wells from 17 pads and the construction of gas and liquids gathering lines and facilities. The area is expected to be in production for more than 30 years.

Citizens may submit written comments to Bridger-Teton National Forest supervisor Jacqueline Buchanan, P.O. Box 1888, Jackson, WY 83001; and electronic comments to with the subject line “Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin MDP DEIS.” The plan is available at Comments are due Mar. 10.


A map that is better than a thousand words. Only two comments I would add. First, despite what the writer implies most white abolitionists were still racist and that racism was reflected in most of their organizations. Second, the one abolitionist who absolutely was not racist, John Brown, is not mentioned.

From Colorlines (again)...

Mapping America’s Brutal Past, and Humanity’s Capacity for Revolt

A family in Savannah, Ga. Photo: Library of Congress
Wednesday, January 19 2011, 10:12 AM ESTTags: historyslavery
In 1860, as part of the 8th Census of the United States, the Department of the Interior created amap to show the distribution of slaves in the part of the country where they were still held: The South. The northern states had emancipated their enslaved residents through law by 1804, and almost all of those born into the institution north of the Mason-Dixon line were out of it by 1848. (In New Jersey, the last bonded person of African descent didn’t walk free until the end of the Civil War.) Liberty for all would soon arrive and the map—the first and last of its kind, as it was the first and last slave census—would be rendered totally irrelevant and obsolete in just half a decade.
The map’s detail is astounding. Every single county in half the country is shown in various shades of light and dark depending on the number of slaves. The darker the county, the more slaves it had. Each jurisdiction is named and the exact percentage of the enslaved population within it is given. At first, I thought that this relic from before the world I knew had nothing to do with me. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the distance between me and the map was far less than expected.
The map’s eerie statistical silence is captivating. When I first saw it in The New York Times’ Web feature on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it appeared to be just another yellowed piece of paper (or PDF) from the past. But the document’s quiet power grew as I enlarged it. I recognized the names and places on it. Within the detailed lines and shaded areas drawn on a draftsman’s table long ago, I recognized the homes and faces of my forebears.
Fulton County, Ga., where I grew up, enslaved one out of every four people within its boundaries. In the counties in Georgia where my father and mother were born, Terrell and Dougherty counties, slaves were 47.2 percent and 73.4 percent of the populace. My great-great-grandmother, born in bondage, lost her hand in a cotton gin in her birthplace of Russell County, Ala., where 35.8 percent of residents were enslaved. She raised my grandfather, which means I’m one step removed from someone who was born a bondswoman. One of my ancestors in Neshoba County, Miss., somehow managed to escape his chains and run for the Choctaw tribe there, where he married into a local clan. My last name, Jones, reflects this fact. More than a quarter of Neshoba County’s population was enslaved in 1860.  
I followed the map to all the places where I know I had kin—the tidewater of Virginia, McCormick County in the South Carolina upcountry and Beaufort in the low country. The same was true of Orleans Parish, Louisiana. I could not follow the map, however, to my ancestors in the modern day countries of Benin, Cameroon or Nigeria; nor to their New World clansmen scattered in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia or Peru. The map counted only the productive capital of the United States. But it couldn’t account for slavery’s full cost to all those enumerated in the 1860 census: both enslaved and not.  It is a cost we’re all still paying. 
In 2011, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that our country was birthed as a slave republic with our nation’s radical foundational idea that all humans have equal intrinsic worth, value and rights. The incongruity of rhetoric and reality is a bitter pill for all of us to swallow. The first four generations of Americans grew up in this contradiction and fought a bloody war to resolve it.  They did so because the institution of slavery showed now signs of slowing its growth by the time demographers drew this map in 1860. On the eve of the Civil War, southern senators were actively pushing the U.S. government to declare war on Cuba. They wanted war with Cuba for the same reason they wanted it with Nicaragua: the men, women, and children in bondage. Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean, had the single largest concentration of slaves outside of Brazil and the U.S. Given the ban on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, there simply wasn’t enough slave supply here to meet the South’s growing demand.
The South’s slave-driven prosperity transformed into other forms of strength. By the mid-19th century, the majority of presidents and Supreme Court justices were southerners. Though a minority in the House of Representatives, southerners had equal power in the Senate; enough to block change. The single largest concentration of millionaires in the U.S. stretched along the Mississippi River in Mississippi and Louisiana, and cotton was the single largest earner of foreign exchange for the U.S. In 1860, the Mississippi Delta was the Silicon Valley of its era. The combined political and economic might of the South led northerners to label it “the Slave Power.”
What the map shows, then, is the distribution of might across pre-modern America.  In terms of wealth, with respect to those who owned humans, the darkest areas are its richest and the lightest its poorest. But with respect to the enslaved and those who helped them, the opposite was true. The dreams of equality and freedom clung most fervently to the blackest places on the map. Those dreams and the acts of resistance that they instigated inspired those opposed to slavery, led eventually to war and—in Abraham Lincoln’s words—ushered in “a new birth of freedom.”  The process of liberation for one group now ground its way through all the others. It was continued first by the formerly enslaved themselves, then the labor movement, then women, then by the grandchildren of the enslaved to secure their promised freedom, then by women again, and then by immigrant laborers, the elderly, disabled Americans, and lesbians, gays, and transgendered people.  Though the Constitutional barriers to entry were removed, it was up to those left out of the founding document to make their way in. The initial acts of courage by those who faced inhumanity daily led to the expansion of human rights for us all. 
What the map conceals is equally important. 
It doesn’t show the Quakers, a marginalized fringe at the time, quietly building a national network to spirit enslaved men and women out of bondage. The Quakers were horrified by a system they could not escape but were determined to undermine. Quakers felt rightly that the entire American enterprise was tainted by slavery. Their efforts eventually flourished into the Underground Railroad. 
It also doesn’t show acts of rebellion, both large and small, such as the 1811 Louisiana slave uprising—the largest in American history—or coordinated plantation-wide work stoppages. This resistance reminded masters that their subjects were indeed complex human beings, not mindless automatons.
It doesn’t show abolitionists raising money and insisting that anti-racist organizations be mixed race. It doesn’t show slaves pretending to be servile, all the while plotting elaborate schemes of escape—posing as a dead body and shipping oneself North, or pretending to be an upper-class, free slave holder for an 800-mile trip from Charleston to New York. It doesn’t show whites clashing with Federal Marshals in the streets of Boston to protect blacks from being removed and re-enslaved down South. 
These points, all obscured in the map’s detailed demography, formed and linked cracks that eventually brought down the whole system. This chart of the Southern United States counts facts about the South’s enslaved except the one above all others the Founding Fathers must have known in their hearts: Liberty always finds a way.
Luckily, there was never again a need for a map like this in American history. And in this week of civil and human rights remembrance, we all must pledge to make sure that will always be the case. Although the institution of slavery is gone, the idea upon which it was created, that some are more human than others, is still believed by too many, in the U.S. and around the world. The fact that our nation was born in paradox is something that we should be mindful of in the ongoing debate on immigration and in the coming debate on the role of Muslims in America—debates promised by the new Republicans controlling the House. This paradox is something that those lawmakers live with everyday; the Capitol building itself was built by those not free. 
An inscription atop the map proclaims that it will be sold for the benefit of sick and wounded soldiers. Within 12 months, the Civil War had begun and there were more casualties than the map could foresee; the federal government had to create an entirely new division in the executive branch to deal with them all, now the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “All we’ve ever said to America is ‘be true to what you said on paper.’” Fortunately he meant the Declaration of Independence and not this map. For the map is a mixed testament, and it demands solemnity rather than either scorn or triumphalism. It shows that things can go horribly wrong and then come right. That human beings can be at their worst and then provoke the best. That time can heal and then reopen wounds. But most fundamentally, it shows our resilience—and resilience is the necessary ingredient to freedom. As the Roman philosopher Seneca—himself a citizen in a slave Republic—stated 2,000 years ago, “He who is brave is free.”
Imara Jones is a New York-based blogger. His site,, offers incisive comments on the disruptive world in which live and the shape of things to come. A version of this essay originally appeared there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


It is interesting that so many miss this shit.  In fact, it is damn scary. There is a whale of a lot of hatred of women out there. Ignoring it is participating in it.

The following is from Feministing.

New Evidence Suggests Loughner Was Driven by Misogyny

New details about the primary suspect in the shooting in Tucson, Arizona that resulted in the death of 6 people and injury of 14, including Rep Gabrielle Giffords, suggest that Jared Loughner was driven, at least in part, by sexism and misogyny.
Jared Loughner, smiling with shaved head and black eye
new NYTimes article describing Loughner’s personal history indicates that Loughner held sexist views and believed that women should not be in positions of power.
From the article:
“At a small local branch of a major bank, for example, the tellers would have their fingers on the alarm button whenever they saw him approaching.”
“It was not just his appearance — the pale shaved head and eyebrows that unnerved them. It was also the aggressive, often sexist things that he said, including asserting that women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority
One individual with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Loughner once got into a dispute with a female branch employee after she told him that a request of his would violate bank policy. He brusquely challenged the woman, telling her that she should not have any power.
Though everyone from the far-right wing to the “liberal elite” is clamoring to dismiss Loughner as a “lone wolf”, anomaly, or outlier, the truth is that his brand of resentful, angry sexist is nothing new. While no one would suggest that Loughner was driven solely by sexism, or that his profile aligns exactly with previous gunmen that espoused sexist or misogynistic views, it’s obvious that his views on women informed at least in part the decision to attempt the assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, a female Congresswoman who he had once complained to a friend was “stupid and unintelligent” according to the Times.
Even before details highlighting sexism in Loughner’s personal philosophy emerged, our very own Jessica Valenti published a piece in the Guardian arguing that “the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords highlights the ‘man-up’ culture in US politics.”
I believe that, given the evidence that has emerged over the weekend, we can take it a step farther and place Loughner as the latest in a list of violent perpetrators whose crimes were informed and motivated by hatred of women and anxious masculinity. As Jessica highlighted in a piece last year for the Washington Post:
Women are being shot dead in the streets here [in the U.S.], too. It was only last year that George Sodini opened fire in a gym outside Pittsburgh, killing three women and injuring nine others. Investigators learned from Sodini’s blog that he specifically targeted women. In 2006, a gunman went into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania; he sent the boys outside and opened fire on almost a dozen girls, killing five. That same year in Colorado, a man sexually assaulted six female students he had taken hostage at a high school before killing one of them.
Picture of George Sodini wearing plaid shirt
George Sodini, gunman in Pittsburgh gym murder that targeted Sodini’s ex-girlfriend and resulted in the death of 3 victims, all women.
Amanda Marcotte has also made some important points about the way that gender played into this shooting over at Pandagon. As Marcotte patiently explains, even though gender issues were clearly at play here, “there isn’t a single answer for why something like this happens. It’s a combination of factors…Many things can be true at once.”
I don’t have any interest in using this violent act as an occasion to wave around a feminist I-told-you-so card. In fact, the idea of doing so makes me feel disgusting. But I also don’t intend to sit by and let Loughner’s obviously sexist views be ignored or dismissed as irrelevant or somehow exceptional. Because as uncomfortable, confusing, and complicated as it may be to sort out the chilling musings of a murderer, the violence won’t stop unless we get past the political fallout and get real about the disconcerting prevalence of sexism and misogyny in our society.


It's time to send white people back wherever the hell they came from!

The following is from Hispanic News Network U.S.A.

ICE Grants 30-day Stay For Aspiring Marine Facing Deportation In Arizona

Pedro Gutierrez

Photo Youtube

Supporters had petitioned ICE to stay deportation of 22-year-old undocumented Arizona man.

By H. Nelson Goodson
January 18, 2011

Phoenix, Arizona - On Tuesday morning, Pedro Gutierrez, 22, an aspiring U.S. Marine was granted deferred action for 30-days, according to his Immigration Attorney Maurice "Mo" Goldman. He was facing deportation and supporters had gathered in an effort to sway Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stay his scheduled deportation to Mexico. He was scheduled to be deported from the U.S. on Tuesday. The U.S. has been the only home that he has ever known since, he was first brought to the U.S. at age six by his grandmother who died when he was 16. His parents were addicted to substance abuse and left him in the care of his grandmother. His grandfather took care of him after his grandmother died. The grandfather later disappeared and Gutierrez was left to fend for himself at age 17, until he graduated.
Gutierrez says that he lived with friends after his grandfather disappeared and never heard from him again. He also says, that he has no family to go back too in Mexico.
He was stopped for a traffic violation in Arizona, spent one month in jail and then was reported to ICE after it was discovered he was in the country illegally. Last Friday, the Arizona Dream Act coalition announced during a press conference that they were seeking a stay (deferred action) for Gutierrez. On Sunday, they held a vigil for him, which led to the 30-day stay for Gutierrez.
Gutierrez had tried to join the Marines, but was rejected because of his undocumented status. He had hoped to join the Marines, if the DREAM Act would have passed. The act failed to pass in December, thus preventing Gutierrez from fullfilling his dream.

Video of Gutierrez speaking about his plight at link:


More and more people are finally getting the message.  Too much water here, drought there, forest fires here, tornadoes there...all that talk about how you can't blame any one event on global climate change is getting old.  Can you blame lots of events?  I think absolutely you can.  

While you were reading about floods in Australia and mudslides in Brazil, Sri Lanka was suffering from a catastrophe. Gunavi Samarasinghe, the head of Meteorological Department in Sri Lanka now is saying, ""Global weather patterns are changing, we should be prepared for extreme changes."  

So should we all.

The following is from IPS.

Extreme Weather Changes Could Follow Floods
By Amantha Perera

COLOMBO, Jan 18, 2011 (IPS) - Weather experts warned Sri Lankan to be prepared for extreme weather changes with hardly any notice following devastating floods here that have affected over one million people.

"Global weather patterns are changing, we should be prepared for extreme changes," Gunavi Samarasinghe, the head of Meteorological Department, said as the country battled floods in the east as temperatures island-wide dropped to sixty year lows.

The drop in temperature was caused by the cloud cover over the island, Samarasinghe said. Colombo registered a temperature of 18.8C, while the central Nuwera Eliya highlands fell to a single digit - 7C.

Samarasinghe said that the island was facing the La Nina phenomenon during which temperatures near the Equator have dropped by as much as 5C. "We better be ready to face any kind of weather," he said.

According to reports on Jan. 14, the two-plus weeks of flooding had killed 27 and left 12 missing. The Disaster Management Centre, the government body coordinating the flood relief effort said that over 18,000 houses, 200 small and large reservoirs and parts of 152 major and minor roads were in need of repair after the floods.

Samarasinghe’s assessment that extreme weather patterns were becoming common is substantiated by the growing frequency of flash flooding on the island.

Since May of 2010, the island has been ravaged by flash flooding on three occasions - marooning a total of 2.2 million persons. The largest and worst being the latest. In May 2010, over 675,000 were affected by flash floods in the western and southern regions, including the capital Colombo. Parts of the same area went under water in November leaving around 375,000 marooned.

By far the latest flooding has been most destructive, said Samarasinghe, claiming its aftermath was only second to the 2004 Asian tsunami.

The U.N.’s Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System rated it as an extreme event that is not likely to reoccur in another 100 years. Heavy rains between Dec. 26 and Jan. 11, caused havoc. Large reservoirs in Sri Lanka’s northern and central regions quickly reached spill levels and sluice gates were opened by the irrigation engineers to prevent the banks from bursting.

"This is monumental," said Upul Tammitta, an aide to Agrarian Minister S. M. Chandrasena, after he witnessed the sluice gates of the Nuwera Weva tank, a large reservoir in the north central Anuradhapura town being released. "I have never seen anything like this before."

He said that the when the water was released, some of it flowed on land where buildings had been built. "It looked like the tanks natural water flow had been blocked, at least when it reached spill levels."

This time the rains were so heavy - Batticaloa, an eastern town, received over 300 millimetres in one day, the highest in over 100 years - that with or without human interference the floods would have come.

Experts contend that at least some of the damage, especially in urban areas, could be mitigated if people paid attention to where and how they were building.

Most of the flash floods that the capital Colombo has experienced in the last six months have been blamed on human interference. Experts contend that blocked drainage networks as well as filled marsh land left rainwater with nowhere to flow, especially when the rains are extremely heavy.

"We have to seriously think about not blocking these networks, otherwise the rainwater has nowhere to go," Ananda Mallawatantri, assistant resident representative of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) warned when Colombo went under.

The UNDP has financed a 150,000-dollar clean up project that has cleared some of the water and drainage networks in the capital and suburbs that helped ease water flow. Soon after the November floods the government decided to widen several water tanks in areas closer to Colombo in an effort to mitigate future flooding. During heavy rains in mid-November some parts of the capital became virtually impassable with floodwaters clogging intersections and prompting massive traffic jams.

Engineers at the Irrigation Department have also proposed to widen or excavate water retention basins on higher ground, in an effort to slow down and control cascading flash floods following heavy rains. That plan is yet to be implemented. Even in rural areas construction and farmland continue to encroach into riverbeds.

The recurring floods have left steep recovery and assistance bills. In 2010 the government spent over 100 million rupees (over 1 million dollars) as assistance and for relief efforts during the floods.

The latest flooding is likely to add to the burden. The government had allocated over 200 million rupees for immediate assistance, but the long- term requirements appear to be higher given the scope of the devastation.

A rough estimate said that the damages from the latest floods would cost over 30 billion rupees.

As the enormity of the flooding became clear, the government made an official request to the UN for assistance. The World Food Programme (WFP) pledged food aid for 400,000 affected people worth 55 million rupees. The U.N. was expected to make a flash appeal to donors to secure funding for the flood relief - it said that funding was dangerously low and the WFP warned of relief drying out if immediate funding was )not received.

"We are discussing with the government on the extent of the damages. There will be medium and long-term impacts from the latest flooding. We have to be prepared for that," Barbara Manzi, the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Colombo said.

Chandrasena estimated that over 400,000 acres of paddy land was badly damaged by the recent floods. Two large paddy production bases, the Polonnaruwa and Ampara Districts were rendered almost impassable for at least two days at the height of the flooding. Vegetable prices are also spiking following the flooding. 

Monday, January 17, 2011


Every year I get pissed off that America has turned Martin Luther King, Jr. Day into something that fails to come close to what Dr. King was all about.  He wasn't in to just getting together a bunch of folks to sit around and feel good about themselves for an  hour.  Dr. King was about the struggle for justice...note the word "struggle."  Even though I didn't always agree with the tactics of non violence put forth by Dr. King, I was bright enough to understand that for him non-violence WASN'T the issue.  Dr. King didn't get up one morning and decide to become a philosopher of non violence.  Dr. King got up and decided to take on racism, white supremacy, exploitation, and eventually imperialism as well.  He utilized the tactic of non violence in that fight.  Dr. King wasn't looking for a world where everyone non violently felt swell about themselves. Non violent injustice is still injustice. Got it!

The following is from Colorlines.

Tim Wise: We Twisted King’s Dream, So We Live With His Nightmare

Bridget Johnson at Martin Luther King Day Parade on January 18, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Getty Images/Matt McClain
Monday, January 17 2011, 8:00 AM ESTTags: civil rights movementcolorblindMLK Day
It’s been a rough year for Martin Luther King, Jr., and for his legacy.
First, as has become an annual ritual, politicians went to church or some other civic gathering for last year’s King Day celebration, even as they continued to support public policies that he found abhorrent. Whether continuing to prosecute a seemingly endless and most definitely murderous war, or by supporting cuts to vital social programs, there is no shortage of hypocrisy when it comes to proclaiming fealty to King’s vision in words, while besmirching it in deeds, all at once.
Then of course came the venal cooptation of King’s crowning public moment—the 1963 March on Washington—by Glenn Beck, this past August. Insisting that it was time to “reclaim the civil rights movement,” because conservatives were the ones who “did it in the first place”—an inversion of history so grotesque as to confound the imagination—Beck inspired a gathering of tens of thousands of disaffected (mostly white) reactionaries, likely none of whom had been involved with the civil rights movement, but who now would be encouraged to see themselves as the inheritors of King’s “dream.” This, even as they clamored for more tax cuts for wealthy folks and the repeal of health care reform, all at the behest of a guy who once said he would like to kill Rep. Charlie Rangel with a shovel. I will leave it to others far more creative than myself to determine how one might square any of that with the teachings or beliefs of Dr. King. Then again, given the recent statement by a Defense Department spokesperson who asserted that King would have supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, anything is possible.
And this is especially true in a nation that has so thoroughly sanitized and compartmentalized King’s message, and King himself, within the pantheon of national heroes. We have turned King into a milquetoast moderate whose agenda went little beyond the ability to sit next to white people on a bus. We’ve stripped away from the public remembrance of this man his calls for income redistribution, his insistence that the United States has become the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” and his proclamation that poverty, racism and militarism are the “triple evils” that America’s rulers have not the courage to confront.
When conservatives can effectively twist King’s singular line about judging people on the “content of their character” rather than the color of their skin into a reason to oppose affirmative action, even though he openly supported such efforts in his writings and interviews in 1961, 1963, 1965 and again in 1967, it ought not surprise us that folks are a bit confused about who King was, and about the principles for which he stood.
The way in which we have forgotten or been misled about King’s legacy is never more apparent than when asking children what they know about his message. Sadly, when I have done so, the most typical answer given is that King stood for not “hitting people,” or “not hitting back if they hit you first,” or that his message would be, were he alive today, “don’t join a gang.” While all these things are true I suppose, they rather miss the point.
After all, King’s commitment to non-violence had a purpose larger than non-violence itself. Non-violence was, for King and the movement, a means to a larger end of social, political and economic justice. Non-violence was a tactic meant to topple racism and economic exploitation, and lead the world away from cataclysmic warfare. That so many young people seem not to get that part, because teachers are apparently loathe to give it to them, renders King’s non-violent message no more particularly important than the banal parental reminder that we should “use our words” to resolve conflicts, rather than our fists. Thanks, but if that message were all it took to get a national holiday named for you, my mother would have had her own years ago.
So we compartmentalize the non-violence message, much as we compartmentalize books about King and the movement in that section of the bookstore established for African-American history; much as we have compartmentalized those streets named for the man, locating them only in the blackest and often poorest parts of town.
Were this tendency to render King divisible on multiple levels—abstracting non-violence from justice, colorblindness from racial equity, and public service from radical social transformation—merely an academic matter, it would hardly merit our concern. But its impact is greater than that. Our only hope as a society is to see the connections between the issues King was addressing and our current predicament, to see that what affects part of the whole affects the greater body, to understand that racism and racial inequity must be of concern to us all, because they pose risks to us all.
For instance, were it not for the indifference to black and brown suffering that animated much of the early non-response to the subprime mortgage crisis (which manifested initially in the mid ’90s, but received little attention and even less government action), perhaps steps would have been taken to prevent what has become, now, a full-blown housing collapse. But rather than seeing the exploitation of low income folks of color as a national emergency, most politicians and media ignored it, or blamed the victims of predatory lending for being too stupid to read the fine print on their loan documents. As such, the lenders branched out, unregulated for the most part, into whiter and middle-class communities, where they took advantage of folks there, too. Now, millions of middle class white folks find themselves on the verge of economic catastrophe, precisely because the suffering of the other was ignored for so long, and eventually, as suffering is wont to do, metastasized.
Likewise, if double-digit unemployment had been viewed as the emergency it is, when only people of color were experiencing it (as they typically have been, in good times or bad, year after year throughout this century), perhaps lawmakers might have seen fit to address the problem. But it wasn’t, and so they didn’t. And now whites are experiencing double-digit joblessness as well, for the first time in over three generations.
And if we had not long ago racialized the “have-nots” as undeserving people of color, thereby allowing racial bias to block government actions that might have been taken on their behalf—like universal health care or massive investment in job creation—perhaps we would not today have tens of millions of people, including millions of white folks, lacking access to medical treatment or job security. But we did, and so we do. And now we can witness white folks running around, speaking against health care reforms from which they would personally gain, all because of a fear that some of the benefits might go to “undeserving” immigrants of color, or lazy folks (typically perceived as black and brown) who don’t want to pay for their own care.
In short, by not understanding the fundamental truth of King’s message that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, we have created a society, 43 years since his death, where injustice and suffering are rampant. And one in which the dreams of the civil rights movement appear the fantastical products of some Ambien-induced haze. Only by putting away, forever, the safe and sanitized version of this man and his compatriots, might we ever awaken from the stupor and become worthy of that which we celebrate this week.
Tim Wise is the author of five books on racism, including his latest, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity (San Francisco: City Lights, 2010).