Not As Divided As We Seem?

Obama-Bush-DallasMemAre we, as President Obama said at the memorial for fallen Dallas police officers, “Not as divided as we seem”?  On the one hand, I see more and more whites at protests over police shootings of young black men, and recently a white woman has been walking miles everyday on Chicago’s Southside wearing posters saying, “Black America, I’m sorry.”  Also, as the President has said on many occasions, at the local level more of us are working together and to more effect than in Washington.  It’s not very hard to top D.C. gridlock, however, and on the other hand, there seems to be much more evidence—including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the church massacre in Charleston, Philando Castile in St. Paul, etc. etc. etc.—proving the opposite.  Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort analyzes a growing divide as Americans cluster into less diverse neighborhoods.  The book’s subtitle is Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (go to the book’s website for more).  On this site, in “Graphic Inequality,” I comment on the greatest wealth divide in American history.

I often teach courses on race and ethnicity, and every time it seems racial incidents explode, making sometimes discomforting material even more disturbing.  This past Tuesday I opened my Race, Ethnicity, and the American Experience class by letting everyone talk about the week’s explosive events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.  A student had already written me a long email on how police needed more education, and I had replied that they needed to take a clue from the military’s no-tolerance policy regarding racism.  Two veterans are in the class.  “You’re in big trouble if there’s even a hint of racist behavior,” said one.  ”I know this is going to sound crass, and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way,” said the other, “but I was kind of proud of how the Dallas shooter handled himself.”  The shooter had also been a veteran, and the student’s point was that besides more anti-racist training the police also needed better training on how to actually handle guns.  “If you watch the police,” he continued, “they didn’t seem to know what to do compared to the vet.  He’d been well trained.  And if you look at the officer in Minnesota, he’s out of control, out of his mind with fear and has no idea how to act.”  This was a sharp take on a problem I’d only dimly considered before.  None of our discussion, I should add, was in the spirit of wholesale condemnation of police.

Many of these issues were touched upon in an episode of PBS’s Tavis Smiley show, which I happened to watch immediately after returning home from this class.  It was an interview with professor Robin D.G. Kelly and Civil Rights lawyer Connie Rice, which, for the moment, you can watch HERE.   Kelly spoke of “colorblind racism”* and said of  Obama’s comment, “Not as divided as we seem? What country is the President looking at?”  Rice told about interviewing 800 L.A. police officers.  After they got comfortable and realized she wasn’t going to use anything they said against them, officer after officer admitted how scared they were of black people, how little they knew, how they’d never sat down to share anything with a black person.  Fear, lack of personal relationship, firearms—this is a sure-fire recipe (pun intended) for all the tragedies we’ve seen.  Unless things change—starting with ditching colorblind racism and getting our police more training—these incidents will continue to multiply into our future, clouding and disheartening it just as they have clouded and disheartened decades and decades of our past.

* I have written much about how the doctrine of colorblindness sustains racism, disabling our ability to deal with it.  See, for example, articles on Trayvon Martin and on Peg McIntosh’s “Invisible Knapsack.”

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July 4th with Guzman for Aurora

The short VIDEO below shows July 4th, 2016—at least my small view of it.  Fireworks with Statue of LibertyBecause I’ve spent so much time studying, writing, and teaching about the American Experience, July 4th is as important a holiday for me as any.  This year marching in a July 4th Parade with GUZMAN for AURORA heightened its importance…and its fun, especially because many near life-sized Rick Guzman cardboard cutouts accompanied our contingent.  Guzman for Aurora is the organization promoting my son Rick’s run for mayor of Illinois’ second largest city.

I hope you’ll enjoy a little bit of us marching in the parade, then doing some chicken-dance unwinding with a Polish accordion player, then kids ringing a Liberty Bell, then the grand finale of a fireworks spectacular.  Happy 4th, Everyone!

 Go to the Guzman for Aurora website, and read about it Here on this site.

 Learn about Emmanuel House being named one of the “Top 100” social change organizations in the world.  Our family’s foundation, it was started by Rick and Desiree Guzman.

  Go to a video of July 4, 2014, focused on Ray Charles’ now-iconic version of “America the Beautiful.”

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BREXIT, Identity, and Global Flows

English Parliament at nightThe English (at least the Anglo-Saxon variety) have had an uneasy relationship with the Continent since, say, 1066, so the recent BREXIT vote has been brewing awhile.  Nativism, nationalism, even racism—all these and more have driven this vote, but perhaps nothing more than “just” globalization and one of the major crises it has brought almost all of us: identity.  In the deepest book I know on globalization, Modernity at Large, Arjun Appadurai describes ideas, and goods, and money, and people flowing over five “scapes:” ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes.  “Implicit in this book,” he writes, “is a theory of ruptures”—not just change, but ruptures, violent breaks.

And perhaps no break is fraught with more violence, in all its forms, as one that Appadurai and many others have speculated upon: the end of the nation-state, a prospect most of us simply cannot imagine. We can deal with all kinds of ruptures in the way we used to establish our identities, but take away our sense of belonging to a nation and that may be the last straw.  Do all the “Take back our country” cries—the U.S. variant is “Make America Great Again”—signal just a break from, or a breaking away from globalization?  In most ways there’s no going back, of course, but a recent Trump speech proposes blowing up NAFTA and many of the ways we’ve thought about global economic systems for decades.

LN-VH-MeAs for personal identity, is there anything for now as vital and embodied as being a citizen of a particular nation?  Many have proposed other identity concepts for this age, especially “cosmopolitanism,” a citizen-of-the-world approach most forcefully proposed in recent times by Martha Nussbaum in her 1994 Boston Review essay “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” and expanded on in Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.  But does “cosmopolitanism” provide a weighty enough anchor for identity?  Some have suggested that the “anchor” metaphor is itself the problem, that identity should be conceived more as something floating—maybe “flowing”—rather than being anchored. This concept, however,  is probably still too heady, too intellectual, especially to those substantial numbers of us who really aren’t that global or multicultural in the foods we eat, the music we listen to, the friends we have.

In 2000 I spent a semester teaching in London.  Over a three-year period ending this January (2016) I posted a series titled Remembering London, essays constructed from the many journal entries made during my stay.  My shock at the BREXIT vote was somewhat cushioned by my how much EU problems kept cropping up in my journals, even when discussing something as seemingly innocuous as cheese.  (See “Nationalism and Cheese.”)  I stayed at a zany residential hotel, Vincent House—a Fawlty Towers my wife called it—and sometimes my new friends’ suspicions and hatreds of the continent seemed comical.  Not most of the time, however, because they were deep indeed and fraught with anxiety over British identity, an anxiety that found monumental expression in the historic vote last week.

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