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Oakland, CA

Posted By Bakari

A couple friends of mine are taking a class on being a "white ally" - race awareness and relations, power and privileged, and counteracting racism.

One of them mentioned to me some critical feedback she had offered and it got me to thinking in more detail what has always bothered me about those sort of discussions, but up until now never quite pinned down.

The following is not a commentary on that class in particular, as I know essentially nothing about it, but rather a critique of a few general ideas I have heard and read on the topic in the past:

1 There is no such thing as "people of color"
-The impact of past racism (including slavery) and present racism does not effect all races equally, nor all in the same way.
- A black american  and a white american likely have more in common with each other than with a fresh-off-the-boat Vietnamese person.  A white american whose family has been in the US for generations likely has more culture in common with a black american than with a first generation eastern european immigrant with whom they share skin color.
 -The very term "people of color" encourages white people to think in terms of a false dichotomy of 'us' (all white people) and 'them' (everyone else).  It not only homogenizes all other races, it also makes everyone not white into an "other".
-Lumping all non-white cultures into one category, while giving white an entire separate category in itself suggests a type of superiority.
-This dichotomy also discounts the existence of mixed race individuals (officially 2% of US society, but really much higher - most surveys, as well as society, force people to choose one identity, even if they are in fact mixed)

2 Historical racism is the single largest cause for modern black poverty, and poverty does generally correlate with crime. However no historical or sociological factors can excuse individual behavior.  No matter what circumstances a person is born into, they have a choice about their own behavior.  Apologizing for, ignoring, discounting, or explaining away black crime rates, drug rates, or general anti-social behavior (e.g. boombox on a crowded train) does nothing to increase equality, and does not bring less conscious white people about as allies. 

3 Discrimination is explicitly illegal.  Talking about "institutionalized" or "systemic" racism does not address the issues which are most relevant today.  While there are still white supremacists in the US, their view has become as unacceptable in mainstream society as it once was only among civil-rights activists.  The president of the US is 1/2 African.  This does not mean that the conversation about race is over.  However, it does mean it is time to change that conversation. 

For example, talking about power hierarchies is mostly nonsensical today.  If racism = racism + power (as is often claimed by race activists), this does not imply that only whites can be racist, because whites do not have any particular power over other races.  There are minorities in the role of police officer, judge, congress person, boss, professor, etc. as well as whites in poverty, in jail, or otherwise powerless.  If you ignore all individual circumstances and look only at the whole society, then no one can be racist, because society is no one person.

[this blog has a character limit.  The rest of it is here: ]

Posted By Bakari

[Original 1st paragraph cut from due to space limitations. Entire entry via link at bottom]

I have a few (white) friends who have complained to me on different occasions about how unfair it is that ...insert some random instance of perceived "reverse" racism here...
I am, perhaps, the friend that people can point to and say "I am not racist, some of my best friends are black", and being that friend apparently my word carries extra weight if I support them in their argument that 'such and such' is unfair.
(Never mind for now what it implies about me that such a disproportionate number of my friends are white...)

Well, first of all, you are racist. You, reading this right now. Just admit it. I'm not saying you don a white hood on the weekends, but in the very first fraction of a moment you see someone new, you make some assumptions about them based on what they look like, and skin color plays a factor in that. You may not ever act on it in any way. You might be totally willing to look past that initial assumption and give each person a fair chance to show who they really are. But it is part of how the human mind works to seek patterns, and living in our society it is impossible to not be at all racist. I know I am.
Some researchers at Harvard built a test to try to get at subconscious initial reactions, and put it online where you can try it.
If you are one of the exceptions, and score neutral, it really doesn't change anything overall. The issue is bigger than you; and the fact is that the majority of people make the same assumptions we expect. And so long as its true in society as a whole, every white individual in the country directly benefits from it.

A most simple example of what some could see as unfair is Affirmative Action.
When I was younger I saw it as just that. If we want to get past racism, we shouldn't be using race as a criteria, for anyone.
Thing is, pretending that there is equality doesn't make it true.
To call affirmative action (or whatever else) reverse racism is to ignore both history and the reality of today. Being color blind does not, can not, will never, solve existing problems, because we aren't starting from neutral.

First of all (and I wrote about this years ago, but before I had any significant readership...) reparations were never paid. This country has virtually unrestricted inheritance.
(I thought about trying to summarize, but I actually wrote pretty much exactly what I wanted to say here back then. So take a moment to read that one)

Prejudice against blacks by whites has affected a dozen generations of people, and continues to have an enormous effect on millions of people right now, today. If we start from right now, and eliminate all racism, it would STILL have an enormous effect on us, because the effects are inherited.

(Just for Gregg, this entry is continued on my new, non-myspace, blog server:

Posted By Bakari

Total number of fatal shootings by Oakland Police in 2008: 5

Of those, number which inspired a wrongful death suit: 2 (both of whom had been resisting arrest, one of whom may have been armed)

Number of potentially unjustified fatal shootings by BART Police: 3.
Ever. Since BART opened in 1972.

Number of homicides (not by police) in Oakland in 2008: 123

Again: One hundred and twenty three.

I'm not saying that police going around shooting people is ok.
I'm not saying being in fist fights on the train is grounds for getting shot.
I'm not saying that cops shouldn't be held to higher standards. We are trusting them with our safety, with our very lives.

If the person Oscar had been fighting had been the one to shoot him, it would have been on the news for one day. There would have been no protests. We wouldn't be thinking about it. But his family still would be.
Young black men shooting young black men is a far larger problem than cops shooting young black men, yet we seem to take it for granted.

Again, this is not to say don't protest in this particular case, which was obviously over the line, obviously unjustified.

When we claim it is a pattern, representative of something larger when in fact it isn't; when we use it as an excuse to condemn all police because we really just have an adolescent resentment of authority, all we are doing is increasing the polarity, increasing the mutual distrust between the police and the community, which in turn increases the likelihood of things like this happening.

When someone starts out hating and distrusting all cops, and he gets detained, he is a lot more likely to be resistive, to fight back, and this, understandably, is going to put the officer on guard. When they have to deal with people like that on a regular basis, they are going to become more likely to be aggressive right from the beginning.

There are larger social and historical issues involved, surrounding the legacy of slavery, poverty is inherited just like wealth is, our education system is deplorable, and as a society we value maximum production of wealth over equitable distribution.

None of these things is in any way an excuse for individual behavior.

Are young black males stopped disproportionately? Of course we are. It might have something to do with committing a disproportionate amount of crime. My advice, if you feel like you are being harassed: Don't get into fist fights. Don't smoke weed or drink alcohol in public. Don't sell drugs. Don't drive like a fucking jack-ass. Don't evade the fare or play amplified music on the train. Don't shoplift. Basically, in general, don't be obnoxious.

Chris Rock explains this very well: How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police

Posted By Bakari

I got a free copy of the Utne Reader at the SF Green festival.
First one I had ever read, although I recognized the name as something Aileen had recommended years ago.

It was chock full of interesting articles on a wide variety of important issues, many of which are relevant to me.  I think I'll subscribe.

Three articles inspired letters to the editor, (two of which are available to read on their website).

Salvage Beauty


I realize that the San Francisco Bay Area in CA is not necessarily representative of the rest of the country, but around here at least, this is not exactly news.

Our version of the "Loading Dock" - Urban Ore - in Berkeley, has been open for 25 years.
It opened originally with materials actually extracted from a landfill, and continues today with drop offs from haulers and donations from the public, as well as a recovery team at the nearby transfer station.
They are very profitable, employ a full time staff, and pay haulers and the public for high quality good condition items.
They have by now spawned a number of smaller copycat stores in the area, with somewhat more specialized focuses.

As a hauler myself, I face plenty of competition in this area from other haulers who, like myself, run their trucks on vegetable oil and donate / recycle / reuse and sell as much of what we pick up as possible.

Far from just making an incredible difference environmentally (both preventing landfill and reducing the need for new materials being made), it also makes great financial sense for everyone involved.
People shopping at a reuse store pay a fraction of what they would, many times for materials which are in excellent condition - sometimes never even used!
As a hauler, I pay much less in dump fees than I would if I simply disposed of everything in one place.
And that means that I in turn can afford to charge my customers a lot less.
Everyone wins.
I hope before long every city can take this concept as much for granted as we are able to here.
Until then, keep up the good work, reporting on stuff like this.

Low Rent High Tech


One form of affordable and green housing which everyone always over looks is the RV park.

RVs as transportation are woefully inefficient, but keep one in one place...

RVs are designed to be able to run off of their own battery power and propane tanks off the grid for weeks or even months at a time.
Things like absorption cycle fridges and a tankless toilet (which have high premiums in home versions) come standard.

An RV uses less than 1/25th the electricity of the average American home, and around and 1/15th the average water.

At the same time, it is by far the least expensive (non-subsidized) form of housing. Both in the San Francisco Bay Area and 10 miles out of Manhattan (two of the most expensive areas in the country, where 1 bdrm apts can go for over $1500 a month) an RV space (with full hook-ups for water, electricity, phone, internet, cable, sewer, plus garbage and mail service) can be had for just over $400.

America Incarcerated

I was very happy with my first ever issue of Utne, especially the unusually straight-forward and un-biased article on the issues surrounding the US prison system.  Expect a subscription after I finish this letter.

There were, however, a couple of points I wanted to add.


<entire blog at MySpace>

Posted By Bakari

I recently saw a MySpace "survey" which included the question "Is Rap music disrespectful to women?"
My thought was "Of course.  All of it.  Even the songs and artists which aren't.  Especially rappers such as Public Enemy, Underground, and TuPac, and current artists OutKast, RasKaDee and Dead Prez with their "Mind Sex".  Oh and the lyrics of the Fugees, Queen LaTifa, and Lil Kim, very offensive to women."
A little on the sarcastic side, obviously.
Point is, that is a really stupid question.  Rap is not one song, one artist, or even one style.  There are artists who objectify women in rock and country, and there are artists who do in rap as well.

The important question is, when there are so many political, and/or positive, and/or fun and upbeat, and/or meaningful, why is it that NWA and Snoop Dogg are considered representative of the entire genre.  Why are gangsta rap, hyphe (the glorification of stupid for its own sake), dirty south and crunk, the dominate styles in their respective times?
While there may be many complex reasons, it is important to remember that the promotion of a song or group is controlled by major record labels, radio stations, and concert venue owners.  The vast majority of these are white. 
I'm not saying it is a deliberate conspiracy, but it is interesting that NWA got more air time than Public Enemy, when the former was hardcore gangsta rap, promoted violence in general, was disrespectful of women in particular, while the latter was purely political, and rapped about such things as the aftermath of slavery, alcohol abuse in the black community, and the use of the word "nigger" by ignorant black americans.

I used to dislike the entire genre for the same reason; until I started to find the numerous exceptions to the generalizations expressed here. Fact is, it is a style of music, not a type of content.  Beyond the question of who chooses what style becomes popular, the question remains, why are so many rappers the way described?  And in that, there is the same chicken/egg question raised by all of the media influences people arguments.  Does the community build its morals based on the music they listen to, or do they choose to listen to music that matches their morals?  Does art imitate life, or life imitate art? I think the question of why the community thinks this way is more important than why rappers do.  If youth were offended by the lyrics, they would stop buying the albums, and the rappers would stop writing that way. I think internalized racism very relevant, but not exactly accurate. It is more that many black people have bought into the idea that the black community is in some way fundamentally separate from society at large.   While many sub-cultures in the US make some effort to assimilate, in a way blacks try to move away from the rest of society.  Of course this is true to a large extent of youth in general.  But when a punk or a goth or a skater white kid writes a note to a teacher, they generally do not use the sub-cultural words they use with their friends.  Some black children seem unaware that they aren't speaking proper english, and use slang even in formal settings.  Black youth are told that math, history, english classes are not relevant to their problems, to their community.  This is an extremely destructive, but widespread belief. 


<entire blog at MySpace>