Human Rights

Why Racism and White Supremacy Will Continue to Reign in 2011

The U.S. is not a post-racial society, as the events of the past year attest -- from a governor glorifying segregation to a Fox pundit calling for Michael Vick's execution.

A new year has just begun, but there is nothing new about white supremacy and the ways in which it does terrible damage to the lives of black Americans. White “journalists” on national television advocate executing black people who have committed a crime, any crime at all. Women unjustly imprisoned for 16 years are freed on the condition that one give up a kidney, an obvious violation of the law. Black farmers caught in a cycle of discriminatory practices never attain true justice, no matter how often the courts or Congress say they have.

Time after time we see that even when black people appear to be victorious, they usually are not. National football league quarterback Michael Vick lost his job, his assets and his freedom after a felony conviction for animal cruelty, but he has still not suffered enough for the likes of many white Americans. His success in bringing the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFL playoffs has only engendered more hatred from the racists among us. That hatred went into overdrive when it was reported that President Obama expressed support for the Eagles organization in giving Vick an opportunity to return to his chosen career.

The overlay of an Obama opinion supportive of Vick only inflamed already irate racists, who were indignant that a black man should have a successful life after being convicted of a crime. Some opined that Vick should be able to work, but not in such a lucrative and prominent position. The absurdity and gall that such foolishness should be openly expressed is the result of racism and nothing more.

Not content to choose a job for Vick, right wing pundit Tucker Carlson spoke for many when he said that Vick should have been executed for his crime. The sight of a black person who refuses to be punished forever is still enough to make the Carlsons of the world idiotic and insane with rage.

Racists have more than a black sports hero to seethe about. While Michael Vick was being killed in effigy, seemingly good news in the quest for justice was not so good after all. Black farmers have been struggling to receive just compensation for years of discriminatory practices carried out by the Department of Agriculture. Their court victory in the 1999 Pigford v. Glickman case was only partial. Many plaintiffs were left without compensation in the complicated settlement process.

After an additional eleven years of struggle, President Obama signed a bill in December 2010 which settled the amount of damages at $1.2 billion. Yet none of the farmers will automatically receive the awards expected to range from $50,000 to $250,000. They will first have to go before a mediator and prove that they have been injured, before courts and auditors approve the awards. The earliest date that any of the surviving farmers will collect is expected to take place sometime in 2012.

The Scott sisters, Gladys and Jamie, have been imprisoned in Mississippi for 16 years after being convicted of committing an $11 robbery and then being sentenced to life terms. They steadfastly maintained their innocence and the only witnesses for the prosecution have recanted their testimony, citing physical and other threats from local police. After months of protests brought their case to national attention, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour suspended their sentences on the condition that Gladys donate her kidney to her sister Jamie, who is undergoing dialysis treatments.

The governor’s condition for suspending the sentence is not only unethical, but also illegal. No one can be compensated for or required to donate an organ. While Gladys volunteered to make the donation for her sister, that willingness should not be a condition for suspending the sentence. Haley Barbour’s decision making process isn’t at all surprising. He recently made headlines when he fondly reminisced about the old days of segregation. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad.” Those days weren’t bad for Barbour and other white Mississippians, but that state was dragged kicking and screaming away from upholding terror and legally sanctioned oppression against its black residents.

The lessons to be drawn from the predicaments of Michael Vick, the Scott sisters, and black farmers are the same. Black people must always know that they will be in the clutches of a racist system and they must know that fighting back is the only option.

The lesson for 2011 is the same as it always has been. Frederick Douglass said it best more than 100 years ago. We must “Agitate, agitate, agitate.” Agitation brought the Scotts and the farmers tiny measures of justice. There will always be discrimination, abuse of the criminal justice system and white feelings of entitlement. If we remember Douglass’ words we will neither be surprised by the travesties which are visited upon us, nor will we be confused about what we must do.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)
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