Racism Unmasked: From Paula Deen to the Supreme Court

phantom maskWhat has become strikingly clear over the past several weeks with the roll back on Voting Rights by the Supreme Court, the “debate” about whether or not Paula Deen has a penchant for using the “n-word,” along with the trial of George Zimmerman… is that there is rampant misuse of the term racism.

From the collective prayer of Black America that George Zimmerman’s prosecutor would have magically morphed into Matthew McConaughey and asked the million dollar question… “Now imagine [Trayvon] was White,” to the absurdity of the Supreme Court decision that pretends that the rash of voting policies in Southern states meant to disenfranchise thousands are merely “race-neutral,” it is clear that many people have no idea what racism truly means while others purposely choose to misuse it.

Corporatized mainstream media has convened a myriad of roundtables, trotting out its usual talking heads such as Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera, and Judge Alex. What is most concerning about these conversations is the seemingly purposeful obfuscation of what racism truly is. Instead, the “experts” painstakingly examine every minutia of the lives and experiences of the individual perpetrators (i.e. Did Paula Deen use the n-word only that one time when she was held at gunpoint by a Black bank robber?) never presenting or analyzing what it means to be a racist and how individual attitudes connect with larger systems of oppression.

Quite simply, racism means oppression based on race…and in this society it exists solely in the form of White supremacy, since White people have a monopoly on power.  Forms of racism are both individual (person-to-person) and institutional (societal systems). It is the former that continually gets addressed but the latter is barely ever addressed. It’s the ole “bait and switch.” The system of racism has no problem from time to time permitting the sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered (i.e. Jimmy the Greek, Don Imus, Paula Deen) in order for the institution itself to remain unscathed and unchallenged.

What is the difference between institutional and individual racism? It’s the difference between being called a racial epithet and having policies that demand, in Soweto fashion, that police profile and persecute entire communities (for example, stop-and-frisk). Institutional racism builds a criminal (in)justice system that imprisons more Black people in 2010 than were enslaved in 1850. Institutional racism erects a healthcare system in which African-American infant mortality rates are worse than in many developing nations. Institutional racism touts the benefits of capitalism while the wealth of the average White household stands attwenty times that of the average Black household.

Media has become the tool of choice, summoning a parade of pundits who perpetuate dumbed-down public discourse that seeks to reduce racism to mere name-calling.  By doing so, they train the public to turn a blind eye to racism in its most pervasive and damaging forms.  Rather than examining a system that allows a Paula Deen to emerge as the “Queen” of Southern cuisine by commodifying the culinary genius that Black people brought to the South, we are conditioned to fixate ourselves on whether or not she used the “n-word.”

Instead of examining an (in)justice system that had to be pressured into arresting George Zimmerman, let alone charging and trying him with the inarguable murder of Trayvon Martin, we are directed to taped 911 calls and swept up in the debate around whether or not he called the 17-year old a “coon” or a “goon” as he was stalking him.  And what about the systemic level oppression, the real institutional racism of the Supreme Court ruling that rolled back the Voting Rights Act?  It gets glossed over…given no more than a few moments of press on the day that the decision came down then quickly overshadowed by the LGBT marriage victory the following day.

melina hasiraRather than simply falling in line, people of color and anti-racist Whites alike must demand that we pull back the curtain on the wizards that have firmly held the levers of institutional power for hundreds of years. Our call here is for an awakening…and even if this blog doesn’t jar you into consciousness, even if it doesn’t compel you to confront the racism that pervades every facet of our daily lives, from this point forward the worst you can do is pretend to be asleep…

Melina Abdullah & Hasira Ashemu
2Movethecrowd

Saturday, 13 July 2103

Published by the LA Progressive on July 14, 2013
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About Melina Abdullah and Hasira Ashemu

Melina Abdullah joined the CSLA faculty in Fall 2002. Prior to joining the Pan-African Studies Department, she served as Visiting Professor at Scripps College in the Department of Politics and Political Science Instructor at West Los Angeles College. What drives Professor Abdullah is an intense passion for the study of power allocation, a commitment to making the distribution of resources more equitable, and an intense affinity for working with students.

Hasira Ashemu is a prolific writer, speaker, progressive social activist, and communications professional with more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning columnist and radio/television journalist. Hasira also lived in Ghana, West Africa for over ten years working in the non-profit and governmental sectors as a communication specialist. Currently Hasira is the Senior Communications Specialist at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and a Howard University Communications Alum