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Post Flint During the Detroit Riots, 1967
Created by John Eipper on 03/11/21 6:42 AM

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Flint During the Detroit Riots, 1967 (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 03/11/21 6:42 am)

This is a response to the back-and-forth that has been going on at WAIS recently, and is based in large part on my personal experience of growing up in Flint, Michigan during the 1960s.

Flint at that time (1964-1969) had a large African American population that had been squeezed into a very small area within the city limits where they could own and rent homes. This housing discrimination had become noticeable and widespread by the 1920s, when many African Americans were migrating from the Deep South to northern industrial centers like Detroit, looking for better work and to avoid the evils of racism. This discrimination in Flint was "de facto," in that it was an unwritten but well-understood rule that real estate brokers would simply refuse to "show homes" to Blacks outside of the red-lined areas. On the northwest side of Flint, this redline ran north-south first on North Saginaw Street, and later it moved west to another significant north-south thoroughfare, Detroit Street (now named "Martin Luther King Boulevard"). My school then, St. Agnes High School, was situated no more than four blocks west of Detroit Street, in what was a redlined area. The socio-economic mix of my fellow students, all of whom were white but for a few of Mexican-American descent, was middle class with some children from professional families also enrolled.

The riots in Detroit from July 23rd to the 28th of July, 1967, hit Flint hard, but primarily psychologically. Although many in the white districts battened down the hatches, there were few racial disturbances of note in the city. Nevertheless, many of my fellow students were hostile towards Blacks and I noticed that this hostility increased during that summer and the following school year. In October 1967, the Flint City Commission approved an open-housing ordinance but enough signatures opposing this action were collected and a city-wide referendum was set for February 20, 1968, nine days prior to the release of the Report of the National Advisory Commission Report on Civil Disorders, more popularly known as the "Kerner Report." My religion teacher, a no-nonsense, Irish-American nun, one morning dropped a bomb in our class when she asked us to express our opinions openly on the ordinance and the coming vote. Although it was no secret that many of my fellow students were far from being civil rights advocates, I was unprepared to witness and unable to understand where their clearly racist comments were coming from. This drama played out somewhat when, In the referendum, the ordinance was approved by a mere 43 votes.

Fast-forward to the summer of 1968, when I worked as a volunteer in the McCarthy for President office in downtown Flint. I have to confess to some naivete one day, when a group of us were stuffing envelopes at a common table and someone brought up the topic of anti-Semitism. One of the volunteers, a Jewish woman in her 60s, criticized this sick ideology, if that is what you call it. More of a murderous and evil impulse, I would now say. I asked her if she thought that anti-Semitism was disappearing the United States, and she smiled at me as if to say, "you should know better." She remarked that the impulse to kill Jews is just under the surface of large numbers of Americans and that all it needed to come out was for something "bad" to trigger it off.

All of the foregoing is to say that we have had many chances to put these two mortal sins of the United States to bed. The first swing-and-a-miss was the premature end of Reconstruction, followed by tolerance of state Jim-Crow laws and then the failure to enact a federal anti-lynching statue in the 1920s. The Kerner Commission had it right when it advocated far-reaching reforms on many fronts, which sensible recommendations were dumped into the wastebasket upon Nixon's election in 1968 and the subsequent adoption by the GOP of its "Southern Strategy." And when I see "right-wing" protesters give the Nazi salute and wear hoodies that suggest the mindless and evil genocide that was practiced at Auschwitz and so many other death camps in the Bloodlands during World War II, I can't dismiss those actions as "suggestions" of bad behavior. In my estimation, those actions cross over into illegal and immoral advocacy of race-murder.

Well, we are now reaping the whirlwind of what we have sown not only after 1865 but going even further back to when slavery was first sanctioned in the United States. I fear for the day when the the huge debt that is owed to those who have suffered for so long will finally become due and payable.

JE comments:  An enlightening historical perspective, Pat.  US history since 1865 has experienced several attempts to put the "mortal sin" of racism in the past.  Each time it was met with massive and systemic reactions.  At present, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the direction of race justice.  Who knows what the pushback will look like this time.

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  • Race Justice: A Question from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/12/21 4:15 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    In commenting on Patrick Mears (March 11), John E said: "At present, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the direction of race justice."

    John, what would constitute the realization of "race justice"?

    JE comments: I was afraid someone would ask that! Gary, you've brought up what may be the biggest cultural challenge of US history. Let's start with the obvious:  if race justice were easy, it would have been achieved by now.

    The ideal would be MLK's maxim that a man (let's include women; it's 2021) be judged not by the color of his/her skin, but by the content of his/her character.  Vague stuff, to be sure.  How about a laundry list of what "race justice" is not?  It is not police profiling or voter suppression.  Gerrymandering is a gentler and more opaque form of the "redlining" of yore.  Vast inequalities in access to education remain, especially in the gap between wealthy and impoverished school districts.

    Let's open this discussion to the WAISitudes.  I hope we'll hear from John Torok in Oakland, who has been on the front lines of the struggle for race (and economic) justice. 

    Yes we've made enormous progress.  The year 2021 is a world away from 1921, or even 1968.  To paraphrase the Virginia Slims commercials, we have come a long way, Baby.  Note that with the exception of a handful of extremists, today even the most virulent racists are careful to deny their racism.

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    • Reflections on "Race Justice" (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 03/13/21 4:14 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      John E has clarified his comment that "At present, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the direction of race justice."

      His clarification comes on March 12, as the Minneapolis City Council votes to pay $27 million to the family of George Floyd, before any court cases have even gone to trial.

      John clarified that the realization of "race justice" (he phrased the term in a way that's usefully more distinctive than "racial justice") would include:

      Point One: A general adherence, John said, to Martin Luther King's admonition that judgment of people be based not on color but on their character. On this, John understandably added, "Vague stuff, to be sure"--perhaps in part because "character" like "soul" and "spirit" can't be pinpointed concretely, and only one's behavior or actions present themselves to be judged (and this judgment idea, as Hester Prynne might have said, is quite a separate slippery slope in the cited oratory, even aside from yet a third one, King's calling all people men, as John also found he had to sort of disavow).

      These difficulties point toward their logical conclusion, that to make all "men" judge rightly, you're going to have to tell them what to think, and then force them to do so, and then on top of that interrogate them from time to time and secondarily force them to say they're not being forced. Naturally to phrase it like that isn't realistic--but is merely another kind of empty oratorical hyperbole for audience appeal, on the right side of politics this time, instead of the left. But however much discourse in the real world may never reach that Orwellian extreme, the train of logic is easing that way, toward a point where generous-spirited admirers of the rhetoric might have to choose, and to ask whether they've reached another "all men" moment, in a bigger way, of having to disavow a place they didn't mean to go.

      But that was just John's Point One. His phrasing--in an admirably busy life with little time to ponder, for an obligatory comment, what maxims usually take for granted--showed that he might be seeking a way to deal with some of the problems named above, for he then listed more concrete aspects of what might constitute "race justice."

      Point Two. "No police profiling." Unfortunately, this is not much more concrete than "character." Isn't formal implementation of racial profiling by police departments now largely prohibited? And if what remains is merely in the officer's head, derived from what's been observed before in other cases, could Orwell in the point above help take care of that? Does this taut, three-word item yearn implicitly toward re-education centers, on the conviction that most law enforcement interactions are illicit, predicated not on observed behavior but on twisted police paranoia? Has John been living all along in this kind of evil world, and was just too sheltered to feel the brunt, unlike the blameless victims? Is John, figuratively, now offering reparations for the privileged sheltering that has exempted him from the evils that a purer soul, with fewer corrupt comforts and more purifying flagellation, would know to exist? Okay, okay, more unfair rhetoric, not Orwellian this time but medieval. Why should these irrelevant echoes keep creeping in?

      Point Three. "[O]r voter suppression." No doubt about it, some of those Republican-gerrymandered districts in Texas, as only one example, look scandalously blatant. But I thought "vote suppression" was in fact the cry of the other side, the resentful Trumpists. Is John saying the Third Ward in Houston, for instance, would be different if it could elect a more adroit protectionist (like, say, Senator Bilbo of Jim Crow Mississippi--or convicted merchandiser Alcee Hastings of Florida?). If both sides are saying vote suppression, does that mean the imperfect Republic that has somehow muddled through until now is illegitimate? Doubtless WAIS can educate me more on this. Does this item form the crucially concrete measure of how we haven't yet reached "race justice"?

      Point Four. "Vast inequalities in access to education remain, especially in the gap between wealthy and impoverished school districts." The above-mentioned Third Ward of Houston was where George Floyd, also mentioned above, grew up, in one of the hardest-of-the-hard housing projects, Cuny Homes. He faced a number of strikes against him, a major one being the nearby public high school, rated as one of the worst in the state. And yet, even before Floyd, a notable graduate had gone on to fame and fortune as a player for the Washington Redskins--without being able to read, he later famously discussed. And in Floyd's own day, other classmates also got out, some through athletic scholarships, but some through hard work and academic acumen. Floyd himself, six-foot-two, received two separate basketball scholarships that seemed bound to get him out of the ghetto, and each, in turn (to two separate colleges, which kept forgiving), was lost to mysteriously unarticulated lapses, in one case leaving one of five illegitimate children behind, in the other an attack on a girlfriend with a mop handle, aside from drug arrests). Some found ways to get out of Cuny Homes and some didn't.

      The Washington Post, in an elaborate series of articles on the life of George Floyd, martyr of an era, has said that his ultimate condition (bewilderingly addicted to various lethally antagonistic drugs, both stimulants and sedatives), was the result of "systemic racism"--the more orthodox syntactical variant of John's "race justice." John's phrasing is perhaps the more operational--closer to a rhetorically testable hypothesis than to a panoramic demonization. Both he and I have written quickly here, on what amounts to the vast and unencompassable subject of mass belief. But we've opened it for discussion. And hopefully that can count a little against any stumbles.

      JE comments:  Yesterday I admitted to Bert Westbrook off-Forum that my remarks have opened a can of race worms.  In the above, Gary Moore delivers an effective "gotcha" punch for my hasty comments.  So you got me, Gary:  it's essential to subject our platitudes to scrutiny, even on this hot-button topic.

      About thirty years ago in grad school, I had a hallway discussion on "institutional" racism.  My position then was it doesn't exist--no more Jim Crow, redlining had been outlawed, etc.  The 1980s were also the "high-water mark" of affirmative action.  I was equating "institutions" with written laws.  What I didn't understand then were the unspoken prejudices that keep certain sectors of the population marginalized.  "Police (race) profiling" is a case in point.  Of course it's not allowed, but it nonetheless occurs.  Did George Floyd die because he was a hoodlum, or because he was African American?  You answer depends more on your a priori assumptions than on the actual events.

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      • Why Do Americans Self-Flagellate on Race Issues? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/14/21 4:11 AM)
        We could speak for hours about why the Americans should flagellate themselves, as in medieval times, for their behavior against natives and enslaved people, but what nation doesn't have a skeleton in its closet?

        However, the Americans who held slaves in the past centuries were a minority.  And who were the hunters and sellers? Why are they not called to face the shame as the origin of the tragedy? I heard that someone who presented such a thesis has been fired from his job.

        After all, if we look around the world we still find slavery.

        According to the Anti-Slavery International and the International Labour Organization, many countries have slaves and among them are well-respected allies of the US Empire. See the 2017 Report of Antonio Gutierres at the UN and also the "Global Report on Trafficking in Persons." The report cites the existence of 20 to 45 million slaves.

        For instance, illegal immigrant children used in Michigan to harvest blueberries with their little hands, and again illegal immigrants in Florida to harvest tomatoes. But illegal immigrants to harvest tomatoes are employed also in Italy in spite of a strong law against the practice.

        This post is dedicated to WAISers who remember only the Italian aggressive war in Ethiopia but never remember the positive side effects of the immediate abolition of slavery and the end of the oppression of the various local ethnic groups by the dominant Imperial Amhara. These oppressed ethnic groups welcomed the Italian troops.

        Such oppression continues now. Consider the war in Tigray even if the dominant ethnic group may have changed. The troubles are also sponsored from abroad in view of the looming war for the waters of the Nile.

        Answering JE and seen from here, if George Floyd had not been a hoodlum he would not have died. A "chapeau" to JE, he was correct when he commented, "Did Floyd die because he was a hoodlum or because he was African American? The answer depends more on your a priori assumptions than on the actual events."

        JE comments:  Appreciate the chapeau, Eugenio.  I should qualify my remark above:  Floyd probably wouldn't have died if he had been a model citizen, but one must be extremely careful not to imply from this that he deserved what he got.

        Eugenio, as your friend, may I point out a discrepancy in your arguments?  You have often criticized the US "Empire" for its brutal and bungled attempts to export democracy (nation-building), but at the same time you praise Italy for bringing justice to Abyssinia/Ethiopia (specifically, for abolishing slavery).  Is there a difference?

        Yes, every nation has its skeletons.  One of WAISdom's responsibilities is to examine them.

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