GilmerFreePress.net

Jim crow jumps into the game

The Free Press WV

History in blackface slaps the present moment awake.

What? The governor put that picture on his yearbook page? In 1984? The wave of outrage, the demand for his resignation — from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s own party, the Democrats — can’t be dismissed with a shrug and an apology. His career may be over, thanks not simply to an act of youthful stupidity but to the context that made it possible: good old American racism.

The controversial picture shows two guys standing next to each other, holding cans of (most likely) beer. One is dressed up in a Klan hat and robe; the other is smeared in blackface. For reasons that now seem incomprehensible, it was posted on Northam’s own page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. He has publicly denied that he himself is in the picture, but . . . too bad. That’s not enough to make the scandal disappear. The picture’s impact is visceral.

Should Northam resign because of it? This is a question that instantly pulls me in two directions: yes and no. For now I’ll let it hover as “maybe” and move on to the real story here, which isn’t the governor’s youthful indiscretion or personal morality, but America’s dark, still-buried history: not simply of racism and violence, but the of the apple-pie normalcy of it.

Suddenly it is the normalcy of it that is being clawed into accountability and purged. Consider how much things have changed. Remember Robert Byrd? He was the longest-serving senator in U.S. history and a liberal Democrat. He was also a member, in his younger days, of the Ku Klux Klan — an officer, for God’s sake. He was a Kleagle and an Exalted Cyclops.

Remember Hugo Black? He was also a liberal Dem, serving for 10 years in the Senate and 34 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also joined the Klan in his younger days and never exactly apologized for doing so. “I would have joined any group if it helped get me votes,” he once said, by way of explanation.

All that was back in the days before racism had come undone as a core feature, if not a basic requirement, of being white in America. The fact that this has changed is worth acknowledging. Most Democrats, including most of the declared 2020 presidential candidates, have called on Northam to resign. I’m sure this is as much pragmatic awareness as moral outrage. The Dem base has no tolerance left for idiots in blackface, much less for pseudo-Klansmen. Unavoidably, a line of connection runs straight from the yearbook photo to the worst of American history: lynching, slavery, genocide.

The history of blackface makes this clear. A singing-and-dancing white man with his face blackened by burnt cork was at the center of what was once the country’s most popular form of entertainment: the minstrel show. It’s where Jim Crow began:
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.

“Jim Crow grew to be minstrelsy’s most famous character,” Blair L. M. Kelley wrote at TheGrio. “. . .The gag in Jim Crow performances was that Crow would show up and disturb white passengers in otherwise peaceful first class rail cars, hotels, restaurants, and steamships. Jim Crow performances served as an object lesson about the dangers of free black people, so much so that the segregated spaces first created in Northern states in the 1850s were popularly called Jim Crow cars. Jim Crow became synonymous with white desires to keep black people out of white, middle-class spaces.”

The history of blackface entertainment grows ever more chilling, populated with such characters as Jim Crow and Zip Coon and Mammy the faithful slave, with her illiterate, disposable pickaninny children.

“Minstrelsy,” Kelley wrote, “desensitized Americans to horrors of chattel slavery. These performances were object lessons about the harmlessness of Southern slavery. By encouraging audiences to laugh, they showed bondage as an appropriate answer for the lazy, ignorant slave. Why worry about the abolition of slavery when black life looked so fun, silly, and carefree? Even the violence of enslavement just became part of the joke.”

What begins to emerge with increasing clarity is how little this country has atoned for its past. No, a shrug and an apology aren’t quite enough.
Suddenly the governor of Virginia is assigned the role of scapegoat. This also concerns me. His resignation may have pragmatic necessity, but the blame for the horrors summoned by his yearbook photo require a collective acceptance of responsibility.

As Rhae Lynn Barnes wrote recently in the Washington Post: “In Jim Crow’s century-long reign, a strange, visible and highly pervasive world of blackface minstrel shows took hold in nearly every city and town in the United States. Amateur blackface minstrel shows and parades were so central to civic and campus life in 20th-century America that it’s hard to find a university yearbook without a blackface image or a town that didn’t hold such a parade.

“. . . Northam’s blackface yearbook spread is a small shard of an expansive and ever-present national story, one that shows how racism defined what it means to be a patriotic, successful and civically oriented white man in modern America.”

The undoing of American racism has been a long, fierce, painful process, and we’re hardly beyond it. From our prison complex to police shootings to voter purges aimed at people of color to Muslim bans, border cages and the brutal thuggery of ICE, racism still rules. Standing in moral judgment of the past won’t, in and of itself, heal the harm we’re inflicting on the future.

Robert Koehler, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available.

The ultimate human idiocy

The Free Press WV

What’s the ultimate form of human idiocy? I nominate religious suicide bombings, in which fanatics kill themselves to murder “infidels” of rival faiths or no faith.

What type of insanity makes some fervent believers think they’re serving God by slaughtering defenseless strangers who did them no harm? Are these killers totally devoid of human compassion? Can they look at surrounding people and families with no reaction except a desire to murder them? Do they really think that God wants massacres, and will reward them with virgins in paradise after they sacrifice their own lives?

It’s lunacy – yet it’s a daily reality of modern times, perhaps the single worst source of bloodshed since the Cold War ended. It’s so absurd that it couldn’t possibly happen – but it happens almost every day.

On Jan. 27, two explosions at a Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines killed 27 worshipers at Sunday mass and wounded more than 100 others. The Islamic State terror group claimed credit, saying “two knights of martyrdom” gave their lives to attack a “crusader temple.” President Rodrigo Duterte announced that the attack was committed by husband-and-wife suicide volunteers. The wife, disguised by wearing a large cross, detonated her concealed explosive vest among worshiping Catholics, then the husband triggered a second blast outside the cathedral door as survivors fled, he said.

(Some military sources gave conflicting reports, saying the killers used remote devices to explode planted bombs. Confusion is common after such carnage.)
Actually, the Philippine attack was smallish, compared to many that occur. The worst, of course, was the historic atrocity of Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 al-Qaida suicide volunteers hijacked airliners and crashed them into U.S. landmarks, killing 3,000 Americans. It was the most horrifying day in the memory of most U.S. residents.

The 9/11 holy killers left behind a testament they had shared among themselves, saying they were doing it for God: “Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty,” they assured each other, “and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out, ‘Come hither, friend of God.’ They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing.”
It’s sickening to realize that 3,000 unsuspecting Americans died because of this adolescent male fantasy.

A few years ago, researchers counted 17,000 Muslim terror attacks since the 9/11 horror, with a total body count beyond 60,000 victims. The phenomenon averaged five murder missions per day, so many that news media ignore smaller assaults.

The Islamic “cult of death” has diminished to about one suicide attack per day now. The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv gives these figures: 452 massacres in 2015 – 469 in 2016 –348 in 2017 –293 in 2018. Last year, 2,845 victims were killed and 5,160 wounded. Many attacks involved two or more “martyrs.” Surprisingly, the number of women suicide volunteers has grown until they now constitute about one-fifth of the killers.

For years, I wished that the available supply of suicide volunteers would kill themselves off and the phenomenon would cease. But there seems to be an endless parade of new zealots eager to become “martyrs.”

Various experts attribute the “cult of death” to political, sociological, economic or psychological causes. Maybe they’re partly correct – but the glaring fact remains that religion underlies the ghastly, incomprehensible, maddening mess.

Pundit Anthony Lewis wrote: “There is no way to reason with people who think they will go directly to heaven if they kill Americans.” Columnist William Safire said the volunteers do it because their “normal survival instinct is replaced with a pseudo-religious fantasy of a killer’s self-martyrdom leading to an eternity in paradise surrounded by adoring virgins.” Columnist David Brooks wrote that the bizarre phenomenon is “about massacring people while in a state of spiritual loftiness.”

Normal people cannot understand why some fanatics kill themselves to commit atrocities. But, understandable or not, it’s a deadly daily reality.


James Haught, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

On China, the US Public Stands Apart

The Free Press WV

Why isn’t the American public as agitated about China as are the Trump administration, the mainstream media, and even many China specialists? In a recent article, Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, raises this question, noting that the public seems strangely at odds with everyone else when it comes to the so-called China threat.

Polls show that China ranks well below Russia, North Korea, and Iran when people are asked about their international concerns. Terrorism and protecting American jobs rank highest in priority. Yet Trump’s national security team identifies China, along with Russia, as the chief threats to the United States. The media seem to agree that the “China challenge” to US global leadership, militarily and not just economically, is a great and growing concern. A number of China watchers who normally urge cautious engagement with Beijing now see an aggressiveness that needs to be forcefully countered.

So why isn’t the US public convinced? I’d say it comes down to contact in various forms. First, and most obviously, Americans are far more likely to meet or observe people of Chinese descent—regardless of their status or country of origin, including Chinese-Americans—than Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans.

And I think it is fair to say that those contacts are overwhelmingly favorable: Chinese are seen as being accomplished, hardworking, polite, and focused on family. Second, Americans use “made in China” products all the time; “China” is familiar to everyone mainly as a thriving commercial entity. When Americans worry about China, it is mainly (seven of ten polled) that Trump’s trade war will hurt their pocketbooks, not that China will act aggressively toward Japan or Taiwan.

Third, despite the administration’s official designation of China as a security issue, both the administration and the media devote much more attention to threats from Russia, North Korea, and Iran than they do to China. Yes, there’s the South China Sea dispute and some bad publicity about the Belt and Road Initiative, but these have far less saliency for Americans than does Russian election interference, North Korea’s nukes, or Iran’s meddling in the Middle East.

So the explanation of the “mystery” of the US public’s perception of China is in plain sight. That doesn’t mean, however, that the perception will remain positive. Historically, sudden changes in American perceptions of China have occurred fairly regularly.

If the trade war continues unresolved, if another military incident involving US and Chinese forces occurs, if Xi Jinping’s suppression of human rights becomes even more blatant, or if China’s worldwide economic initiatives and cyber hacking become too aggressive, perceptions could turn very negative. But so long as China is perceived by the US public mainly in economic terms, with due appreciation of the benefits to the US and the world of China’s rise, it is unlikely to generate the same heat other countries bring out.

And that’s a good thing, because the current wave of official and media hostility toward China is not conducive to dispute resolution and a search for common ground. Quite the opposite: these forces are pushing for a new Cold War, encouraging those in China who think likewise. As I have argued many times, China should be treated as a competitor, not a threat, with an understanding that diplomacy and deeper engagement, not force or pressure, is the best way to deal with areas of friction between our two countries.
????????? ????: Happy Year of the Pig to my Chinese friends!


Mel Gurtov, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

I’m Not Breaking Up with America This Valentine’s Day, and Neither Should You

The Free Press WV

“There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that [America is] the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies…

“[America] sure used to be [the greatest country in the world ]… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” ― Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom (Episode 1)

Life in America has become a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, misery-drenched, demoralizing existence.

We have managed to survive crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.

We’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.

We’ve had our freedoms turned inside out, our democratic structure flipped upside down, and our house of cards left in a shambles.

We’ve had our children burned by flashbang grenades, our dogs shot, and our old folks hospitalized after “accidental” encounters with marauding SWAT teams. We’ve been told that as citizens we have no rights within 100 miles of our own border, now considered “Constitution-free zones.” We’ve had our faces filed in government databases, our biometrics crosschecked against criminal databanks, and our consumerist tendencies catalogued for future marketing overtures.

We’ve seen the police transformed from community peacekeepers to point guards for the militarized corporate state. From Boston to Ferguson and every point in between, police have pushed around, prodded, poked, probed, scanned, shot and intimidated the very individuals—we the taxpayers—whose rights they were hired to safeguard. Networked together through fusion centers, police have surreptitiously spied on our activities and snooped on our communications, using hi-tech devices provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

We’ve been deemed suspicious for engaging in such dubious activities as talking too long on a cell phone and stretching too long before jogging, dubbed extremists and terrorists for criticizing the government and suggesting it is tyrannical or oppressive, and subjected to forced colonoscopies and anal probes for allegedly rolling through a stop sign.

We’ve been arrested for all manner of “crimes” that never used to be considered criminal, let alone uncommon or unlawful, behavior: letting our kids walk to the playground alonegiving loose change to a homeless manfeeding the hungry, and living off the grid.

We’ve been sodomized, victimized, jeopardized, demoralized, traumatized, stigmatized, vandalized, demonized, polarized and terrorized, often without having done anything to justify such treatment. Blame it on a government mindset that renders us guilty before we’ve even been charged, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing. In this way, law-abiding individuals have had their homes mistakenly raided by SWAT teams that got the address wrong. One accountant found himself at the center of a misguided police standoff after surveillance devices confused his license plate with that of a drug felon.

We’ve been railroaded into believing that our votes count, that we live in a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics—green.

We’ve gone from having privacy in our inner sanctums to having nowhere to hide, with smart pills that monitor the conditions of our bodies, homes that spy on us (with smart meters that monitor our electric usage and thermostats and light switches that can be controlled remotely) and cars that listen to our conversations and track our whereabouts. Even our cities have become wall-to-wall electronic concentration camps, with police now able to record hi-def video of everything that takes place within city limits.

We’ve had our schools locked down, our students handcuffed, shackled and arrested for engaging in childish behavior such as food fights, our children’s biometrics stored, their school IDs chipped, their movements tracked, and their data bought, sold and bartered for profit by government contractors, all the while they are treated like criminals and taught to march in lockstep with the police state. 

We’ve been rendered enemy combatants in our own country, denied basic due process rights, held against our will without access to an attorney or being charged with a crime, and left to molder in jail until such a time as the government is willing to let us go or allow us to defend ourselves.

We’ve had the very military weapons we funded with our hard-earned tax dollars used against us, from unpiloted, weaponized drones tracking our movements on the nation’s highways and byways and armored vehicles, assault rifles, sound cannons and grenade launchers in towns with little to no crime to an arsenal of military-grade weapons and equipment given free of charge to schools and universities.

We’ve been silenced, censored and forced to conform, shut up in free speech zones, gagged by hate crime laws, stifled by political correctness, muzzled by misguided anti-bullying statutes, and pepper sprayed for taking part in peaceful protests.

We’ve been shot by police for reaching for a license during a traffic stop, reaching for a baby during a drug bust, carrying a toy sword down a public street, and wearing headphones that hamper our ability to hear.

We’ve had our tax dollars spent on $30,000 worth of Starbucks for Department of Homeland Security employees, $630,000 in advertising to increase Facebook “likes” for the State Department, and close to $25 billion to fund projects ranging from the silly to the unnecessary, such as laughing classes for college students and programs teaching monkeys to play video games and gamble.

We’ve been treated like guinea pigs, targeted by the government and social media for psychological experiments on how to manipulate the masses. We’ve been tasered for talking back to police, tackled for taking pictures of police abuses, and threatened with jail time for invoking our rights. We’ve even been arrested by undercover cops stationed in public bathrooms who interpret men’s “shaking off” motions after urinating to be acts of lewdness.

We’ve had our possessions seized and stolen by law enforcement agencies looking to cash in on asset forfeiture schemes, our jails privatized and used as a source of cheap labor for megacorporations, our gardens smashed by police seeking out suspicious-looking marijuana plants, and our buying habits turned into suspicious behavior by a government readily inclined to view its citizens as terrorists.

We’ve had our cities used for military training drills, with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing the skies, Urban Shield exercises overtaking our streets, and active shooter drills wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bystanders in our schools, shopping malls and other “soft target” locations.

We’ve been told that national security is more important than civil liberties, that police dogs’ noses are sufficient cause to carry out warrantless searches, that the best way not to get raped by police is to “follow the law,” that what a police officer says in court will be given preference over what video footage shows, that an upright posture and acne are sufficient reasons for a cop to suspect you of wrongdoing, that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous tip, and that police officers have every right to shoot first and ask questions later if they feel threatened.

Are you depressed yet? You should be.

More than depressed, however, you should be outraged at what has been done to our country.

I’m outraged at what has been done to our freedoms.

We are no less prisoners than those who are incarcerated behind prison walls.

As Aldous Huxley recognized in his foreword to A Brave New World Revisited: “It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free—to be under no physical constraint and yet be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national state, or of some private interest within the nation wants him to think, feel and act. . . . To him the walls of his prison are invisible and he believes himself to be free.”

The prison we inhabit may not be as bleak as the soul-destroying gulags described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, but that’s just a matter of aesthetics.

It’s time to stop waiting patiently for change to happen, stop waiting for someone to rescue you, and stage a breakout.

Get mad, get outraged, get off your duff and get out of your house, get in the streets, get in people’s faces, get down to your local city council, get over to your local school board, get your thoughts down on paper, get your objections plastered on protest signs, get your neighbors, friends and family to join their voices to yours, get your representatives to pay attention to your grievances, get your kids to know their rights, get your local police to march in lockstep with the Constitution, get your media to act as watchdogs for the people and not lapdogs for the corporate state, get your act together, and get your house in order.

Appearances to the contrary, this country does not belong exclusively to the corporations or the special interest groups or the oligarchs or the war profiteers or any particular religious, racial or economic demographic.

This country belongs to all of us: each and every one of us—“we the people”—but most especially, this country belongs to those of us who love freedom enough to stand and fight for it.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are fast approaching the point at which we will have nothing left to lose.

Don’t wait for things to get that bad before you find your voice and your conscience.

As Solzhenitsyn’s character reflects The Gulag Archipelago:

“How we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if … during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

Take your stand now—using every nonviolent means at your disposal—while you still can.

Don’t wait to reflect back on missed opportunities to push back against tyranny.

Don’t wait until you’re the last one standing.

Time is running out.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

Click Below for additional Articles...

Page 1 of 494 pages  1 2 3 >  Last »





The Gilmer Free Press

Copyright MMVIII-MMXIVIII The Gilmer Free Press. All Rights Reserved