Scenario: Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Dominic Amato uses the racist adjectives ‘niggers and wops’ during a trial two weeks ago. One stunned attorney in the courtroom notifies the chief judge who, in turn, initiates a complaint before the state bar.
Response: Judge Amato becomes the subject of outrage and media fodder.
Black leaders, civil rights organizational heads and George Jefferson use the appropriate forums to vent their anger and outrage during the next four days. (That’s generally the customary length of outrage in the Black community according to ‘The Black Book of Bogus Indignation.’ According to the 2001 revision of the book, it is no longer politically correct to respond with boycotts, demonstrations, or sit-ins as we might anger one of our colleagues in the liberal, political or philanthropic community.)
During the four day outrage period, a civil rights ‘leader’ will demand Amato be removed from the bench. “Nobody but us can use the word nigger. For us it’s a term of affection. Just because the judge grew up in an integrated community doesn’t give him a lifelong nigger pass.”
A Black politician will use the scenario to stress the importance of the Black vote. “You can’t legislate an attitude, but you can vote the culprit out of office.”
A community leader will link Amato’s comments to the disproportionate percentage of Black inmates in the state prison system, the Black high school drop out rate and the absence of Black men in Black households—all 70% of them.
“Black men represent a majority of the prison population because the system is racist and they are poor. They make babies between incarcerations, but the women don’t want to marry them because their tattoos mention another woman.”
End Result: Judge Amato will be verbally reprimanded but not suspended for his utterances.
Case closed, everybody is ordered to go home and remain silent until someone else says something stupid.
If my understanding of history and judicial decorum is correct, the state bar will give Amato a slap on the wrist, concluding that while his use of the racial slurs were inappropriate, they were not intended to be dispersions upon Italian and African Americans, but instead were utilized to demonstrate to the Black defendant standing before him that he could relate to his heritage.
Four people will criticize the judicial investigation and outcome, but their words will fall on deaf ears. A week later, the issue will be “old news.” Two years later Amato will be reelected.
How do I come to these conclusions?
Well, as Earth, Wind and Fire prophesized, “That’s the way of the world.” Or, at least how things go according to a script that’s been used since we were told we had won the civil rights war.
I’m also a veteran journalist who has learned to read between the lines. In this case, the seemingly small print in between the lines of Daniel Bice’s ‘No Quarter’ column spoke volumes.
Didn’t see them? Go back to Bice’s column in Monday’s Journal Sentinel. This time take your emotionalism out of the equation.
Bice, who broke the story about Judge Amato, initially said spectators in the court were reportedly “shocked” when the judge used the phrase “niggers, wops and Jews” while discussing the neighborhood in “liberal” Madison where he grew up.
But later in his article, Bice highlights the response of Amato’s attorney, Michael Ganzer, who said the Milwaukee county judge was being sarcastic and sought only to convince the Black defendant that the judge was a down to earth brother who grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood.
The cherry on the top was Bice’s revelation that Amato’s brother is the author of a book on racism. That gives the judge a “get out of jail free” card.
Also, of particular importance to the investigation will be the fact that Amato had left the bench to talk directly with the defendant, a homeless brother who was charged with resisting arrest, and the judge’s comments were not recorded.
Exactly how he framed the statement will be put up to interpretation.
If all else fails, Amato could say he grew up with Black people using the adjective nigger as a noun, so he thought it was acceptable.
My predictions notwithstanding, this entire scenario does open the door for a more comprehensive discussion on growing racial intolerance, White privilege and the suggestion that President Obama’s election somehow signaled that we’ve moved into a post racial era.
Is racism alive and well in America, or has Obama’s election polarized America even more?
Has the face of “American Apartheid” changed, morphed into a caricature of its former self, with patronizing attitudes replacing ‘Whites only’ signs?
A caller to Earl Ingram’s talk show on radio station 1290 WMCS Monday pushed that door wide open.
After decrying Judge Amato’s racial epithet, the caller asked permission to comment on a related issue.
There was a element of anxiety in the voice of the 59-year-old sister who preferenced her comments by noting she was brought up in the segregated and racially hostile South, but had never witnessed the level of racism that pervades America today.
Since Obama’s election, racial tensions in America have escalated to the point where she predicted an explosion of racial hatred in the near future.
Black Americans need to pay heed to the changing racial climate, the woman continued, as we could end up being the victims of a race war that will rock the foundation of America.
Ingram responded by saying President Obama has become the scapegoat for the recession. Criticism of him, much of it racially grounded, has created a state of fear and anxiety among many Whites who find themselves facing unemployment, financial upheaval and an uncertain future.
From my perspective, the sister’s analysis was far more significant than her criticism of Judge Amato. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that many will toss the sister’s comments in the wastebasket of conspiracies, paranoia and generational stereotypes. That latter category includes those of us who grew up during the civil rights era, who witnessed American Apartheid close up and personal. It is thought that instead of ‘seeing ghosts, we see a Klansman behind every tree.’
That’s absurd. You know the fashion police frown on people wearing white from fall until summer.
Many of us who grew up during the so-called civil rights era do acknowledge that the history of our struggle is deeply embedded in our subconscious, along with the belief that it will take more than short lifetime to kill the beast called racism.
It’s not that we do not acknowledge the systemic change that has occurred over the past 30 years we also recognize that you don’t kill a weed by cutting off the branches. As long as the roots remain, the weed will eventually grow back. And whether you call it a plant or even a flawed flower, it’s still a weed.
But is that a realistic assessment of the state of American race relations, or are we of the ’60s and ’70s, viewing the world, and America, through outdated glass frames?
Interestingly, I was accused of being a victim of ‘my era’ just last week.
Prior to the taping of last week’s “Sunday Insight,” Journal Sentinel columnist and editorial writer James Causey and I were engaged in a discussion about a recent scenario involving a visiting Black professor at UW-Milwaukee. The incident has been described as a local version of the Louis Gates controversy, complete with disrespectful police and racial profiling.
I was called to comment about the incident on Charlie Sykes’ radio show a week earlier. During the show, James T. Harris e-mailed Charlie saying I shouldn’t speak for ‘all’ Black folks, and I was off base in my assumption that the incident was racially motivated.
To my surprise, James Causey agreed, assessing my worldview was stuck in the ’70s, illuminating what he called a Black generational divide.
Before I could utter my objection, James T. walked into the ‘green room,’ gleefully agreeing with James C. and noting that the two men spoke from ideological perspectives.
As it turned out, the exchange integrated itself into the television show taping, which centered on the new Arizona immigration law. I challenged both James’ to ride through any one of several suburbs to bring actualization to my point.
I noted that a study had clearly illustrated that Black Americans are disproportionately stopped and ticketed when driving through those communities, several of which had discouraged low income housing over the years, and even fought against Chapter 220 (the program that allows Black Milwaukee kids to attend suburban schools), until they were in desperate need of the state aid that comes with the students.
So, on which side do you fall?
Before you answer, let me admit there is some truth to James C’s conclusion. But is that a bad thing?
Everyone’s worldview is shaped by his or her experiences, and I am no different. My worldview is tainted by my upbringing in the most segregated city in the United States (Milwaukee), my civil rights activities over the years, and my role as a Black journalist, working for a Black newspaper, serving Black people.
My first foray into the movement took place when I was a preteen. I initially ventured into St. Boniface Church after seeing large crowds of people assembled there. I was soon caught up in what was to become the open housing marches.
At the time it was illegal for Black Milwaukeeans to live in certain areas of the city—north of Keefe Avenue, or south of downtown.
Following the latest rejection of an open housing ordinance by then Alderwoman Vel Philips, the NAACP and other groups staged a series of marches from Clarke Street to the near Southside.
Once across the viaduct (a bridge that served as the Mason Dixon Line of Milwaukee), we were met with racist epithets, vicious and hateful signage and rocks and bottles. The police stood by as we were assaulted. They did not intercede when the Southsider’s called us ‘niggers’ and instructed us to ‘go back to Africa.’
A small scar on my head left an indelible mark on my soul. It’s a symbolic reminder that remains no matter how long my nappy locks are, or how grey my hair.
In future years I participated in demonstrations in Norfolk, Virginia and encountered a form of institutional racism while in the military that brought into question why we were fighting for Democracy in Vietnam.
Two years in Jacksonville, Florida opened my eyes to southern hospitality. Jacksonville had the distinction of being the largest city in the United States. Its people had the smallest minds.
While in college we protested against the Nazis, and during my tenure at the “Community Journal” I’ve marched more miles than I can remember for Black studies, and against police brutality and racial injustice.
We were in an ongoing war with former Chief Harold Breier, who tried at one point to incite a riot when he had his storm troopers venture into a peaceful march to protest the killing of Earnest Lacy.
My civil rights activities earned me a place on Breier’s Red Squad surveillance list, a dubious honor given that I shared the distinction with some of the most committed human rights activists in the city.
I recall my then 10-year-old son standing in the freezing cold to demonstrate against then Capitol Marine Bank when it refused to honor King’s holiday. Fifteen years later and but a few years ago, I took his son to a counter demonstration against Klan and Nazis on Wisconsin Avenue.
But one of the most memorable impressions remained the open housing marches.
Several years ago a reporter at WTMJ asked me to participate in her dissertation. She had found a man who was about my age who participated in the reception line that greeted us at the end of the viaduct. The journalist didn’t reveal his occupation today, only that he is middle class, upstanding citizen of Milwaukee with ‘some influence.’
In his interview he said he didn’t regret participating in the march, calling us niggers and coons. And in fact, he continued to harbor those same feelings today.
So, true enough, my worldview is tainted by my experiences. As a result I am very skeptical of the assertion that prejudicial attitudes don’t just go away. I also maintain that the vestiges of institutional racism remain alive here in Milwaukee, as elsewhere.
Next time I see them, I’ll tell James T and C that while I admit American has come a long way, the roots of prejudice, bigotry and white privilege run deep. In many cases they have been morphed by political correctness, become refined through legislation or evolved into an even more insidious—albeit covert– form of prejudice that limits Black progress as much as Jim Crow ever did.
The new racism can be seen in the attitude of teachers with low expectations for Black students. If that’s not prejudice and injurious, I don’t know what is, if for no other reason than the lack of education is akin to a death sentence for Black progress as it fuels the poverty rate, impacts the incarceration rate and contributes greatly to the deterioration of the Black nuclear family.
The new racism can be seen in the extreme left wing ideology that the “Missionaries” know what’s best for us.
Beyond their clarion call for funding of organizations to ‘ease our pain and poverty, ‘ (versus teaching the poor how to fish) is an attitude that we can’t do for ourselves. In other words, they are our paternal parents, and we are too stupid, too uncivilized and too undisciplined to do for self.
That’s racist too.
The new racism is hidden in reverse discrimination lawsuits, which portend that we are not qualified, and that affirmative action allows unqualified and uneducated Black Americans to take ‘their’ jobs.
Yep, my worldview is tainted, and I stare unusually long every time I see a confederate flag on a truck, count the number of Black workers at a construction site, and get nervous every time I see a flashing light in my rear view mirror if I’m traveling in a suburb or rural area.
I also recognize that my role today isn’t to march as much as it is to mimic. I mimic the Jews who never let their children or grandchildren forget the Holocaust. I mimic and echo the screams of 10 million Black skeletons that line the Atlantic Ocean floor, and the million more that were raped, lynched and brutalized by the worse form of slavery in world history. I won’t let America or the world forget them.
I mimic the words of Black champions of justice who gave their blood and last breath that equality; justice and brotherhood would become a reality. From their graves they whisper the war is far from over; the walls of apartheid were not entirely torn down.
It’s essential for griots like me to keep our history alive. For the alternative is to repeat it.
It is also sinful not to see that the number of militias have grown 500% in the last few years, as have the number of hate sites on the Internet.
As Earl said, economic upheaval brings out the worse in people, as we are now seeing. And in America that means that many will blame the victims. That’s us.
Or they will pimp and prostitute racism through codes, or self-righteous indignation, like Judge Amato. They justify their prejudices by saying they grew up among niggers, wops and Jews.
Worse still, some of them won’t even recognize what they are doing by putting fertilizer on the weeds.
August 19, 2012 //
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