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A Privileged Equilibrium of Power

The conversation continued as the car came to a stop in first position at the intersection. A distinguished looking elderly white gentleman slowly made his way into the crosswalk. Staring out of his windshield the driver’s face ceased to express anything as a gust of bad memories and raw emotions erased it.

“That motherf**ker. Wonder what he has done?” he asked himself out loud.

“Look at him. No white man reaches that age without beating down and shitting on black folks. If he hasn’t done it himself, he has benefited from someone else putting their foot on our necks.” he contemplated bitterly.

Eyes glazed with hurt and hostility stared pass the white gentleman at a past that was unfolding into the present. The stern seriousness that seized and stilled the moment created the shiver of a mood in the car. The silence of the moment was his to break. The mood was the presence of a phantom pain.

The conversation continued as the car came to a stop in first position at the intersection. A distinguished looking elderly white gentleman slowly made his way into the crosswalk. Staring out of his windshield, the driver’s face ceased to express anything as a gust of bad memories and raw emotions erased it.

“That motherf**ker. Wonder what he has done?” he asked himself out loud.

“Look at him. No white man reaches that age without beating down and shitting on black folks. If he hasn’t done it himself, he has benefited from someone else putting their foot on our necks.” he contemplated bitterly.

Eyes glazed with hurt and hostility stared pass the white gentleman at a past that was unfolding into the present. The stern seriousness that seized and stilled the moment created the shiver of a mood in the car. The silence of the moment was his to break. The mood was the presence of a phantom pain.

Diverting his eyes from the white gentleman to his rear view mirror to glance at me, he caught a glimpse of himself. His self-reflection tethered him as he pulled back from the edge of darkness. The unguarded vulnerability was a welcomed sin of familiarity. The bond we formed over the course of a year had created a space in which he felt comfortable as hisself .

When I had occasion to use the car service that the firm provided employees working past ten o’clock, I made a point of requesting him. We traded stories, shared memories and began to develop an understanding of each other in the snarl of Manhattan traffic. He was one of those diamonds that a black southerner finds in the rough of a diaspora in big cities north of common sense and good manners.

On the cusp of a black manhood he was sentenced to serve fifteen years on Rikers Island. The details of his punishment mirror the policing practices that put a spot light on New York City’s persecution of the Central Park Five. His crime as he put it, was “socializing with white women in the wrong neighborhood.”

Recently, I relived the moment at that intersection in Manhattan. As credits interlaced with pictures and histories of Katherine Johnson, Dorthy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson rolled, the silence of the moment gave me quite comfort. A familiar phantom pain accompanying the moment found some relief in a part of our shared history colored by what these daughters, mothers, sisters and wives accomplished as part of our space program. With white foots on their necks in a closed society dominated by white males, these hidden figures managed to be seen from outer space.

I wondered what more could have been done by persons of color like these gifted women. How ‘great’ would the United States be today had race relations and sexism not handicapped the potential and ability of persons of color? Why did it take a Soviet red scare and people like John Glenn going against a status-quo of race based privilege to realize the capacity of our social relations? If ‘moonshot thinking’ was the process of using our minds to consider voting rights, living wages, climate change, criminal justice and education, what could we accomplish today?

The black women at NASA acted out in real time to being hobbled by the effortless exception that they could not and would not rise to the challenges of opportunities assumed for white people. Although inarticulate with his bad memories and raw emotions, the driver knee-jerk impulse at the intersection was a crying out of hurt and hostility. The difference between the two reactions is the difference between the levels of state sanctioned and social violence used to contain their human being. On display in both situations is a reaction to the dynamics of white-privilege – the opportunity cost of race base discrimination.

The ‘American Dream’ is a tale about opportunity. It is a narrative of the possibility gifted by parents and grandparents to future generations. There are two socially valid and immutable story lines – merit and self-reliance. If you stick to the story, sacrifice, steadfastness and hard work builds the character of every protagonist in our national narrative. It does not matter if you are black, brown, red, wretched poor or wealthy the lure of being or becoming the protagonist incentives a self interested biased reading of our narrative.

Although difficult to discern, the driver’s emotional reaction to the sight of a white gentleman in the crosswalk was his biased reading of our national narrative. Consider the possibility that his was a negative reaction to how circumstance read him into our national narrative. From this vantage point he was wondering out loud about the opportunities made available to this white gentleman as a direct or indirect result of not making them available to black people.

In our national narrative, as in every good tale, the protagonist is given nuance and meaning in juxtaposition to an antagonist. More than the character opposite of the protagonist, the antagonist personifies the muck out of which protagonists pull themselves with sacrifice, steadfastness and hard work. Laziness, excess and licentiousness creates tensions in everyone that are resolved by merit and self-reliance. The antagonist can be anyone in the same sense that the protagonist can be everyone. Or so the story goes.

“The poor white may not raise their low standard of living by blaming it on Negroes, but they do release an aggressive energy upon a socially accepted scapegoat. Themselves last in everything else, they can still rejoice in having the “nigger” beneath them.” (Silver, Mississippi Closed Society, 34)

Our history of race relations is defined by a common sense that black skin is a trait of beings a little less than human striving unsuccessfully to stick to the story lines of merit and self-reliance. There is something about black people other than the history of slavery, segregation and institutionalized racism that mires black communities in the muck. Nestled in the content of a black person’s character, that something acquiesces in the lure of laziness, excess and licentiousness. In other words, skin color became a socially valid way of identifying the antagonist. Implicitly and explicitly the antagonist in black skin is understood in terms of an unwillingness or inability to stick to the story, to be the protagonist in the national narrative of the land of opportunity.

The black female human computers at NASA stuck to the story. They were intelligent black women comfortable in their own skin. However, where they applied their intellect through sacrifice, steadfastness and hard work was determined by the color of their skin. The opportunities denied black people at NASA did not vanish into thin air. The opportunities were connected to positions that needed to be filled in order to fulfill the mission. The opportunities and the positions associated with them were in effect reserved for white people. Had this status-quo not been challenged by Katherine Johnson, Dorthy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the opportunity cost for race base discrimination would have been their contribution to the space program, their family and community.

How the American myth of self-reliance is fueling income inequality

Taking advantage of opportunity in this country is a privilege. The scale on which that privilege was reserved for white people accounts for using the adjective white to describe an amalgamation of those privileges. The status-quo of white-privilege is the paying off today of benefits that access to opportunity made possible. Privileged benefits of opportunity structured disproportionately social, economic and political investments in the human resources that buttress family and communities.

The opportunity cost of these investments for centuries has been disinvestment in persons and communities of color. Disinvestment over time sustained a systematic degrading of core capacities for black families and communities. Disparities by race and gender in statistics that bring into focus education, health care, criminal justice and pay equity are realities of an inverse relationship between color coded investments and disinvestment in persons and communities of color.

HiddenGOVT

The conversation continued as the car came to a stop in first position at the intersection. A distinguished looking elderly white gentleman slowly made his way into the crosswalk. Staring out of his windshield the driver’s face ceased to express anything as a gust of bad memories and raw emotions erased it. “That motherf**ker. Wonder what he has done?” he asked himself out loud. “Look at him. No white man reaches that age without beating down and shitting on black folks. If he hasn’t done it himself, he has benefited from someone else putting their foot on our necks.” he contemplated bitterly. Eyes glazed with hurt and hostility stared pass the white gentleman at a past that was unfolding into the present. The stern seriousness that seized and stilled the moment created the shiver of a mood in the car. The silence of the moment was his to break. The mood was the presence of a phantom pain. Continue reading @ http://blog.erace-inc.com/2017/01/privileged-equilibrium-power/

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Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.

Bookshelf

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Journal

Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).