The incidents of disorder that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., a few weeks ago and indeed continue to occur, seemed to indicate more than racial profiling; there is a new mix in the checks and balances, considering that protests continue all over the United States.
In the midst of all this, Disney launched the new “Star Wars”’ thriller which in its trailer uses the N word quite irreverently. (The Force awakens). Then the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani comments that while he blames the Police for a lack of proper training, the “Responsibility is on the black community to reduce the reason why more police officers are assigned to their living areas.”
There now appears a change in community standards from Race to Class, with gender a variation among classes and races. Wider class division in work ethic, education, creates a difference in behaviour as much as racial trends. This class difference appear in both white and black poor, and mixed with racial profiling, more are class and race relations slowly becoming divergent.
In the height of the various incidents, FBI director James Comey, pointed out that some police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently, emphasizing that blacks grow up in environments lacking role models, adequate education, and decent employments. One of Comey’s remarks echoed the words of Dr. King,,
”We must all live to-gether as brothers, or all perish together as fools,””
That’s, in part, because we’ve moved from simplicity to ambiguity. The civil rights struggle was about as clear a conflict between right and wrong as we get in national life. The debate about Ferguson elicited complex reactions among the most sensible people.
But the other reason that the civil-rights era comparisons were inept is because the nature of racism has changed. There has been a migration away from prejudice based on genetics to prejudice based on class.
Let me explain with a reference. In 18th- and 19th-century Britain, there was a division between “respectable” society and those who lived in slums that were sometimes known as rookeries. The neighbourhoods reminded people of rock faces where thieving crows lived in little nooks and crannies; and the slums were filled with the small rat faced creatures, humans and animal life.
“Proper” people of that era had both a disgust and fascination for those who lived in these untouchable realms. They went slumming into the poor neighbourhoods, a sort of poverty tourism that is the equivalent of today’s reality TV, or the brawlers that appear on “The Jerry Springer Show.”
Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” society and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of non-marriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”
This class prejudice is applied to both the white and black, especially the poor, whose demographic traits are converging in other respects. But classism combines with latent and historic racism to create a particularly malicious brew. People have now assigned a whole range of supposedly underclass traits based on a single glimpse at skin colour: Race and class merge when one gets poor enough.
During the civil-rights era there was always confusion what was a civil-rights issue and what was an economic or social issue. Every civil-rights issue is also an economic and social issue: Classism and Racism interlocked. It’s often said after events like Ferguson that we need a national conversation on race. That may help; we need to improve our respect for the understanding that other people’s experiences differ from our own.
In a friendship, people don’t sit around talking about their friendship. Through common projects and causes, integration of class and race can become feasible, and projects become a combined effort.
(683 words) ©Ramesh Sujanani