T Nation

Still Think Racism Doesn't Exist?

Websurfing again and came across another article. Institutionalized racism is alive and well and hidden in state documents.

http://www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/bawnews/gift1220

Commentary: Racist language excised from Ala. constitution would be a gift

Date: Tuesday, December 21, 2004

By: David Person, BlackAmericaWeb.com

There are the Christmas gifts you want, the ones you need, and the ones you hope came with a receipt.

And what a Christmas gift it would have been if more of my fellow Alabamians had voted for Amendment 2 last month. If they had, the ugly language in our constitution that says white and black children must attend separate schools would be gone.

For me and many other Alabamians, that present would have been one of the best we could get ? almost as good as that iPod I?m hoping Santa will drop in my stocking [hint, hint].

However, because it didn?t pass Alabama has to face a painful truth: At best, too many of us aren?t willing to renounce completely our state?s racist past. At worst, too many hardcore bigots still walk among us who would rather see me and my boys picking cotton as slaves than living free.

Bob Riley, Alabama?s white, conservative Republican governor, is not one of those bigots, thank God. In fact, he wants the legislature to take another crack at getting rid of the racist language in our state?s constitution by putting on the 2005 ballot his version of Amendment 2.

In it, we were only asked to remove the clause that requires separate schools for blacks and whites. Riley?s version of Amendment 2 didn?t also ask us to remove a 1956 clause that said the state wasn?t obligated to educate Alabama?s children.

Alvin Holmes, one of Alabama?s most well-known black legislators, has a problem with this. He said the 1956 clause was injected only because of resentment about the U.S. Supreme Court?s 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, which made segregated schools illegal.

In response, Holmes said that Alabama?s legislators passed Amendment 111, which said the state wasn?t responsible for educating Alabama?s children. He said their plan was to kill off public schools by encouraging whites to send their children to private schools, leaving black and poor white children in unfunded schools.

Holmes believes that any version of Amendment 2 that doesn?t strip the 1956 language from the Alabama Constitution plays right into the hands of racists. So he has promised a filibuster to a halt to prevent any version of Amendment 2 from getting on the ballot in 2005 other than the one that Alabamians just voted down.

To allow a watered-down version, Holmes said, would be ?spitting in the eyes of black people in Alabama.?

Holmes is right, and anyone who understands history knows this. The problem for Alabamans of good will, however, is that if Holmes prevails, then two racist clauses ? the one segregating schools and the other designed to keep black children uneducated ? will remain in the Alabama Constitution.

You may think this is just a problem for us black folks in Alabama but it?s not. This stand-off between Riley and Holmes points to several larger problems facing black people across this nation, especially in light of the Bush administration?s last four years and this last election.

Bigotry is much more subtle and complicated than it used to be. At least one generation of whites in America has gotten used to working with and living near black people. More of our children go to school with theirs. Increasingly, blacks and whites are even worshipping in the same churches.

The Bush administration?s Cabinet reflected this trend toward diversity during its first term with the high-profile appointments of Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Education Rod Paige. However, having prominent blacks in his Cabinet didn?t prevent President Bush from taking the wrong position on affirmative action ? and announcing it just prior to the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, no less.

It?s also not enough to remove one racist clause in the Alabama Constitution while ignoring another right near it. Complicated or not, bigotry is still bigotry.
Nevertheless, progress comes one step at a time. Right now, it?s most important for us Alabamans to redeem ourselves after last month?s debacle by stripping the obvious racist language from our state constitution.

Once that job is done, Holmes should attack the 1956 clause and any other remnants of racism that remain in Alabama’s constitution. Then Alabama will be giving itself “and the nation” a present that is long overdue.

You’re right – though in some places it’s about symbolism, while in others it’s about practice:

A Cuban Cry for Justice

By OSWALDO PAYA
December 31, 2004; Page A11

HAVANA – I once asked a visiting Chilean friend what he thought of Havana. “Well, it’s an impressive city,” he replied, “but it gives the impression of having been evacuated 40 years ago by people who when they return will find it frozen in time and in ruins.”

Havana has become a giant slum, but as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city’s founding, I feel obliged to raise my voice in its defense.

A Catholic mass was celebrated when the city was founded. That attests to the roots of Havana and of the Cuban nation, which in recent years have been culturally and spiritually ransacked. Cuba has undergone a forced de-Christianization, one that has annihilated its institutions and profaned its houses of worship, converting many of them into centers of persecution and apostasy.

One must grasp the full dimensions of this pillage to understand how Cubans have been relegated to almost slave status in their own country while foreigners go about with great privilege.

The government might as well post a sign: “Citizens of Havana, this is not your city. It is a playground for foreigners. You are merely background. If your skin is black or you are shabbily dressed, be advised that any policeman may ask for your papers. Your money is worthless. Press your face against the glass and watch the outsiders who, by despotic decree, are now your superiors.”

Prostitution is one manifestation of this tyranny. The problem is so rife in Havana today that many tourists (and some police officers) treat all Cuban women as if they were prostitutes. This is possible and tolerated only because all Cubans are denied the human rights associated with civility.

Precisely because the neo-colonialists in Cuba today know that the government neither recognizes nor respects human rights, they feel as free to exploit young people as they do to exploit our labor and to assert a dominating superiority.

It is painful to watch rich historic districts, such as Old Havana, disintegrate into slums. Never has there been so much petty crime, corruption and poverty or so many stark class differences. Never before have natives of Havana felt so discriminated against in the city of their birth or diminished in social stature simply because they are Cuban.

The daily humiliations inflicted by the government’s fascist or Stalinist agents (there is no difference) remind us that our senile, drooling dictator still has claws sharp enough to maintain his repression.

A bitter joke circulates in Havana: A Cuban child is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up, a doctor, pilot, lawyer, fireman?” The child responds, “I want to be a foreigner.”

Decades of humiliation and discrimination have disoriented Cubans, and collectively we have lost our self-esteem. Special privilege extended to foreigners has become our nation’s crown-of-thorns.

It is worth recalling that there was once another Havana, one that possessed 10 daily newspapers and many more radio stations. It was a place that had a huge, reliable system of public transportation. The poor had a few pesos in their pockets that could be used to buy something. Havana was never a place that scorned people from other provinces, although today the government prohibits Cubans from moving into the city.

The government tells us that Havana is better today. Those of us who know otherwise should raise our voices against such denigration. We have a right to defend our parents. Even under the Batista dictatorship, Havana was a city in which women, old people, teachers and ordinary citizens were respected. It is time to remind people that Havana, including the parts now in ruins, was built before 1959.

True, Havana had “wealthy” districts. But it also had large districts of middle-class Cubans. That was before socialism imposed its system of “equality” and turned the city’s rich districts over to the housing of state officials and Communist Party elites, neighborhoods that ordinary people now dare not enter. What a spectacle it is to have the new rich preaching “socialism or death” to the new poor.

Whatever its faults, colonial “Old Havana,” was a city of enormous vitality. It was home to thousands of small businesses, tended by honest, hard-working families building up restaurants, stores, small factories, print shops, coffee shops, shoe-shine stands, and every other kind of enterprise. The fruit of generations was swept aside in a moment by a “revolutionary offensive” that, in the name of Soviet-style socialism, vanquished all vestiges of economic freedom.

Shops were closed in buildings that were then destined to fall into ruin and, as if that were not enough, the former entrepreneurs were scorned and hated. Among the thousands of families destroyed were immigrants who had cast their lots with the Cuban people. Jews, Arabs, Chinese, and above all, Spaniards were treated with special contempt.

For what purpose? So that a few self-appointed leaders could some day transform themselves into “managers” and “capitalist entrepreneurs,” who are really front men for the government’s joint-ventures with foreign investors. Just as the one-party state permits no competition in the political realm, we now have a new class of capitalists that permit no competition in the economic realm. Cubans are told, “Yes, capitalism for the state, but not for you. For you it’s ‘socialism or death.’”

High on a hill overlooking the harbor is the Caba?a fortress, a building with walls pockmarked by bullets that have snuffed out the lives of many political prisoners, and a statue of a contemplative Christ. Many of us are afraid to look up at Him, to speak to Him, or to invite Him into our city. When we turn loose of such fears and invite Him to join us then, perhaps, Havana will be free and Cuba as well.

Mr. Pay? heads Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, which sponsored the Varela Project and gathered 11,000 signatures on a petition calling for free elections and the protection of human rights. In 2002, the European Parliament awarded Mr. Pay? the Sakarov Prize for Freedom of Thought. This article was adapted from a longer version that appeared in Spain’s ABC newspaper.