Abuse doesn’t come from people’s inability to resolve conflicts but from one person’s decision to claim a higher status than another. So while it is valuable, for example, to teach nonviolent conflict-resolution skills to elementary school students… such efforts contribute little by themselves to ending abuse. Teaching equality, teaching a deep respect for all human beings — these are more complicated undertakings, but they are the ones that count.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
Racism is to White America as domestic violence is to people who have never experienced it: Difficult to comprehend but easy to assign blame. Usually upon the wrong party.
The best way to describe how the systematic racism present in every pillar of life in the United States – from the job market, to housing, education, wealth distribution, incarceration, and healthcare – affects black communities would be to characterize it as an abusive relationship.
Nationwide domestic violence.
Black communities experience physical abuse at the hands of the police, financial abuse at the hands of the municipal courts, and emotional abuse at the hands of the media.
This is neither an exaggeration, nor a wagging finger at black communities for being “victims”. Far too often discussions about violent relationships revolve around the abused (“Why does he continue to make excuses for her? Why doesn’t she just leave?”), and ignore the actions of the abuser. This will not be one of those conversations.
Abusive relationships consist of emotional and/or physical abuse for the purposes of gaining & maintaining total control over the target. Abusers use manipulation, coercion, violence, and intimidation to wear the subject down. The most telling sign of an abusive relationship is fear.
If you have not noticed the chants and signs of the protesters, the numerous Op-Eds, the weeping parents (then you are fucking blind); the United States has created an environment in which black communities live in near-constant fear & intimidation of the state. Black communities have their children taken away by Child Protective Services at higher rates (source 1, source 2) for minor infractions (Baltimore Mom is currently being investigated by CPS) or false rumors prompted by something as innocuous as an Instagram Photo. Black communities are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, effectively breaking apart families, crippling their earning power, and in the case of felons removing their right to vote. Black communities have their assets seized by authorities for little or no reason, such as in Missouri where city governments treat their black citizens like personal piggy banks to be shaken down for money at a whim (source). And they are murdered in broad daylight by police officers – the vast majority of whom will never face an internal investigation let alone criminal charges, while those we have had the luck to catch on video still miraculously come out unscathed (or $600k better for it).
But an abusive relationship starts long before punches are thrown and shots are fired. It starts with emotional abuse and manipulation. Abusers will often isolate their subjects and remove their social safety nets so they have no-one to turn to, nowhere to go. Abusers will often use manipulation to fool others into thinking their subject is the crazy one. Bandcroft calls this “the Water Torturer”.
“The central attitudes driving the Water Torturer are:
You are crazy. You fly off the handle over nothing.
I can easily convince other people that you’re the one who is messed up.
As long as I’m calm, you can’t call anything I do abusive, no matter how cruel.”
During Baltimore Uprising our six (SIX!) media conglomerates provided incredibly biased, sensationalistic, and derogatory coverage of the protests. Word choice is important, and they chose to call protesters “thugs” and the protests themselves “riots”, while simultaneously bypassing footage of the vastly larger peaceful demonstrations.
90% of the media in America is owned by 232 media executives (who I’m guessing are a bunch of old white guys). Baltimore residents were publicly demonized by the media and criminalized by the National Guard for daring to raise their voices. For daring to express their discontent at this continued abuse. For daring to demand justice Freddie Gray.
“Your abusive partner doesn’t have a problem with his anger; he has a problem with your anger. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone…. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are.”
This is how the media manipulated us:
Baltimore’s anger towards America’s crooked judicial system was distorted by the news until the subject of their anger (their abusers: the police) was no longer the focus. The the six
police officers murder suspects enjoyed temporary anonymity while CNN happily published Freddie Grey’s rap sheet and looped coverage of young black men stomping out windshields. By diverting attention from the cause of their outrage, Baltimore’s anger became the subject.
When the true cause of Baltimore’s rage was concealed from view and only the violent effects were broadcasted, Baltimore’s justified anger lost it’s justice in the public eye.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is textbook emotional abuse. Many of us sided with the wrong party back in April.
The media conglomerates operating in America (all six of them) may have fooled us, but they aren’t fooling the rest of the world, who have been looking on in horror as our rampant police brutality
problem crisis quickly became an international embarrassment. On May 11th, 2015, the UN released a scathing review of the United States.
“Use of excessive force by police was a major part of this year’s UPR, and the fact that we still don’t have a reliable national figure to know how many people are killed by police or what the racial breakdown is of those people is a travesty,” [Alba Morales, Human Rights Watch] said. “A nation as advanced as the U.S. should be able to gather that number.”
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment. (AlJazeera America, 2015)
When the media is biased (which is always. Facts dribble down through multiple layers of corporate filters before ending up on our television screens) it manipulates public perception. Influencing public opinion to the point where “Six in 10 whites thought people in Baltimore were just looking for an excuse to loot” (The Atlantic, 2015) is textbook emotional abuse and manipulation.
Now let’s move on to financial abuse.
Financial abuse is a method of exerting control over the subject by cutting off financial resources.
Financial abuse includes sabotaging the subject’s attempts to get or keep a job or dragging down credit scores. More aggressive forms include forcibly taking the victim’s money or refusing to provide enough money to subsist on. More subtle forms include periodically breaking or hiding the subject’s belongings (forcing him/her to buy replacements unnecessarily), or demanding that money be spent on the abuser’s wants instead of on the subject’s needs.
Now, let’s break it down with a real-life example, and hopefully we will all have a better idea of the infuriating catch-22 black communities are stuck in:
- A black individual in poverty gets a minor fine – say for speeding or driving without a seatbelt. We know that in Missouri, black drivers were 66 percent more likely than white drivers to be stopped. This happens because “80-plus municipal courts and 90-plus municipalities profit from poverty by extracting money from residents for minor infractions such as moving violations, occupancy permit violations, business permit violations and code violations” (Washington Post, 2014). Now, look one paragraph up: Financial abuse involves forcibly taking the victim’s money.
- Because this individual is in poverty, he or she lacks the funds to pay the ticket in a timely manner. When you live paycheck to paycheck, a $90 ticket is the difference between food and electricity. The federal minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25 for the past six years, and minorities are disproportionately concentrated in low-paying jobs. Financial abuse is refusing to provide enough money to subsist on.
- This results in a suspended license and a traffic court date. “Defense attorneys in the St. Louis area have come to call these “poverty violations” — driving with a suspended license, expired plates, expired registration and a failure to provide proof of insurance” (Washington Post, 2014). Because many low-wage workers do not have the flexibility to take time off for court dates, or the resources to find alternative transportation, they weigh the risk of being fired against the risk of driving on a suspended license, and choose their job. Financial abuse includes sabotaging the subject’s attempts to get or keep a job.
- Missed court dates, outstanding fines, and driving on a suspended license results in an arrest warrant, and this individual is thrown in jail. By the time this person gets out, he or she has probably lost their job, and owes even more money to the municipal courts. In debt and without any source of income, credit scores tank. Financial abuse includes dragging down credit scores.
- Now this person who was already in poverty is in deeper debt, with an arrest record that makes it difficult to get a new job, and no way to rectify the situation. This is how the cycle of poverty is both created and perpetuated. “In Calverton Park, for example, about a fourth of the residents live below the poverty line — and 66 percent of the town’s revenue comes from fines issued and collected by its court. In Pine Lawn, which I visited for my original report, nearly a third of residents are below the poverty line, and nearly half the revenue comes from the court. In Normandy, it’s 35 percent below the poverty line and 41 percent revenue from fines, court fees and citations” (Washington Post, 2014) Financial abuse includes demanding that money be spent on the abuser’s wants instead of on the subject’s needs.
Now tell me the system isn’t rigged. Just try to tell me that racism doesn’t exist, or that financial abuse isn’t a central part of keeping black communities in the hole. I dare you.
So now we’ve covered emotional abuse & manipulation by the media, and financial abuse by the municipal courts. With all of this in mind, it is finally time to talk about the most obvious, openly egregious type of abuse: Physical abuse in the form of police brutality.
The most prominent link between racism and physical abuse is the trait of the abuser to see you as property rather than as a person. The dehumanization of black bodies and the inability to see the humanity of other races, is central to racism.
“Objectification is a critical reason why an abuser tends to get worse over time. As his conscience adapts to one level of cruelty—or violence—he builds to the next. By depersonalizing his partner, the abuser protects himself from the natural human emotions of guilt and empathy, so that he can sleep at night with a clear conscience. He distances himself so far from her humanity that her feelings no longer count, or simply cease to exist. These walls tend to grow over time, so that after a few years in a relationship my clients can reach a point where they feel no more guilt over degrading or threatening their partners than you or I would feel after angrily kicking a stone in the driveway.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men
The systematic dehumanization of African Americans by the United States stems most obviously from slavery. But I think most of White America really had no conception of how brutal slavery was until they saw Django Unchained (which honestly was still an understatement), and even then the mental cartwheels people do to dismiss the very relevant fact that America was built on the backs of black slaves continues to amaze me.
Despite the fact that American wealth was accumulated through the exploitation of black families who have never received reparations for their work or suffering, White America continues to view Black America as more unintelligent, unmotivated moochers of the social welfare net.
“In 1990, when first assessed, roughly 65% of whites rated blacks as less hard-working than whites, while just under 60% rated blacks as less intelligent than whites.”(source)
Please note that the above graph only stretches from 1990 to 2008. So what if racial attitudes radically changed in the past seven years? …Don’t worry, they haven’t. Most recently,
“Over 3 in 10 white millennials believe blacks to be lazier or less hardworking than whites, and a similar number say lack of motivation is a reason why they are less financially well off as a group. Just under a quarter believes blacks are less intelligent.” (Washington Post, April 2015)
True cognitive dissonance and/or denial at it’s best: Caucasians rely far more often, and far more heavily on our social welfare programs than their black counterparts, yet still have the gall to call them “lazy”.
“…distribution of benefits no longer aligns with the demography of poverty. African-Americans, who make up 22 percent of the poor, receive 14 percent of government benefits, close to their 12 percent population share.
White non-Hispanics, who make up 42 percent of the poor, receive 69 percent of government benefits – again, much closer to their 64 percent population share.”
-(New York Times, 2012)
Or for all you visual people:
But I digress. Back to physical abuse.
It is important to recognize that the brutality of slavery was present 150 years ago, and if you are a millennial, some of your great grandparents were alive for that. Three generations. Scars do not heal that quickly.
That means that when you encounter African Americans in your daily life, their great grandparents were dealing with shit like this:
That was then, this is now:
Tamir Rice was twelve years old when he was shot in a park within eyesight of his living room. Original reports claimed that police pulled up and repeatedly ordered him to drop his “weapon” (an airsoft gun with the orange indicator taken off). When the above surveillance video surfaced, it became obvious that the responding officers were fucking liars because they shot him less than two seconds after pulling up. This happened in Ohio: An open-carry state.
Michael Brown was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. If you think he deserved to be shot for stealing a cigar… I don’t know what to do with you.
John Crawford was gunned down inside a Walmart because he was holding an airsoft gun that he had picked up off the shelf inside the store. And again, this was in Ohio, an open carry state. But everybody knows Open Carry laws are only for white people.
And we all know about Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman has six mug shots from a spattering of domestic violence charges and gun altercations. He still owns guns.
Trayvon Martin has an obituary.
I wish I could do every slain individual justice in this blog, but the truth of the matter is there are too many. Which is fucking depressing.
So how do we break the cycle? In traditionally (tradition, how horrifying) abusive relationships, the woman either successfully escapes, or she dies.
Here’s my solution for social constructs of this nature (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.): We all have to chip away at the block with our tiny hammers, our individual voices. An ocean is made of a million drops, and it takes all of us to create change. I do it by writing. Other people do it by public speaking. Artists will create thought-provoking pieces, etc. I firmly believe that opinions are changed not by facts, but emotions. (So while STEM is important, it bothers me that the humanities have gained the reputation of being “useless”)
The Civil War would not have gotten it’s timely momentum if it had not been for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a fictional novel published in 1852 (by a woman! Harriet Beecher Stowe) that allowed people to empathize with slaves in a way that was not possible before, when the vast majority of Americans viewed black people as objects, as property, but certainly not people.
So whatever you can do to speak up, raise awareness, provoke thought, stimulate difficult conversations, just do it (sharing this post counts… I suppose). You may think your talents are useless, but everybody has something to contribute.
This is easily the longest post I’ve ever written, so I’m going to tie it up with a bit of my opening quote from Bancroft: “Teaching equality, teaching a deep respect for all human beings — these are more complicated undertakings, but they are the ones that count.”
Racism and our other social ills that continue to plague us in 2015 can be solved with the simple concept that all people are people (I never thought I would have to say that, but apparently it’s necessary), and every person deserves basic human decency, basic respect.
With the concept of respect, I often hear people say, “You have to earn my respect. Respect is not given, it is earned.”
To which I will say, “Wrong, asshole.”
Respect for another person’s humanity is a baseline requirement if you are a decent person. Nobody should have to earn the right to exist without being dehumanized. Black people deserve to exist without getting shot in the streets, without being profiled as shoplifters every time they step into a store, without people automatically assuming the worst of them. Full stop.
Respect is going to be the oil that greases the gears of our society, currently rusted and crusted up with the ideas of the old, the traditional, the conservative (looking at you, GOP).
I will leave you with this:
“Abuse and respect are diametric opposites: You do not respect someone whom you abuse, and you do not abuse someone whom you respect.”