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Race Matters

“You saw the same tape as I saw,” said POTUS, referring to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who’d transported two AR-15s to Kenosha, where he killed two BLM protestors. “And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed.”

Of Rittenhouse, Rep. Thomas Massie said, “He also exhibited tremendous restraint and presence and situational awareness. He didn’t empty a magazine into a crowd. There were people around him who could have caused him harm, but as soon as they showed any sign of retreat or nonaggression, he did not shoot them.” The Kentucky Republican has served in Congress since 2012, never garnering less than 62 percent of the vote. In the “prolife” party, preemptive killing is becoming a routine rationale for taking a human life.

In the late 19th century, Booker T. Washington put the Tuskegee Institute on the map. On his fund-raising travels, he set white audiences at ease by sharing southern “darky” jokes. In return for this one-man minstrel show, those whites wrote him checks. In Ibram Kendi’s words, “Washington somehow demeaned Black people as stupid for an hour and then received donations to educate those same stupid people.”

In 1901, Washington released his book Up From Slavery to great acclaim. Later that year, on Oct.16, President Theodore Roosevelt, newly sworn in after William McKinley’s assassination, invited to dinner “the most distinguished member of his race in the world.” Though blacks had built the presidential living quarters and had served there ever since, none had ever dined with a president.

The uproar was swift and furious. South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again.”

Roosevelt learned his lesson and never again asked a black person to dine with him. But the South kept hurling abuse at him. Later that month, Roosevelt officially named his new dwelling place the White House, but the verbal onslaught continued.

Give Send Go, the “#1 Christian Crowdfunding Site,” has raised, as of this writing, from more than 11,000 donors, $479,000 for Rittenhouse’s legal defense, rallying the troops with the following: “Kyle Rittenhouse just defended himself from a brutal attack by multiple members of the far-left group ANTIFA.” (No evidence ties ANTIFA to his August 25 killings.) “The experience was undoubtedly a brutal one, as he was forced to take two lives to defend his own.”

Donations are pouring in. Recent comments from his benefactors, reported in sequence:

“Praying for you Kyle! You were certainly raised right!”

“Kyle, stand strong in the Lord Jesus.”

“God bless America! God bless Kyle and his family!! We need more Patriots like him!!! We stand by you!!!!!”

“Kyle, we are praying for you, God bless you.”

“G-d Bless Kyle, may he obtain justice for his self-defense against the mob. May G-d be kind to him in Heaven regardless.”

“Pray for America and it’s flip flopped morals.”

“Keep your head up Kyle—the silent majority is with you!”

“Kyle, a lot of America knows the real story & are praying for you & your family. May God Bless & keep you!”

“God bless you & your family.”

“Praying for u, stay strong by the Lord’s grace.”

In 1915 Woodrow Wilson became the first president to screen a movie at the White House, choosing The Birth of a Nation, a silent film based on Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansmen. The film ahistorically depicted Reconstruction as an era of corrupt black supremacists scaring the bejesus out of innocent whites. In the climax, a black male rapist—played by a white actor in blackface—pursues a white woman into the woods until she jumps to her death.

“Lynch him, lynch him!” shouted Houston moviegoers. That year, nearly 100 black men were lynched. At movie’s end, the victim’s brother organizes Klansmen to regain control of southern society, and a white Jesus blesses the triumph of white supremacy as the film concludes.

By January 1916, more than 3 million had watched the film in New York City alone. For two decades, it was the highest grossing movie in America.

According to a 2019 nationwide survey, 86 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 70 percent of both Catholics and mainline Protestants say the Confederate flag is more a symbol of Southern pride than of racism; nearly two-thirds of white Christians say the killings of black men by the police are isolated incidents instead of a broader pattern of mistreatment; and more than 60 percent of white Christians don’t agree that “generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”

In his new book White Too Long, Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan polling and research organization, states, startlingly, that “the more racist attitudes a person holds, the more likely he or she is to identify as a white Christian,” a perspective that stands in sharp contrast to that of religiously unaffiliated whites.

“If you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause Sunday morning,” Jones says, “you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.”

Faith, hope, and love, says First Corinthians. Please forgive me, but faith seems an unworthy companion of the latter two. Faith sometimes shares the stage with prejudice, commingles with certitude, and is “strengthened” by suspending critical thought. Does belief in a particular creed—or religious faith in general—cause more problems than it solves?

In 1939 MGM released Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The film smashed box office records and racked up 10 Academy Awards. The loyal and loving Mammy, both a fiction and a stereotype, became one of the most adored characters in Hollywood history. “By enjoying her servitude,” wrote political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry in a 2011 review of the movie, “Mammy acts as a healing salve for a nation ruptured by the sins of racism.”

Twelve Years a Slave ain’t Gone with the Wind. The 2013 Oscar winner, which showed the horrific reality of slavery rather than a love affair with the antebellum South, made $187 million worldwide, including $56 million domestically. In its day, Gone with the Wind raked in $400 million, or $3.44 billion in 2014 dollars, still the highest (inflation-adjusted) grossing film of all time.

Kyle Rittenhouse has become a darling of right-wing media. Tucker Carlson wonders why anyone should be surprised that “17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would.” Conservative provocateur Ben Shapiro notes that Joseph Rosenbaum, the unarmed man chasing and lunging toward Rittenhouse, who the teenager then shot in the head, was a registered sex offender, while Anthony Huber, shot in the chest by Rittenhouse as Huber attempted to subdue him with his skateboard (after multiple demonstrators identified Rittenhouse as the shooter), had a felony conviction for domestic abuse.

According to blogger Robert Stacy McCain, “That’s the ultimate ‘play a stupid game, win a stupid prize.’ You’re running, chasing somebody down. The person you’re chasing has a rifle. What did you expect?”

“Amazing marksmanship,” McCain adds. “Given a sufficient supply of ammunition, Rittenhouse could have wiped out every Antifa thug in Kenosha.”

“R.I.P., sex offender,” the blogger concluded.

Does having a police record devalue a human life?

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan said, “We must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country” and to “brand drugs such as marijuana exactly for what they are—dangerous.”

Drug crime was declining, only 2 percent of people thought drugs to be America’s most pressing problem, but no matter.

In 1985, there were 757,000 inmates in federal and state prisons. Thirty-five percent were black, and 64 percent white (including Hispanics). In 1986, with broad bipartisan support, Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. (In the Senate, the vote was 97-2, and in the House, 392-16.)

One provision prescribed a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for anyone caught with five grams of crack cocaine—used mostly by poor people who are disproportionately black—while the mostly white and rich dealers or users of powder cocaine had to be caught with 500 grams to warrant the same sentence.

In August 1994, President Bill Clinton signed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The $30 billion bill created dozens of new federal capital crimes, imposed mandatory life sentences for certain three time offenders, and led to the largest increase in prisoners in U.S. history, most of whom were incarcerated following convictions for non-violent drug offenses.

By 2000, blacks comprised 62.7 percent of drug offenders in state prisons—blacks represent 13 percent of the population, then and now—compared to 36.7 percent for whites, though the National Survey on Drug Abuse in that year reported an equivalent 6.4 percent of both blacks and whites used illegal drugs. In 2000, the total prison population had swelled to over 1.3 million: 470,000 white, 620,000 black, and 217,000 Hispanic.

Since then, racial disparities in convictions and sentencing, though persistent, have diminished. Last year, Adam Geld, CEO of the Council on Criminal Justice, referring to 2000-2016 pre-POTUS data, said, “If the perception is that this is a bad problem getting worse, the reality is it’s going from worse to bad.” The decline coincides with extensive marketing of Oxycontin by Purdue Pharma in the late 1990s and early 2000s, jumpstarting an opioid epidemic that mostly affects whites.

Joe Biden visited Kenosha Sept. 3, two days after POTUS. He talked by phone with Jacob Blake, who remains hospitalized, and met with Blake’s family for 90 minutes. Blake’s mother led the group in prayer for her son’s recovery. Afterwards, Blake’s attorney said, “The vice president told the family that he believes the best of America is in all of us and that we need to value all our differences as we come together in America’s great melting pot. It was very obvious that Vice President Biden cared, as he extended to Jacob a sense of humanity, treating him as a person worthy of consideration and prayer.”

Does POTUS believe we have a problem with race? If so, does he think it inheres in centuries of white mistreatment of blacks? Does he get that Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber weren’t killed out of self-defense or because a 17-year-old was trying to protect commercial property from being vandalized, but because a policeman shot an unarmed black man seven times in the back?

Most black people won’t bet their lives on it.

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