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Racist Is As Racist Does

Okay, let’s get this straight.

You are going to be known for what you do, and one part of doing is speaking.

If you say something stupid, people are going to know that you are stupid.

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For example, if you are sitting at a dinner table with five people, and at least one of them is Jewish, you should not brag “I was entrusted with the money because I’m a wanna-be Jew.”

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That statement plays into stereotypes and reveals your ignorance. You could determine a more clever way to communicate your acumen with dollars and sense, like “I was entrusted with the money because I’m a wanna-be CPA.”

This will not offend certified public accountants, and it will make you look smarter and more sensitive than the previous statement.

Next, if you do something racist, people are going to know you are racist.

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For example, if you are a federal judge who is supposed to be politically independent, you should not send out emails suggesting that the president is lucky he is only bi-racial, and not a product of bestiality.

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This is a true story. I am not making this up. Montana US District Court Judge Richard Cebull sent out an email on federal servers last month joking about the wild party on the night Barack Obama was conceived.

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The judge said he wasn’t racist, even though he mocked anti-miscegenation. In news reports, he pleaded with us to believe that he only sent a racist email. As many other commenters have noted on this episode, if you do something racist, it makes you a racist.

This is the great victory of hatred: its ability to convince us it doesn’t exist anymore.

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Racism is everywhere. We must raise the courage in ourselves and others to confront our own short-comings here.  For centuries, wealthy interests have used racism as a tool to divide and conquer people.

America is not a post-racial society, and I do not have the space to list here all the evidence which shows how deeply our society is still stunted by its clinging to overt, hidden and institutional racism.

If this column seems repetitious, I do not apologize.  I have discussed this before, and will continue to do so.

People are not grasping the message that it is not okay or acceptable on any plane of human discourse to discriminate or joke about people’s differences based on immutable characteristics that they themselves cannot change, in order for you to feel better about yourself.

Haile Selassie, the former emporer of Ethiopia, said it best – in words immortalized by rastaman Robert Nesta Marley – “Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes, then everywhere is war.”

I have been putting that quote in print for the past 20 years. Marley’s song is played pretty regularly. And people still don’t listen to the words, or take them to heart.

Judge Cebull is learning the hard lesson, and hopefully that lesson ends his lifetime tenure in black robes. His ascension to the federal court comes courtesy of George W. Bush. I am sure you are shocked.

A brief examination of Judge Cebull’s rulings from the bench do not show that his overt racism has impacted his rulings.

But I found an interesting case from when he was a partner at a Montana firm, Anderson, Brown, Gerbase, Cebull & Jones. In 1986, Cebull’s firm defended the County of Big Horn, Montana in a lawsuit brought by American Indians and others  (see 647 F.Supp. 1002).

The non-white plaintiffs challenged the at-large system of voting for county commissioners and school board members. Mind you, county government is important out west, and Big Horn County is larger than Connecticut by square miles, but contained, in 1986, only 11,096 people.

No Native American had ever been elected to the Board of Commissioners. Luckily, the federal court ruled that the at-large system violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I understand that all litigants have the right to counsel. But this is the institutional racism that I describe – a very white law firm makes money representing a very white county board of commissioners to perpetuate their hold on power, which they use to benefit the very white.

Do I expect a law firm to turn down such a case? Probably not, because people like money. However, a leadership move would have been to say to the County of Big Horn that it appears that the system of voting is unfair, you may lose, you may win, but shouldn’t we have more participation from Native Americans in elected office?

That, I suppose, would be asking the tiger to change its stripes.

If you say mean things, people will know you are a bully, and perhaps a defender of a racist, classist system, too.

For example, if a political opponent is annoying you like a mosquito, and you should not try to swat at him with personal attacks on his mental health. This would be Gov. Dannel Malloy and his hapless bulldog Roy Occhiogrosso going after gubernatorial critic Jon Pelto.

It is two-faced of Malloy not to rebuke Occhiogrosso publicly. Malloy’s severe dyslexia was once mistaken for mental handicap. He was mocked for it, and he hated the people who did this to him. And now he does mocks the mental states of others? Hypocrite.

Pelto has consistently found fault with Malloy’s approach to educational reform.  I am not sure if Pelto and I have the same view of educational reform. Pelto has been critical of Malloy and his push for charter schools, and Malloy’s attacks on teachers.

For the record, I think that we should reduce class sizes in elementary school to manageable 6-1 student teacher ratios and by high school, there ca be larger class sizes focused on liberal arts core curriculum (geography, history, arts) and experiential learning.

Furthermore, schools should be centers of social services (access to health care and nutrition) and wealth distribution (jobs for kids and parents). Right now, these community assets are shuttered and closed to much of the community.

For all Malloy’s talk on the achievement gap, he fails to single out the fundamental reason for the achievement gap: the wealth gap and income inequality in this state. Pelto has pointed out how much the push for charter schools is funded by the rich.

But Malloy’s attacks are so stupid, we know he is stupid.  Thinking people know Malloy’s attacks are designed to defend a racist, classist system (even if he portrays himself as a knight errant of liberalism).

By some accounts, Connecticut is the second most segregated state in the country. Perpetuating a state-funded school system that maintains this racist structure is racist, and proposing changes that fix symptoms but not the main problem helps hide the racist underpinnings of the system.

And attacking people who seek to change this unjust, institutionally racist and classist system is not just bullying, but racist. Defending a racist institution, like sending racist emails, is a racist action.

Gov. Malloy and Roy Occhiogrosso, may, like Judge Cebull, proclaim he is not a racist. But his actions say otherwise.

Thanks for reading this week.

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