“There’s at least one line every Marine knows…’Never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.’ The St. Louis County Police Department apparently never received the memo. Either that or they intend to shoot…My guess is that they’ve got a surplus of toys to play with, and a powerless demographic to experiment on.”
– Lyle Jeremy Rubin, The Nation, 8/20/14
“For 100,000 working people in Seattle, a newly passed citywide minimum wage of $15. per hour will mean an increased standard of living – and recognition of their contributions to the local economy. ‘It’s going to help me and a lot of other people,’ said Crystal Thompson, 33, a Dominos Pizza customer service representative who currently earns the city minimum wage of $9.32. per hour. ‘They [the corporations] have been making money off us. I’ve had the same job for five years and [am] still making minimum wage. I open and close the store. I pretty much run the store and do manager shifts and still get paid minimum wage.’”
– Amy B. Dean, Truthout, 6/28/14
“It was not Paris alone [in 1794] but all revolutionary France. Servants, peasants, workers, the laborers by the day in the fields all over France were filled with a virulent hatred against ‘the aristocracy of the skin.’ There were many so moved by the sufferings of the slaves that they had long ceased to drink coffee, thinking of it as drenched with the blood and sweat of men turned into brutes.”
– C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins, 1938
In watching videos of demonstrations against one more incidence of out-of-control, militarized police, this time in Ferguson, MO, I was informed and heartened by the sight of many white folks marching with black folks against public officials’ violence against private citizens that lessens our American self image as “land of the free and home of the brave.”
I am also heartened by the kindly, and occasionally, enthusiastic, reception by white folks in Bismarck/Mandan, ND extended to black folks of both genders and all ages that are steadily migrating to the land of the “frozen tundra,” because of job opportunities connected to the burgeoning Bakken.
I am less heartened by the continued resistance of Republicans and their leadership in Congress to a meaningful raise in the minimum wage and their consistent attacks on government programs and private initiatives that underwrite equal opportunity in this country. Such hostility to an even break for underdogs of all colors in this country guarantees instability in all too many communities which law enforcement officers are obliged to “serve and protect.” Unfortunately, there also are those among people of color, most notably U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, who have proven to be as callused toward the fate of the poor, as the most rabid white racist.
Without adding to the many valid criticisms of the militarization of local law enforcement in Ferguson, Mo, I have known too many good cops in my 75 years to accept the behavior of the Ferguson police force as a valid generalization of police behavior. A number of big city cops were students of mine in my years at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago from 1967-2000. I spent quite a few hours with some of them, discussing the difficulties of their profession. As a result, I see policemen and policewomen as caught up in the larger drama of rich versus poor, and white versus people of color that engulfs all of us.
We can all be equal in opportunity if we really decide to be, but we cannot decide to change the color of our skins. As long as that difference in skin color is used to divide us from a relentless pursuit of a level playing field, the drama of inequality will continue to be mislabeled.
The proper label for this drama, I think, is “Aristocracy of the Skin.”
The term “Aristocracy of the Skin” was first used to identify European and American racism by the French National Assembly in 1794 when they abolished slavery in metropolitan France, and in their Empire in places like Haiti and the Caribbean; and granted full citizenship to their former black slaves. Unfortunately, this most pithy term to describe the iniquities of economic and social inequality has not seen much use in English speaking countries like the United States. We prefer safer imports from France like “French Fries,” “French Perfume” or “French Kissing,” to a term which unequivocally describes a doctrine which infects perpetrators, victims, and heroic protestors of this institutionalized horror alike.
Also, those of us who imagine ourselves to be bystanders in this drama, simply because we didn’t live in the Ferguson, MO of 2014, or the Belmont Cragin neighborhood of Chicago in the 1960’s, or the many other flash points of racism in America, are sadly mistaken. We are all affected by the cancer of “Aristocracy of the Skin” which has been with us since English speaking peoples began settling the western world with African slaves at the time of Shakespeare.
Two of the best surveys of “Aristocracy of the Skin” in American history are by Winthrop Jordan, “White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812,” first published in 1968. In 1974 Professor Jordan published a shorter version: “The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States.”
From reading Jordan one gathers that his “burden,” among other things, deals with the burden of guilt, but that is the lesser one, in my opinion. The larger burden has still to be spelled out in its American context. It is the joke that most white people who accept racial standards of judgment have allowed to be played on them.
Who benefits from the racism that I prefer to call aristocracy of the skin?
Obviously not blacks, nor other non-whites who think that their lighter skin color exempts them from this phenomenon. Also not most whites, though, unfortunately, all too many white people, including those militarized Ferguson cops, fail to notice this.
Historically, the only ones who have truly benefitted from aristocracy of the skin are those the French revolutionaries called the “great whites,” and whom we refer to today as the “1%”: men like the Koch Brothers of dirty fossil fuel fame, Senator Mitch McConnell [R-KY], Congressman Paul Ryan [R-WI], and media mogul Rupert Murdoch [FOX News] . They hire pundits to sell the idea that raising the minimum wage is bad for America, and whine that the liberal media doesn’t spend enough time on “black on black crime.” This eyewash is put out by willing executioners of a cynical divide and conquer strategy, who, though some may earn six figure salaries, are but “small potatoes” to their real bosses among the “great whites” in the larger game of keeping the majority of money and power in the hands of a very few.
Many more suckers among the “small whites,” who still believe in “white over black” or “aristocracy of the skin” are barely making ends meet. Many are unemployed, and would benefit greatly from an increase in the minimum wage, but as long as they continue to vote for politicians who appeal to their racial prejudices, they will continue to “gun themselves down,” economically speaking.
Fortunately, there are signs that a number of these “suckers” are beginning to tire of being “played,” especially in southern States, where the campaign against “Obamacare,” has carried with it a campaign against the darker skin color of the President who steered the Affordable Care Act [ACA] through Congress. Nevertheless, so many whites have benefitted, that Democrats, and even a few Republicans, are no longer running away from its endorsement, despite its bitter opposition among the “great whites.” Congress likely won’t respond to this phenomenon until after November, 2014, perhaps even later.
Meanwhile, we all need greater thickness of skin and lesser thickness of skull, and, above all, some common sense about the irrelevance of skin color to ability and character, if we are going to survive dangerous doctrines of aristocracy set loose in our Republic by beneficiaries of great wealth. These distractions keep us from dealing with the true economic, ecological, and climatic dangers to our livelihoods and the very lives of ourselves and our progeny on the earth we all cherish, regardless of color.