Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Our Original American Corruption, A Note on Justice, Racism, and the Dream

I have until tonight reserved these pages for notes about Tantric spirituality and scholarship, and my life in the traditions of yoga and philosophy.  Then a Grand Jury in Missouri decided there was "no probable cause" for the indictment of Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.  The President called upon us to respect the Grand Jury's decision, reminding us that we are "a nation of laws."  He is, of course, beholden to say as much but much more, I think, needs to be said about these events.  I will not refrain. There are causes far deeper than the circumstances of Michael Brown's death that brought about these events and, as I fear, the more that will unfold.

There is a rot in the American soul that has yet to be addressed and requires still far more definition.  It began with the founding of this country, with labor and commerce built on the backs of slaves and the exploitation of the powerless.  And just how far have we come?  I remember heady days of progress as a child of the Great Society, I was a kid in school.  And I also remember the murder of Dr. King, Robert Kennedy, and realities of waging war in southeast Asia while trying to effect change at home.  It's not only a story of despair, of course, but tonight warrants a contemplation of that Original American Corruption that begins in slavery and the reason for its possibility: the rejection of a shared humanity on the basis of racism.
Growing up in the first school system in America committed to desegregation by busing, the change that enveloped my young life was profound and palpable. We learned and played together, loved, lost, fought and made our peace together. But could we understand the depths of endemic racism and the systemic power committed to unraveling the progress we wished for America?
I want to say we struggled mightily then to try to effect change and yet now, some fifty years later, America’s inequality of power, wealth, and income is greater than in the past ninety years. At the heart of the matter is our continuing legacy of racism, a divide that only those served by its denial will fail to admit. It was indeed not Officer Wilson before the Grand Jury in Missouri but rather the victim, Michael Brown, and his chances were seemingly no better in the halls of “justice” than on the streets of Ferguson. 
Could this decision not to indict _for any crime_ better illustrate a system that _means_ to serve and perpetuate privilege and power over the disenfranchised? Charles Blow today in The New York Times, speaking to the President’s detractors on immigration reform, also pointed to issues that inform Michael Brown’s death and explain Wilson’s flight from culpability: once again we are directed to an original corruption in our American history. Mr. Blow writes, “This is about the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded, and about their desperate, by-any-means determination to deny that future.”
Make no mistake about it: change is coming and there are no means beyond those who fear most its advent. Still long before such change takes honest root, more young black men may die in the streets by the hands of “justice,” more politicians bought to serve the powerful, voter rights repressed to prevent “fraud” while plutocrats continue to debase every last shard of decency from an American dream save their own dystopic revelries. Tonight what is left of other childhood dreams seems a bit further away than it was years ago waiting for the bus at school.

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