Color Blindness in the Age of Escalating Racism
by Ted Pearson
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
The three analyses of the Chicago Mayoral election by Amisha Patel, John Nichols and Thomas A. Corfman (Portside April 9, 2015) are remarkable mainly for what they don’t say. They accurately describe the coalition around the progressive candidate, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, as grassroots, including very important large industrial unions such as the Teachers, Transit Workers, and Service Employees. They note the historic quality of this coalition. But by their omissions they endanger the very coalition they are proclaiming.
Throughout the election campaign, and in these analyses, you would never know that Chicago is a city in which over half the population suffers under virtual military occupation. if you only listened to the pundits and the candidates, you would never know that
- Chicago has a rate of racial profiling and “stop and frisk” incidents by police that far exceeds that of any other city in the country, including New York, according to a study by the ACLU.
- Since 2007 in Chicago 121 people have been murdered by Chicago police, and that 93 per cent have been people of color. That’s the official count; the actual number is thought to be much higher.
- Cook County Jail is the largest prison or jail in the country, and 85 per cent of the inmates are Black or Latino.
- The Chicago Police have been exposed as maintaining a secret torture center on the West Side, where suspects are kept incommunicado, off the books and out of sight by anyone except the police, and where at least one suspect has died.
You would also never know that there have been mass protests all over the country, including Chicago, by Black, Latino and white people, mainly youth, demanding justice and an end to police crimes.
Only Nichols even mentions race, and that is in a wistfully recalled quotation from the late Mayor Harold Washington: “We are a multiethnic, multiracial, multi-language city and that is a source of stability and strength.” In his first campaign, Nichols notes, “Washington simply had to pull together a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos and liberal reformers. But it didn’t happen [in 1977].” It did happen in 1983, when Washington won election. It didn’t happen in Chicago in 2015, however, only this time no one even talks about it.
It is not enough to observe (as none of these observers did) that such a Washington coalition did not emerge in the most recent election. It is more important to observe that the progressive coalition in this election and these liberal observers act as if there was no issue of white supremacy and racism in Chicago at all. It’s the classic unmentioned elephant in the room.
Is this just accidental blindness, or is it a conscious refusal to talk about the single most important issue that prevents a solid coalition of progressive forces from emerging in this city? No one can know what goes on in the minds of these deep thinkers. But I am beginning to think that it’s a willful refusal to deal with reality more than an inability to see. But why?
At least one leader of this movement, when confronted with the horrors of the police violence that is wreaking havoc among families in the city’s Black and Latino communities, and the nation-wide mass upsurge against it led by the youth, responded that “these people don’t vote, but white people do.” The meaning was clear – white people can’t understand this issue, and to raise it jeopardizes the progressive coalition.
This is not only morally bankrupt. It is historically wrong. The fight against racism has motivated people of all colors, including white people, in the U. S. many times. This fight was at the heart of every progressive advance, whether it was the defeat of the old slavocracy in 1865, the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the defeat of Jim Crow in 1965, the election of Harold Washington in 1983, or the defeat of apartheid in 1991, to name just a few of these historic victories. Black people and the struggle against the oppression of Black people, led by Black people, played the most important role in the United States in all these victories. The failure to recognize this historic reality has been, and will always be, the Achilles heel of the progressive movement in our country.
The election of Harold Washington in 1983 was first of all a rejection of the racist policies and arrogance of the incumbent Mayor Jane Byrne and her “regular” Democratic Part challenger, Richard M. Daley. It was mainly a campaign against racism, which was skillfully organized as a campaign for basic fairness by Harold Washington. This was something that united the Black community first and foremost, and won over majorities of Latinos and progressive whites. It was championed by the Left, which understood the centrality of the struggle for Black freedom in the United States. But this was missing in the 2015 campaign, even though the level of racism and racist repression in the city has grown since the untimely death of Mayor Washington in 1987.
Marx said that history repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce. When will those of us who are not Black ever learn?