Archive for June, 2021

Oregon’s hidden history as a sundown state – posted 6/27/2021

June 27, 2021 Leave a comment

Oregon has a reputation as one of the most progressive, reliably blue states and Portland is generally seen as America’s most hip and edgy city. The motto “Keep Portland Weird” was a wall mural in the city. During the George Floyd protests, former President Trump singled out Portland for his wrath because the city was a home for Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Less well-known is the history of Oregon’s racist past. It is a past that has been hidden. Even many Oregon residents do not know about it. Oregon had a different model than Southern states for how to maintain white supremacy: do not allow black people into the state in the first place.. Oregonians opposed slavery but early settlers did not want to live around any non-white people. It was a white state by design, committed to a sick dream of white racial purity.

When Oregon became a state in 1859, the state constitution forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. Black people could not make a contract or file a lawsuit there. Under the Oregon constitution, blacks were prohibited from voting. The constitution was not corrected until 1926 and racial language was not removed from it until 2002. When the constitution was put to a vote in 1857, 87% of voters cast their vote in favor of excluding black and mixed race people from the state.

American history, as conventionally taught, leaves this story out. Racial history, to the extent it is taught, is taught around the battle against slavery, which is a Southern story. Abolitionists fought the heroic battle to free the slaves culminating in the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Oregon history is not part of the story.

Before statehood, Oregon Territory stretched from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains. The Oregon territorial legislature first passed a black exclusion law in 1844. The law said that any free black people who remained in the state would be subject to flogging if they did not leave within three years. The floggings were to continue every six months until they left the territory. The penalty was not less than 20 or more than 39 lashes.

Oregonians decided that penalty was too harsh but followed up in 1849 with a new law barring black people who were not living in the area from entering or residing in Oregon territory. In 1851 Jacob Vanderpool, a black man who owned a saloon was reported to the authorities for the crime of being black in Oregon. A U.S. Marshal arrested Vanderpool and after a trial a judge gave him 30 days to leave the territory. Only six days elapsed from the time he was accused to his expulsion.

In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act which granted land to “every white settler” in the Oregon territory. It excluded people of color and abrogated Native American treaty rights. Oregon imposed an annual tax on people of color in 1862. The state also banned interracial marriage in 1866. That ban lasted until 1951.

Oregon resisted federal laws that gave black people rights. Although Oregon initially ratified the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 it rescinded that ratification in 1868. Oregon remained one of six states that did not ratify the Fifteenth Amendment which granted black men the right to vote. Oregon did not ratify the Fifteenth Amendment until 1959 and it did not re-ratify the Fourteenth Amendment until 1973.

Justifying segregation, the Oregon Supreme Court in 1906 allowed whites to racially discriminate against blacks in theaters. The Court confirmed and sanctioned the practice of racial segregation in public places and services.

In 1919, the Realty Board of Portland approved a Code of Ethics which forbade realtors and bankers from selling or giving leases to people of color for properties located in white neighborhoods. Racially restrictive housing covenants became common and remained in force until the federal Civil Rights Act of 1968. Redlining still goes on.

In the 1920’s Oregon became a Ku Klux Klan hotbed. It was home to the biggest Klan organization west of the Mississippi River with over 40,000 members in 50 chapters across the state. In 1922, Walter Pierce, a KKK sympathizer, was elected Governor. It is not clear if he was actually a Klan member or just an ally. So few people of color lived in Oregon, the Klan needed to find a new focus and moved to campaign against Catholics.

Because of its acts of violence and its agenda of hatred, the Klan alienated itself from most Oregonians. An event known as the Medford Outrage which included several lynching attempts turned the public against the Klan. By the mid-1920’s the Klan was already in steep decline. Oregonians stopped paying Klan dues, hastening its demise.

By 1940, Oregon had a population of less than 1,800 black residents. World War II brought an expansion of shipbuilding. The Kaiser shipbuilding company built a physically segregated city north of Portland called Vanport. It became the second largest city in Oregon and it was 40% black. Black and white workers were both attracted to jobs in the shipbuilding industry.

Vanport was surrounded on all sides by bodies of water. In the spring of 1948 after a winter of heavy rainfall, a dam broke and the city washed away in less than an hour. Days before the flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had deemed the dikes safe and the Housing Authority of Portland had distributed flyers to every house in Vanport telling people the dam would hold. The flood left nearly 17,000 people homeless. Looking back, the flood was an example of early day environmental racism.

The Pacific Northwest and especially Oregon remained a recruiting ground for far right groups who wanted to create an Aryan homeland. In 1988 in Portland Ethiopian student and father Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death with a baseball bat by three skinheads affiliated with the White Aryan Resistance. More recently in 2017 a white supremacist fatally stabbed two men and injured a third on a light rail train. The white supremacist was harassing two black teenage women.

As of 2019, Oregon’s black population was just over 2%. Portland remains the whitest big city in the United States.These small numbers are not an accident. They reflect policies, practices and ideologies in effect for 180 years. Oregon is probably the only sundown state in America, a state that systematically and methodically kept out blacks. Sundown towns have been extremely common all over America but states not so much.

A sundown town is a jurisdiction that kept blacks or other people of color from living in it and was “all white” on purpose. The sundown reference refers to signs all over America located on the outskirts of town that used to say “N——, Don’t let the Sun Go Down on You in ____”. Much of Oregon remains inhospitable and dangerous for people of color.

I am certainly not saying Oregon is the worst or most racist state. Every state has its own dark history around racism. I also should say that I focused on discrimination against black people but Asian-Americans have their own parallel story of experiencing racist discrimination as do Native Americans.

With the passage of the “divisive concepts” legislation, New Hampshire is moving backwards as far as honestly facing its own racist past. Forbidding teaching about discrimination is an embarrassment. Somebody needs to tell the Republicans in the legislature that it is not the 1950’s any more.

The white conservatives and libertarians behind HB 544 are trying to hide, obscure and deny history. I wondered whether Oregon’s racist history would be too much reality for their tender senses. Intellectual integrity and academic freedom demand the fullest exploration of all of our history not just the parts conservative white men want to hear.

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The Democrats’ Big Mistake – posted 6/20/2021

June 20, 2021 2 comments

For many, Joe Biden’s election win in 2020 represented an enormous relief. Even losing, the Trump cult scared the hell out of people committed to democracy.

Since he became President, Biden has tried his best to restore a sense of normalcy and national unity. In his low-key, grandfatherly way he has worked hard to move on from the madcap absurdities of the Trump era where the world waited on edge daily for the next egomaniacal toxic tweet storm.

Historically, Biden has been a centrist and a bi-partisan institutionalist. He is the mildest of progressives although he has an ambitious agenda. It would appear he thinks public policy achievements will roll back the anti-democratic threat Trump represents.

While I understand Biden’s desire to present Trump as a bizarre aberration and a kind of presidential freak show, I think he and his administration are making a big mistake in underestimating the danger Trump and his movement continue to represent. They have not gone away but are waiting in the wings for 2022 and 2024. Ignoring Trump’s crimes only increases the likelihood of their repetition in the future.

I am sure Democrats worry that continuing to focus on Trump crimes will interfere with the accomplishment of more forward-looking goals. Unfortunately forgetting is not a great strategy for combatting the next rounds of authoritarian comeback which are certain to happen.

The former president refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the election he lost. Such a reaction is common from dictators and autocrats who never want to give up power and try to maintain it at all costs. According to the New York Times, Trump is saying he will be reinstated as President in August even though there is no constitutional provision for reinstatement. The election audits Trump has promoted like in Arizona trigger no mechanism for him to remove Biden.

We continue to learn more about Trump and his inner circle’s ultra-aggressive behavior. In late December 2020, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pushed the Department of Justice to overturn Trump’s election loss. Meadows wanted the then acting-Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to look into election fraud claims in Georgia and New Mexico.

Meadows also wanted Rosen to look into a bonkers conspiracy theory known as Italygate which claims people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely switch votes for Trump to Biden on U.S. voting machines. Meadows’ actions violated a long-standing guideline which forbid White House personnel from contacting the Department of Justice about ongoing investigations.

This came after Trump’s efforts to get Rosen to probe Dominion Voting Systems which Trump falsely claimed had perpetrated widespread voter fraud as well as his effort to directly ask the Supreme Court to invalidate Biden’s win. Trump also had famously asked Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 votes.

Raffensberger and his family received threats of violence for months after the November election. Trump’s claim that the election was rigged prompted a campaign to terrorize election officials nation-wide. Both Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have received death threats. Benson contended with armed protesters outside her home in December.

Many lower level and middle level election workers also have received death threats, harassing phone calls and emails. Among those targeted have been black election workers who have been subjected to vicious racist intimidation by threatening pro-Trump callers, texters and emailers.

After failing at efforts to overturn the election, Trump resorted to his coup attempt on January 6. Spreading false claims that the election was stolen, Trump in December told his supporters to come to a rally that would be “wild”. Trump world, including an assortment of far right activists, urged people to get to the Capitol by 1pm on January 6. Many pro-Trump websites amped up the event touting the start of a civil war.

When the Senate failed to impeach Trump for the second time, Sen. Mitch McConnell excoriated Trump for his actions on January 6 saying:

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

However, McConnell and the Republican Party would ultimately not even accept a bi-partisan January 6 Commission. They want no further investigation. We narrowly avoided a successful coup but so far there has been no reckoning with Trump’s many excesses. Instead of rejecting Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election, two-thirds to three-quarters of Republicans continue to say Biden was illegitimately elected.

Trump and his allies have transformed the Republican Party into an entity that no longer believes in democratic majority governance. They are opposed to the idea that Democrats can win elections fairly. Knowing they will not win popular votes, their strategy has devolved into making it as hard as possible to vote.

Trump’s Big Lie has propelled the Republicans’ massive voter suppression effort. Without federal intervention in support of voting rights, the Republican control of many state legislatures and Governor offices makes it likely their voter suppression will be effective in many states.

More than twice as many Republicans as Democrats – nearly two in five Republicans – said in a January poll that violence could be justified against their opponents.

Sadly, the Democrats’ efforts to respond to this subversion of democracy have been weak. It is almost like they are clueless about what they are up against. Trump makes Richard Nixon look like a choir boy.

Fifty years from now, historians will probably still be uncovering Trump crimes including self-enrichment and emoluments violation, concentration camps and human rights violations against immigrants, unnecessary COVID-19 deaths and the failure of public health, promotion of environmental degradation, violation of election laws and racist voter suppression, sexual harassment and fraud of all varieties. Chauncey DeVega has written:

“It is more likely than not that the true extent of the Trump regime’s crimes are so great and horrible that the Biden Administration and senior members of the Democratic Party have either actively decided or come to a tacit understanding that it is in the best interests of the country to somehow conceal them – or at the very least to let these heinous acts leak out slowly, as to then be lost down the memory well.”

Democracy requires accountability. I support the idea of President Biden and Congress appointing an independent special prosecutor to investigate White House crimes committed during the Trump era. At least during Watergate, Democrats effectively tried to get to the bottom of criminal activity. Organized forgetting does not bode well.

I was disgusted when I heard that Biden’s Department of Justice was continuing to defend Trump in E.Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump. Carroll had accused Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store more than two decades ago.Trump denied the allegations. The Department of Justice has argued Trump was acting within the scope of his official duties as president when he denied Carroll’s allegations. The DOJ position is morally and legally wrong and an embarrassment.

Fascist and authoritarian movements have played liberals before. Political adversaries of European fascists in the 1920’s and 1930’s thought they could rein in and control the fascists. They mistakenly underestimated the capability of the fascists to control them, with disastrous consequences.

Americans have a generally poor record of responding to crimes by rich and powerful people. We have been far more zealous about attacking blue collar crime. A real reckoning demands a full public accounting of Trump crimes. Without that, the Democrats are placing themselves and everyone else at serious future risk.

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Anti-Semitism must be taken more seriously and opposed more vigorously – posted 6/13/2021

June 13, 2021 Leave a comment

In New York City’s Time Square, a group of men punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed a 29 year old Jewish man who was wearing a yarmulke. The group was shouting anti-semitic words.

In New York City’s Upper West Side, a Jewish man headed to Trader Joe’s to buy food for the Sabbath. A group of teens followed him saying, “Yarmulke. I want to take that yarmulke. I want to hit him in his head and take that yarmulke.That Jewish baby-killer.”

In Brooklyn, a different group of males harassed Orthodox Jews getting ready for Sabbath. The group shouted “Free Palestine – kill all the Jews”. The group banged on locked synagogue doors and when they could not get in they broke off the mirror on a nearby parked car. A little later, the group chased people perceived as Jews with a baseball bat and put a 17 year old in a chokehold.

In Skokie Illinois, someone shattered a window in a synagogue.

In Arizona, police are investigating someone spray-painting a swastika and an anti-Semitic slur on the door of a Tucson synagogue. This was the second synagogue in the city vandalized recently.

In Los Angeles, pro-Palestinian demonstrators attacked Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant.

All these episodes happened in the wake of May’s military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. During that fighting in May, the Anti-Defamation League tracked a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States including assaults, vandalism, harassment and hate speech. On Twitter, there were more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right” between May 7-14.

It would appear that Jews are being blamed worldwide for the violence in Gaza. As in the U.S., Jews in Europe have also seen an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. Anti-Semites use human rights abuses by the Israeli state against Palestinians as cover for hatred of Jews everywhere.

As a Jewish American, I am not responsible for the actions of the Israeli state. Just for the record, I am a progressive and an anti-fascist. I oppose racism, sexism and class oppression. I support LGBTQ rights. I have opposed the Netanyahu government and the occupation but in this instance, I do not think a person’s position on Israel and the Palestinians is the issue.

In the American Jewish community, there are a wide range of views about Israel but that is an entirely separate matter from anti-Semitism in the United States.

I am among those progressives who were jolted by Charlottesville in 2017. The sight of neo-nazis with their tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us” was bracing and a wake-up call. The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting reinforced my feelings.

Progressives, along with all others on the political spectrum, have under-estimated the anti-Semitic threat and I think that comes out of a weak historical understanding of both anti-Semitism and fascism.

Anti-Semitic hatred is uniquely deep-seated. It has been justifiably called the longest hatred. Think crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, the blood libel and the Holocaust. The body count is enormous but there is a tendency to downplay the danger because of the relative economic success of American Jews. The myth that all Jews are rich figures prominently in the anti-Semitic playbook.

The truth has some complexity. While American Jews as a whole represent the highest earning religious group in the U.S., more than half of American Jews earn less than $99,000 per year with 31 percent earning less than $49,000 per year. Contrary to the stereotype, many Jews do not have much money.

The stereotype that Jews are rich and greedy has a long historical background. Going back to the Middle Ages, Jews had restrictions placed on their economic activity and they were sometimes prohibited from owning land. Ruling classes set up Jews in intermediate positions between those with real power and those without. It was convenient for ruling classes to place Jews in positions where they could be a focus for popular anger that might otherwise be directed at the ruling class.

For over 1500 years, the Church helped generate a popular culture of hatred toward Jews. Anti-Jewish legislation adopted by the Church became the law of the land throughout Christian Europe. Jewish-Christian marriages were forbidden, except in the case of conversion by the Jewish party. Jewish property rights were narrowed. Jews were barred from practicing law and Jews were prevented from testifying against a Christian. In some countries, Jews were forcibly baptized or expelled.

The character Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice comes to mind. As an unscrupulous money-lender, Shylock depicted the stereotype of Jewish greed. Jews like the Rothschilds or George Soros are still imagined to control the world’s financial systems. Cartoons of grotesque fat Jewish bankers running the planet are epidemic. Conspiracy theories live off half-baked ideas and images.

In her podcast, the comedian Sarah Silverman has directly confronted the anti-Semitic mythology that connects Jews and money. She says:

“The conceit that Jews are rich is why the Holocaust happened. That was the idea they were pushing that got people on board with Nazism.”

I think there is truth in Silverman’s perspective. The Nazis played on the thousand year hatred that had religious and economic roots. Scapegoating was central to their project. Progressives who write off anti-Semitism in the hierarchy of racisms are missing why it remains dangerous. Nazis did not ultimately care whether a Jewish person was rich or not. Rich Jews ended up on the trains to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Dachau and Treblinka too.

Interestingly, Sarah Silverman is from New Hampshire. She lived in Bedford. She described on her podcast how growing up she was used to hearing the phrase “Jew them down”. In high school when she was doing comedy she tells how she was performing, getting laughs and she did a quick turn to serious. She spit out, “Jew is not a verb. It is me, your friend”. After that, she said among her friends she never again heard Jew used as a verb.

Jew-hatred is like other racial hatred or hatred of gay people. It is profoundly irrational. Progressives who do not integrate an understanding of anti-Semitism along with other racism have a superficial grasp of the forms of oppression. They are also not listening closely to the neo-nazis and white supremacists.

The white power movement sees the Jews as an all-powerful force in the background, controlling events and using other minorities and immigrants as pawns in their game. They do not see the Jews as white. They see the Jews as the puppet masters, pursuing white genocide and replacement of white people by minorities.

In acknowledging anti-Semitism, I would recognize that in America the history of oppression against African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinx people has been far worse. That is undisputed but it does not minimize Jew-hatred.

America has a strong First Amendment tradition of religious tolerance. Compared to Europe, anti-Semites have had less success here. Still, Jews need allies who will stand with them and oppose anti-Semitism. Passive or indifferent bystanders do not stop perpetrators. Recent experience provides evidence that a threat remains. As with other racism, anti-Semitism must be vigorously opposed.

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Almost summer – posted 6/12/2021

June 12, 2021 1 comment

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Race-norming and the deeper picture of racism in the NFL – posted 6/6/2021

June 6, 2021 5 comments

Since the 2013 settlement of the NFL concussion lawsuit, there continue to be legal skirmishes about compensation. Two black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, sued after they were refused a payout under the compensation scheme for brain injuries. The players accused the NFL of racial bias in its administration of settlement funds through a practice called race-norming.

In its use of race-norming, the NFL compared a player’s cognitive test scores with the supposed norm for his demographic group. Under the methodology, black players were assumed to possess a lower level of cognitive function than the average white player. In order to qualify for compensation, the average black player had to demonstrate a greater level of cognitive decline than their white teammates. They needed to score lower to qualify.

To quote NFL safety Eric Reid:

“Race-norming equals blacks are dumber than whites so the brain injuries they suffered didn’t effect them as traumatically because they were dumb to begin with.”

The NFL defended its practice saying that race-norming was used to forestall bias in aptitude tests but then it announced it would stop using the race-based formula.

Judge Anita Brody, the federal court judge overseeing the concussion settlement, threw out the lawsuit filed by Henry and Davenport but she asked for a report about the use of a race-based formula to measure cognitive impairment and to determine eligibility for compensation.

So far, 2000 NFL retirees have filed dementia claims and there have been fewer than 600 awards. The vast majority of NFL retirees are black. Awards have averaged $516,000 for the 371 former players diagnosed with early stage dementia and $715,000 for the 207 players diagnosed with moderate dementia.

Even if not badly intentioned, the NFL’s practice of race-norming reeks of eugenics and our past societal history of scientific racism. While it is little remembered now, racists justified the enslavement of black people by spreading bogus “scientific” theories of black inferiority. Dr. Katherine Possin, a neuropsychology professor and researcher, responded to the race-norming controversy:

“One danger to the continued use of race norms is it perpetuates a false idea that there are genetic differences in intelligence that fall along race lines and that’s simply not true.”

The plaintiff Kevin Henry, now 52, who had his case dismissed by Judge Brody has described how life is different for him now:

“I had more friends. I was more social. I could carry on a conversation without repeating where I was in the conversation. I could find my way around the city better. I could drive without having accidents. Those kind of things have all changed. I am more of a reclusive person now.”

Henry sustained multiple concussions as a defensive lineman playing eight seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. An NFL-approved clinician has diagnosed Henry with mild to moderate dementia but his claim was denied. Henry delineated how he felt watching the NFL’s PR portraying itself as a social justice ally:

“They come out with all these slogans like ‘We care’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’. And I’m sitting there, like, you’re lying. You’re lying out of your teeth. It’s so painful to sit there and watch, knowing that you know something totally different.”

I think the race-norming highlights how little progress the NFL has made in seriously addressing its institutional racism. The NFL owners sit atop a massive mountain of cash but their lawyers aggressively fight the claims of black retirees. Denying claims of black players is a money-saving scheme.

It must not be forgotten that the NFL worked for years to hide and minimize the danger of concussions.

To present an overview: of the 32 NFL teams, there are no black owners. Two people of color, Shahid Rafiq Khan, a Pakistani-born American who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kim Pegula, a woman of South Korean descent who co-owns the Buffalo Bills, own NFL teams.

There are three black head coaches and two black general managers in the league. Players of color make up 73% of the NFL but there is a lack of diversity among higher-ups in management and in coaching staffs. There is an acute underrepresentation of African Americans in leadership positions.

This has happened in spite of the Rooney rule established in 2003 which was intended to address racial inequities at the head coaching level. The reality is that the Rooney rule has largely failed. As Jemele Hill has written, NFL owners who are almost all white men have not been willing to let African Americans call plays – either on the field or from the sidelines. Hill wrote:

“This is no different from when franchises presumed that black players weren’t smart enough to play quarterback and lacked leadership skills to command men.”

The NFL owners are representative of the broader American ruling class. They mostly pay lip service to Black Lives Matter. They fund some good social justice endeavors but they maintain the rich white male club just like most Fortune 500 companies do. They guard the 1 percent level money and power and they have a financial set-up they want to maintain. There is an exclusivity to their upper class network that is impervious to change.

I know that many may not be sympathetic to the NFL players but consider this: the average NFL player’s career lasts only 2.5 years. Many suffer brutal neurological and orthopedic injuries. The money is very good but typically very short-lived. About 80 percent of NFL players go bankrupt or suffer financial hardship within two years of leaving the game.

It was wrong when NFL owners blackballed Colin Kaepernick because he had the courage to speak up about unconscionable police brutality. But racism in the NFL cuts far deeper than what happened to Kaepernick. Racism is baked into the NFL. Uprooting it will require much more than slick PR.

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