Lately, I’ve been busy attending protests, donating what I can to Black Lives Matter as well as several movements I respect, and volunteering for various causes. Other personal challenges have reared their ugly heads over the last couple of months, so it feels like I’m fighting an amorphous unrelenting Hydra-headed fog of obstacles. Despite this, we try to assist 24/7 as best we can here in S. California; I haven’t seen the potential for positive changes this meaningful and consequential since the ’94 protests in Los Angeles. My wife is Guatemalan, and we’ve long had discussions with our kids, each other, and friends about racism, police brutality, and the white supremacist foundations of this country. This all dovetails with conversations about LGBQT oppression, basic income, health care rights, feminism, environmentalism—my kids are 3, 9, and 13, and they fill me with hope that they’ll be contributing to and experiencing a better world. Call it secular faith, wishful thinking, or this old Marxist’s optimism, but I hope for great things to proceed.
Having said that, the geography of racism is mapped out in detail, and the first step in plotting one’s way is acknowledging that these deep divides are socio-culturally and historically etched into the landscape. I’m no scholar, and suggesting two books in a blog post maybe two or three people might read if I’m lucky is not particularly relevant when it comes to such important subjects. I’ll go ahead and suggest the following two books as an introduction to these issues anyway: Medical Apartheid and Buried in the Bitter Waters.
Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present is meticulously researched, and expertly exposes the racist pseudoscience that saw medical bodies torturing and maiming slaves and freedmen, as well as the continuing abusive atrocities overwhelmingly inflicted against Black communities today. The beginning and end of malicious racist experiments did not happen with Tuskegee, but have deep roots in the medical sciences that continues in 2020. It’s an astonishingly well written book, and devastating in its clarity.
Elliott Jaspin’s Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America is a good place to start as well. The idea that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 magically leveled the playing field after centuries of brutality is offensive at best, and usually presented as a default argument to perpetuate white supremacist domination. Centuries of kidnapping, murder, and slavery continue to have profound social, economic, and psychological impacts on Black folks today. Contemporary struggles are a direct consequence of colonialism, and Jaspin’s book gives a detailed account of how ethnic cleansing committed by whites has created the racist structures that underpin the American edifice.