#Icantbreathe: Eric Garner is another casualty in the war on colour

Racism has many faces….These faces may be grouped into three main forms – personal racism, cultural racism and institutional racism.
Cultural racism is… entrenched philosophy and beliefs. Its most obvious form in New Zealand is in the assumption that Pakeha culture, lifestyle and values are superior to those of other New Zealand cultures, notably those of Maori and Polynesian people.
…institutional racism is observed from its effects. It is a bias in our social and administrative institutions that automatically benefits the dominant race or culture, while penalising minority and subordinate groups.
The effects of institutional racism are graphically illustrated in our social statistics.

A colleague had a conversation with me at a White Ribbon event about the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed youth shot down by US police officer Darren Wilson. Their view is that, whilst tragic, the media fixation on the deaths of black men killed by police officers was ignoring the far larger issue of the deaths of black men killed by other black men. My colleague is Pākehā.

She is neither the first, nor the last, who will make this comment to me in person or on social media. She is part of a large cohort who run three possible arguments about the police officers killing black men in the USA: the base issue is poverty, and as inequality increases, so too unrest and hence the deaths of the poor, who are disproportionately black; black on black violence is far larger problem that people are too intimidated to talk about for fear of being seen as racist; the growing violence and anti-social behaviour has led to a need for a police to respond more violently, and these deaths are the unfortunate outcome of their legal right to self-defence. I don’t really hang out with the people who use the latter argument as they are actually straightforward, heart-on-the-sleeve racists.

As regards black on black violence in the USA; yes, black people are more likely to kill black people. FBI statistics show that, in 2009, 90 percent of black homicides are committed by black people. Certainly shocking, but keep reading, because it turns out white people are more likely to kill white people. In the same statistics, 84 percent of white homicides are committed by white people. Unsurprisingly, people kill people who live in communities close to them, and USA communities are remarkably segregated; like our experience of ‘white flight’ but in the tens of millions, not thousands. [As an aside, on theses statistics, if you should be careful of anyone it is men who commit 88 percent of the homicides, whatever their race; seems like those crackers will kill anyone.]

Perhaps the stronger of the three arguments is that the base issue is actually poverty not race. Poverty plays an important part in your likelihood of committing crime. For example Department of Corrections research into over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system in New Zealand demonstrated that:

  • family structure and context (being born to young mothers, a lack of family stability, a family environment in which conflict and violence is common, and being exposed to harsh punishment);
  • individual child and adolescent development (particularly neurological development, and psychological temperament);
  • educational participation and achievement (school absence, early leaving age and failure to achieve qualifications); and
  • the emergence of developmental disorders (childhood conduct disorder, early onset of antisocial behaviour, and use/abuse of alcohol and other substances)

were all causal factors in your risk profile. These are all the social impacts of poverty and inequality here and in the USA. Importantly, alongside this finding, the research demonstrated that institutional racism or bias operates in the criminal justice system that increases the likelihood of apprehension, prosecution and imprisonment for Māori as compared with others.

But my responses above are not why the arguments of my colleague and others – that we should focus on reasons other than the colour of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner et al. – are wrong. They are wrong because each of the arguments above looks for the answer in the black man rather than looking for it in the eyes of the white man who killed him. Each of the arguments above wants to examine African American people for what is wrong with them, because it can’t be that there is something inherently wrong with white America. Which finally bring us back to Puao-Te-Ata-Tu and cultural and institutional racism.

People fail to see that the arguments that these deaths are not a race issue demonstrates an assumption that the failure must be in the African American culture or experience rather than in the dominant, imperial and white culture of the USA. It speaks to their assumption that the same benefits they receive as white people in the USA or Pākehā here in Aotearoa New Zealand from the social and administrative institutions such as the police, are also available to other races and ethnicities. The three arguments above merely demonstrate the deep roots of cultural and institutional racism in the USA and also here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I suggest that the depth and desperation of the racism amongst the dominant cultures and races is a signpost to a third wave of colonisation of indigenous and coloured people throughout the western world. The first wave was to secure resources for the maintenance of empire; the second wave was to assimilate indigenous and coloured people into the working class of a capitalist economic framework; the third wave is ethnocide. The third wave is the extermination of difference.

The empire is crumbling at the edges. Like a body that has been subject to a major injury, the reaction of the empire is to pool its resources to its essential components: the ruling classes who are exclusively rich and predominantly white. However to efficiently pool the resources so centrally requires a higher level of conformity in the population, and this is best achieved through scaring people. Therefore, the dominant institutions of the empire are attempting to convince their populations that difference is a threat which only the dominant institutions can defend you against. The easiest difference to exploit is skin colour.

So our dominant instutions are ramping up rhetoric against indigenous and coloured people. Consider a random snapshot of the threats the moral majority are railing against here, in the USA, in Australia, in Britain and elsewhere:

  • ISIS, portrayed as incomprehensible religious savages, which has led to Muslim repression and victimisation throughout the west;
  • the raging, “demonic” black man threatening police in the USA;
  • anti-social and poor Māori ‘wreckers and haters’ in housing protests, wanting state funding to feed their kids in schools, even killing their kids;
  • First Nations Australians drunkenness and failure.

None of these are raised with an intent to resolve any underlying issues. They are raised to enforce conformity by suggesting to a wider audience that only the dominant institutions and philosophies can protect them and their prosperity from the frightening, threatening Other.

So don’t tell me it is not about race. Police officers in the USA kill a black man every 28 hours, they killed Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown because they are black. They killed them because the racist rhetoric of the dominant institutions in their society have told them that black people are violent, dangerous and uncontrollable. They killed them because this rhetoric has filled their head with disturbing fantasies that these men are not human, but demonic and subhuman. And it is in observing these murders so distant from my home in Aotearoa New Zealand that I can finally see clearly that the deaths of Māori men at the hands of Police here are not so dissimilar.

I haven’t forgotten Steven Wallace and Antony Ratahi.

Finally, [TRIGGER WARNING] though it is disturbing, I encourage you to watch this video of Eric Garner’s apprehension and, as it turned out, murder (actual footage starts at 2:03). He says “I can’t breathe” 11 times, he was in no way threatening, and the chokehold used by the officer is illegal in that state. The officer will not be indicted. I encourage you to watch it because I encourage you to engage your rage; if you are an indigenous person, a coloured person, this is the first crystal clear video that clearly demonstrates the war against you.

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2 thoughts on “#Icantbreathe: Eric Garner is another casualty in the war on colour

  1. The people that talk about black-on-black violence rarely do so sympathetically. They don’t really care that kids and young men are dying in impoverished, dysfunctional communities where many of the men have been sent to prison or are unemployed – they just use it to deflect the issue of police brutality. Both exist, but the young men who kill their own are usually caught, tried and sent to prison or executed. Police are expected to protect and serve, not harass and kill – and when they fail in their duty, they are not held accountable if their victim was black.
    The white people who focus on black-on-black violence don’t mention that most white homicides are carried out by other white people. They don’t mention that violence to women occurs cross-culturally, or that most hate crimes are racial in nature and target mainly black people.
    While there is disparity in justice, employment and education in Aotearoa, it is nothing like here. Make sure it doesn’t get this way.
    Also, white people in Aotearoa, look around you. Who do you work with? If only with people that look like you, you can probably be assured that your education and other privileges secured your place, just like here.

    1. Kia ora Toni for your considered reply. Omission is certainly the most significant feature of many who arguments against the central place of race in our society. One of the startling comments from the Corrections report that stood out to me was that whilst in absolute numbers Pākehā commit more crime than Māori, in absolute numbers more Māori are prosecuted for crimes than Pākehā. This admission speaks volumes about the disparity in justice here and is what has inspired my solidarity with the African Americans in the US.

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