Ongoing Harms and Gambling Metaphor
Roy Brooks in his book Atonement and Forgiveness, uses the metaphor of the poker game to describe how the deck has been stacked against blacks in the game of life in the US. This poker game in which white people have used their great advantage of wealth due to an accumulation that is partially based on the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws and modern racism (Brooks 37); as Brooks says, the chips are all in the hands of the whites who have decided that from now on they will no longer cheat (36). The original sin of racism, to paraphrase Richard Cammareri in Moyers Journal piece on the 40th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report has been a strain and stain on relations between the races (Moyers). The analogy to the poker game perhaps is useful, although I would contend that the white over class who Brooks claims in this example to desire to play fair from some unspecified current time, are still holding cards up their sleeves.
The Bill Moyers Journal episode of March 28, 2008, on the 40th anniversary of the report officially titled REPORT OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON CIVIL DISORDERS, known as the Kerner Commission Report or just the Kerner Report, provided damning evidence of how the consequence of racism, or in this case an apartheid like separation of American society into as the report describes it “Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal” (Moyers ). This report written as a consequence of riots in cities across the US in the summer of 1967, was originally done at the bequest of President Johnson who as Moyers states, thought there was a conspiracy in the country led by groups like the then recently formed Black Panther Party. The Commission disabused the nation of any conspiracy putting the blame on the apartheid like separation, lack of jobs, poor schools, inadequate health care and dilapidated housing in the inner cities which had by that time become predominantly black ghettos.
The small town of Cambridge, Md., went up in flames July 1967.
The 2008 revisiting of the conditions described by the report indicates that these conditions to a great extent have not changed. Quoting Dr. Herbert Smitherman “In 1970, the infant mortality rate…was about 65 percent higher in the black community than in the white community. Currently, it is about 205 percent higher in the black community than the white” (Moyers). More examples are given in testimony before members of the current Eisenhower Foundation which carries on the work started by the Kerner Commission to continue to do research on and investigate means to mitigate the results of racism in America (Moyers). Not only has there been white flight but as Josephine Huygue said speaking of her city Detroit, “with the continuation of white flight that started in the ‘50s has been compounded by the exodus of the middle and upper class blacks” (Moyers). Komozi Woodard calls it an “urban catastrophe” citing Katrina as a modern example (Moyers). And so it goes, there has been perhaps the creation of an enlarged black middle class, but poverty, income disparity, health disparities and the emergence of a prison industrial complex as Roy Levy Williams states, gives rise to the conclusion that the game is still stacked against blacks for reasons other than simply the disparity of accumulated wealth. There are institutional barriers related to current economic conditions, discrimination based in a lack of educational opportunities, and the history of racism that goes back to slavery as Brooks indicates (Brooks 37).
Poker is certainly being played but the White power establishment is the house, and the blacks, other minorities and poor people generally are the gamblers getting fleeced. This is not just a case of one side keeping all the accumulated wealth in their pockets from the past; this is a situation in which the nature of the game has not changed. Only the window dressing has been given a black face. Not to belittle Obama’s efforts, but the institutions have not changed at heart and progress made in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s was lost in the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s. Now there is some chipping away around the edges with an inadequate health care reform, slight modification of prison sentencing policies and the expansion of a pressure cooker release valve, in which ambitious blacks are allowed some escape into the establishment rather than providing radical leadership as Ms. Hugyue alluded to. This is not solving the basic inequity of the modern capitalist system in America. As one who has witnessed and participated in this process over the years, I am disheartened by the lack of progress, although a class such as the current one is a step in the direction of awareness, sort of like teach in with credit. What is needed is a little more heated action to remind the elites that there are people tired of empty promises and token changes.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was an active participant in protests in Dayton, Ohio.
Brooks seems to be making an argument for reparations, at least based on the title of his book, based on the concept of leveling the playing field. Responding to arguments by conservatives like the Thernstroms and D’Souza who argue for personal responsibility on the part of blacks or the lack thereof as being primary, what they call a “dysfunctional black culture” (Brooks 38, 43), Brooks goes through intellectual hoops to prove them wrong. Fred Harris says that the Regan administration did more damage by claiming that government programs did not work (Moyers) and defunding many of them to make sure that they didn’t. Thus the US might have been in a much more equitable position had reforms of the 1960’s and 1970’s been allowed to succeed. Instead what has happened has been liberal defensiveness, President Clinton colluding in destroying the safety net, and so on into the train wreck of social inequity that we have today in the US. Arguing for a level playing field by asking for some reparations as an act of atonement, is a little like rattling the tin can asking for hand-outs in my view. Organizing and taking action to demand social justice is more along the lines of what is needed. The ballot, the courts, backed by action in the streets is the ticket, even Obama recognizes that paraphrasing Roosevelt. But ultimately in this writers view, race is one aspect of a larger wealth distribution problem. Race relations and racism happens to be the most egregious form of this system of increasing wealth concentration and inequity. All boats may rise with the tide, but leaky boats will spend more time baling than benefiting. All of us deserve better boat maintenance to use another metaphor.
Brooks, Roy L. Atonement and Forgiveness A New Model for Black Reparations. Berkeley: U of California P. 2006. Beachboard PDF. Web. 11 April 2014.
Moyers, Bill. “The Kerner Commission - 40 Years Later,” Bill Moyers Journal. Public Affairs Television 2008. Transcript pbs.org. Web. 13 April 2014.