Defying Assassination Day: MLK vs. Apartheid Housing (CounterPunch)

April 4, 2016
by Greg Moses

On this day of resistance against racist murder we remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and we resolve to betray not only the killers but the dreamlessness of the future they kill for.

Some twenty months before he was targeted for that final bullet, King was hit in the head by a common, rock throwing racist. As much as King wanted to believe that his 1966 march through Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood would affect the structure of residential segregation in America, evidence fifty years later proves that America has done a poor job with the follow-up and follow-through.

We shall overcome racist murder only when we abolish neighborhood segregations that warp our material relations and sustain exclusionary paranoia.

In an amicus brief filed only sixteen months ago, some sixty scholars of American housing reported to the United States Supreme Court that if we measure the “exposure” of African Americans to the majority white population, “segregation is today greater nationwide than it was in 1940, and has remained mostly unchanged since 1950.”

Aided and abetted by federal law and finance, American suburbs have been endowed by their creators with inalienable landscapes of predominant whiteness, homestead wealth, ambitious education, and pursuit of upward mobility for all.

Meanwhile, as amicus scholars report, persistent techniques of systemic “hypersegregation” — in public housing, mortgage guarantees, real estate redlining, financial steering, and city planning — have confined 75 percent of African Americans to sixteen percent of census tracts.

“The executive director of the American Association of State Highway Officials, influential in Congressional highway design” was reported to use the n-word in describing the exploitation and dispossession that transportation planners pursued during the Interstate building heyday of the 1950s.

In Race and Real Estate, published by Oxford University Press in 2016, several more scholars contribute witness and expertise. Kendrick Ian Grandison shows how town geographies that once produced “the other side of the tracks” have since concretized the other side of the so-called freeway, imposing material insults and urban dangers intractably zoned in.

Urban sociologist Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, who released her disquieting study of West Baltimore shortly before the insurrections of April, 2015 rehearses in a chapter of Race and Real Estate her vocabulary for describing American apartheid. On one side policymakers and financiers collaborate to create what Peter Evans has termed “embedded autonomy,” with amply equipped opportunities to work, shop, educate, and enjoy.

On the other side, institutional structures produce “distorted engagement” where babies are likely to meet social workers even before they meet their own mothers. The difference between embedded autonomy and distorted engagement is Fernandez-Kelly’s short answer to why so many immigrant populations have been able to escape from slums to suburbs while significant numbers of African Americans endure (and insurrect against) ghetto confinement.

When King was called away from his August, 1966 Chicago marches to visit the aftermath of the Watts insurrection, he did not fail to point out that housing discrimination was one of the insurrection’s legitimate grievances. Only two years before the Watts insurrection, California had repealed its law banning discrimination in housing. “California by that callous act voted for ghettos,” said King. “The atrociousness of some deeds may be concealed by legal ritual, but the destructiveness is felt with bitter force by its victims.”

On news of King’s assassination in 1968, insurrections broke out across America. As if in recognition of where King’s struggle had stalled out – and where legitimate grievances festered — Congress fast-tracked a Fair Housing Act, the last of the landmark Civil Rights Acts to memorialize the King era.

The Fair Housing Act was but the first of King’s posthumous achievements. He came, he loved, he struggled. He exercised tremendous capacity to wage war on American dreamlessness, and we affirm, especially on this day, that King’s dream of fearless neighborhoods in America is worthy of material affirmation and respect.

Sources in order of appearance:

D.J.R. Bruckner. “Dozens Hurt During March in Chicago,” L.A. Times, Aug. 6, 1966.

Brief of Housing Scholars as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondent, Dec. 23, 2014. Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs, et al. v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Supreme Court of the U.S.

Adrienne Brown and Valerie Smith, Editors. Race and Real Estate. Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Clayborne Carson, Editor. “Chapter 27: Watts,” The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. King Institute, Stanford University, accessed April 3, 2016.

Into the Mythic (CounterPunch)

December 21, 2015
by Greg Moses

In the final Star Wars episode coming down the pipes in a century or two will the empire finally crush the resistance into dust? And if we saw that ending would we believe it? No way. Somehow the dust would turn out to have regenerative powers explainable in a science-fiction logic of positronic hyperspatial defiance. Linear defeat not allowable.

Back on earth injustice mans the cockpit of history, swearing allegiance to dark forces of victory, gunning down, bombing out, clearing ground, imposing the myth that more people need killing. Why do they ever think they can finally win?

I don’t know if you’ve seen a viral video of a squirrel biting a rattlesnake. The two creatures meet at the edge of a sidewalk. The furry critter is communicating in a primal code. It nips the narrowed tail of the rattlesnake. Go away! And the rattlesnake’s response is interesting. The slinky serpent strikes back, threatening with teeth of its own, but never lethally. It plays the game, then slides away.

Question is, why don’t people behave more like rattlesnakes?

Killing is abominable excess in human experience. And I’m thinking it comes from our ability to overcome recognition of death for what it is. The rattlesnake is in relation to a fellow living thing. It is incapable of redefining. Human language displaces death. If the rattlesnake could define the squirrel as a criminal, it would be conqueror of a short story, ending with a lifeless body on the pavement.

Love your enemies sounds absurd, yet the rattlesnake understands it.

Mythic power is rising, and the hunger for it is a bankable frenzy measurable in ticket sales and shopping days to Christmas. We humans wield a cosmic power in the attitudes that we choose to take. May we soon remember that death is absolutely the last thing to be wished upon fellow creatures, especially death in the name of empire.

Tale of the Eloquent Agriculturalist: Lament for Sandra Bland (CounterPunch)

July 24, 2015
by Greg Moses

This is a tribute or lament in the style of Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom who tell a “Tale of the Eloquent Peasant.” In the tale, a good farmer on his way to market finds himself criminalized by a corrupt official who confiscates his donkeys and all the goods they were transporting. The farmer appeals his case relentlessly, undeterred by official indifference or abuse.

There once was a woman
called Sandra Bland
She was an Agriculturalist of Prairie View
“Look,” she said, “I am taking a job in Texas”

She then drove south into town
and seeing in her rearview mirror
a Texas trooper by name of MyLaw
she moved her car toward the curb

Our Law it was that she moved to facilitate
thinking that the trooper was
in a rightful hurry to serve and protect
“My way is good” said Sandra Bland

But MyLaw said to the agriculturalist
“Look I will stop your car”
And MyLaw berated the agriculturalist
for steering out of his way too fast

“Look you should have put on your turn signal
before you got out of my way” said MyLaw
Then said Sandra: “But clearly you wanted
to speed on past”

“Are you upset with me?” asked MyLaw
Said Sandra: “I think you should
hurry up and finish your job”
MyLaw replied “Finish your cigarette first”

“But why should I hurry to finish my cigarette?”
asked the eloquent agriculturalist
“Now,” said MyLaw, “You should hurry up
and step out of your car”

Then he took an electric stick
and shook it in her face
“I will light you up,” said MyLaw
“Hurry up and get out of your car”

Then the agriculturalist complained very much
for the hurt that MyLaw was creating
And MyLaw said “Don’t raise your voice
Or call your lawyer, just put down your phone”

Then the eloquent agriculturalist freed her hand
from the cell phone only to see that MyLaw
would tie her wrists together, bind them
and throw her body to the ground

“You are not a real man MyLaw”
said the eloquent agriculturalist
“Because a real man has courage to
enforce nothing but Our Law”

“Stop your mouth” said MyLaw
to the eloquent agriculturalist
“I only intended to rebuke you
with a mild slap on the wrist”

“Now your wrists are tied together,” said MyLaw
“and I have tied you like a calf in the dirt”
But the eloquent agriculturalist replied
“Sir your commands smell like the shit of a bull”

MyLaw rose from his knee that was digging
into the back of the eloquent agriculturalist
and looked to his own leg
“Look I am not very sore” he said

“But look at me” said the eloquent agriculturalist
“I am weighed down. Examine me.
My head and my arm. You have struck me.
You have thrown me down at my loss.”

“I will sail the boat of Our Law on the Sea of Truth”
said the eloquent agriculturalist
“But your boat, MyLaw, will go straight down
I can’t wait to see you wailing on that Sea,

I can’t wait to meet you there!”