I Did What I Was Paid to Do': Race Control and America

by Troy Jackson, Director, The AMOS Project & Co-author of Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith

Law enforcement, prosecutors, and clergy in this country are simply doing what we are paid to do.

Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, in an interview with George Stephanopoulis, shared his belief that in the altercation with and subsequent killing of Michael Brown, "I did what I was paid to do."

While there are many disputed facts around what happened between Brown and Wilson in the last few moments of Brown's life, Wilson is unquestionably telling the truth when he says he was simply doing what he was paid to do. Although one would be hard pressed to find it on a job description for a police officer, controlling African Americans has been a fundamental part of American law enforcement since our nation's inception.

During the days of slavery, law enforcement officers in the North and South were paid to protect the peculiar institution of American slavery. They checked papers of blacks, controlled the activities and actions of free African Americans, and enforced fugitive slave laws.

But it isn't just law enforcement. Most pastoral job descriptions say precious little about race and racism. Prior to the Civil War, clergy either supported slavery, or kept their opinions to themselves. That is what they were paid to do.

Jim Crow segregation depended on law enforcement officials insuring that blacks abided by racist laws. Police were too often complicit with terrorism against and the lynching of African Americans.

And most white clergy in the South, and throughout the country, kept "politics" out of the pulpit, by embodying a code of silence on racial justice, while they pastored racially segregated congregations. They were all simply doing what they were paid to do.

The explosions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of cities across the nation in the 1960s were, in part, a response by disaffected African Americans to law enforcement tactics, including police brutality with impunity, in black communities. They were a response to law enforcement doing what they were paid to do.

The same could be said for officers in my hometown of Cincinnati who, over the course of several years, killed several African Americans under questionable circumstances. This period culminated in the shooting death of Timothy Thomas in April 2001. Uprisings followed. The police were simply doing what they were paid to do. And, as a pastor in Cincinnati in 2001, I said little and did even less. I did what I was paid to do.

The vast majority of law enforcement officials in the nation today put their lives on the line for the safety and wellbeing of our communities. They sacrifice and take great risks. And clergy, by and large, work hard to encourage, challenge, bless, and comfort their congregations.

And like most in our nation, police learn through media and experience and trainings that young people of color are a little bit more dangerous, often pose a threat, and therefore need to be controlled. To keep the community safe, they are paid to control black people. Darren Wilson was doing what he was paid to do.

And clergy know far too well that we are paid to stay in our lane and not engage too deeply in the trauma of the world. So we silently support a society set up to control black people.

But the protests over the past few days are about more than how policing happens in this country. The protests, uprisings, marches, and civil disobedience are also in response to people in our judicial system doing exactly as they are paid to do.

Special prosecutors in cases like the deaths of Michael Brown and John Crawford III (shot and killed by police in a Walmart in Ohio) are doing what they are paid to do: protect law enforcement and a radicalized criminal justice system that has led to some of the largest incarceration rates in human history. These special prosecutors are paid by taxpayers to make sure officers are not indicted for shooting and killing unarmed people of color, while people of color fill jails and prisons throughout the nation.

As a pastor for two decades, I have to confess that, when it comes to race control, we clergy are paid to be quiet. We are paid to keep our prophetic impulses in check. We are paid to go along with slavery and Jim Crow and to uniformly condemn protestors and all acts of violence. We are paid to support law and order, which means we are paid to be chaplains to the status quo and keepers of the "peace."

We are all doing what we are paid to do, and for century after century, people of color have been the ones paying the price.

What is needed most at this moment is not the condemnation of any one individual or community.

What is needed is to stop cashing the checks, stop taking the payoffs, and stop participating in Pharaoh's Egypt, where no matter how many changes are made, some people continue to advance only by degrees of oppression.

It is time for An Exodus: It is time to pursue a Promised Land, where no person is paid to control and manage the oppression and dehumanization of another.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.