As African-American males in Arizona, we are stunned though not altogether surprised at the bold assumptions, presumptions, and downright racist stereotypes Linda Turley-Hansen offers in “Not racism, and not guns; it’s moral absence that’s doing the killing” (AFN, Sept. 6).

We, the undersigned, are not gang members, we are leaders in our various communities, most of us are fathers, our moral compasses are activated, our families are intact, and we know personally and professionally how much of the world perceives and responds to black males in America with fear, suspicion, and doubt. Not one of us is invested in “guilting” white Americans about anything. If there’s guilt, it may well have to do with “discouraged Europeans... who built the greatest nation ever” on the stolen lands of Native Americans and on the bruised and beaten backs of black slaves and subsequent waves of cheap immigrant labor. What we do care about, however, is unveiling ignorance and misinformation such as that contained in Turley-Hansen’s short-sighted commentary.

On the surface, Turley-Hansen’s morality monologue appears to be non-racialized and plausible, as out-of-wedlock births and violent crime have indeed adversely affected black Americans for a host of complicated circumstances, not the least of which are indeed associated with education and personal responsibility. “The problem,” however, argues our professor colleague William Jelani Cobb, “lies in the theory that this ‘morality’ would somehow vanquish racism — which has as its underlying premise the inability to recognize any black person as moral in the first place. And ‘morality’ has frequently been conflated with a simple, assimilationist ideal of white behavior.” The Christopher Lane case is horrific on every fundamental level, and it is most unfortunate that Turley-Hansen would seemingly keep a running racialized tally on such events in an adult game of “I know you are, but what am I.”

While recent years have brought a spate of mass murders and school shootings, largely committed by middle- to upper-class white males, there is no rush to classify white males as dangerous. Likewise, the case earlier this year of teen Skylar Neese being murdered by her best friend and an accomplice (all are white teen girls) is equally horrific, yet white parenting has not been indicted. And despite the largest recipients of food stamp beneficiaries being white children, no one has declared a crisis of entitlement in “the white community” and indicted its families and leaders. (For an excellent parody highlighting this double standard, see http://tinyurl.com/upworthyparody).

America’s history is one of brazen attacks on black male bodies long before Trayvon Martin became a household name for all the wrong reasons. Apparently, Turley-Hansen thinks only in black and white. Among the three teens involved in this heinous Christopher Lane crime, one self-identifies as black, one as biracial, and the third as white. The naked truth is that the vast majority of killings in America is committed by members of a victim’s own racial group. There is no “race war against white people;” black social ills continue to be tethered to white supremacist notions, policies, and practices, and Turley-Hansen’s thinking is clouded by stereotypes about black pathology that belies the dynamism of black life and black leadership. Turley-Hansen’s remarks are also maternalistic and condescending. Black people strategize to confront our particular challenges daily. Looking in the mirror, driving across the state, walking into a classroom or board meeting, walking in a parking lot or across the street mean that we as black males must strategize for our own safety and the safety of our fellow brown sons, nephews, neighbors, and brothers who look like us. This daily living or “combat breathing” is not optional and is not paranoia. Given that “about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race, according to an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos poll,” we are curious about the breadth of Turley-Hansen’s knowledge of black people, “the black community” — as she terms it, and of black leadership beyond sensationalist headlines and the pontificating of Bill Cosby and a relatively small number of black loyalists, who choose to turn on their own communities rather than risk exile from the table of white wealth, position, and power.

Is it a convenience to blame all black leaders, black parents, and black men for an isolated incident and not at least keep gun laws in the conversation? When Sandy Hook and the Tucson tragedy occurred, the nation humanized the young white male killers as suffering from severe mental illness, as persons society had failed to assist. There are real issues that need to be addressed within and beyond African-American communities, but criticizing a whole group with whom Turley-Hansen most probably has little or no connection is wrong and enables her and others who think like her to skirt serious systemic problems.

In a moment when many blacks, whites, and others are desperately striving for racial healing, it is divisive and unproductive to point shaky fingers at one episode to declare blame and to accuse “black leaders” of not taking and promoting personal responsibility among our communities. We are disappointed that Turley-Hansen makes no effort to imagine a world through another’s eyes. Henry David Thoreau asks: “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” We see and know well Turley-Hansen’s world. We are more than happy to let her borrow our spectacles of lived experience for a closer and more accurate look at ours.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Neal A. Lester, PhD, is a foundation professor of English and director of Project Humanities at Arizona State University.

Matthew C. Whitaker, PhD,  is a foundation professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University.

• Jeremy Brown-Gillett is an MFA candidate in performance at Arizona State University.

• Rashaad Thomas is a United States Air Force veteran and student at Arizona State University, majoring in justice studies and minoring in African and African-American studies and women and gender studies.

(7) comments

Chet
Chet

I know lots of black folks. They're my peers, they're in management, they work in tech, they're doctors. They have MBA's, they own businesses.

I don't know any of the people Turley-Hanson was yapping on about, but I know lots of people like Turley-Hanson.

Lacking the ability to think for themselves, they regurgitate what they hear from Fox News, Rush, Beck, and the rest of the right wing hate machine. Everything in her op-ed was lifted from right wing media.

I admit I could be wrong about that, maybe she commutes to work with John Lewis and brunches on Sunday's with Ruby Bridges. Maybe she's spent years studying the history of race in America. Maybe it was that deep knowledge and understanding of race relations that compelled her to lecture an entire race of people.

Or more likely, and not knowing the woman I base this solely on her writings, she's just a small minded, ignorant, scared, un-Christian, hateful little bigot.

infragt
infragt

Chet, your comments certainly show your credibility. I think there's a middle ground somewhere here between this poster's thoughts and those of Turley-Hansen. And this poster for convenience sake may be reading more into her comments than the intended message. Sometimes the truth hurts. Statistics do not lie.

Chet
Chet

Statistics lie if there's a liar using them. How about this:

A stockbroker gets busted with a few grams of cocaine, the preferred drug of Wall Street. He makes bail, his lawyer sends him to rehab, and he shows up in court with a nice suit and haircut and gets a slap on the wrist, because he's turning his life around.

A black kid from a poor neighborhood gets busted with a few tiny rocks of crack cocaine, the exact same drug but in a cheaper form. He can't afford bail, he shows up in court in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed, after a few weeks in jail and gets a few years in prison.

Same drug, but the rich white guy walks and the poor black kid, raised in a poor neighborhood after a few centuries of racism, is now a felon.

Same drug, different outcomes, and statistically blacks get longer sentences than whites. What is the effect on minority families from institutional racism?

Turley-Hanson leaves all that out, along with 400 years of the same or worse.

She has no place lecturing others on morality when it's clear she doesn't understand the meaning of the word herself.

There is no middle ground with ignorance and racism. Turley-Hanson's post was the same tired trash used for decades to justify hate and racism.

Giocrypt
Giocrypt

Needless to say that I disagree with most of this article as well as its premise and its conclusions. Too many use of buzz words in order for me to take seriously.

In respond to Chet however, I see several flaws with your assumptions as far as your rezoning is concerned.

1. In your story about the stockbroker and the "black kid," was I suppose to assume that the stockbroker was white? Now, that assumptions alone brings me to several questions regarding your original post though I think you know what I am getting at so I will move on.

2. Are we to equate the "evilness" of drugs by preference as you stated a "few grams of cocaine" vs. "a few tiny rocks of crack cocaine." So are we to argue the pureness of the product or only its quantity? Are excusing the "black kid" for his behavior because he comes from a "poor neighborhood" or are we shaming the stockbroker for his wealth? I am not sure what you are trying to get at here.

3. From your first post and example I can only deduce that you are making an argument against class as provided by income and status. I would not have assumed that only "white people" get to be stockbrokers and only "black kids" live in poor neighborhoods. Still I see your point, yet I think I must come to a different conclusion as you as to what the real outrage in your story really should be.

Right wing hate machine??? This is the intellectual equivalent of closing your eyes and covering your ears while shouting "la, la, la, la."

Chet
Chet

Giocrypt, I think you know full well what I'm saying, you're just being nitpick-y. I'm fine with that, call me out on anything anytime.

You may assume the stockbroker was white, but it may be more helpful to assume that income plays a role, if it makes you feel better about the race thing.

Allow me to use the words of Tea Party favorite Rand Paul to make my point:

"If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago," Paul said. "Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs."

"The majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white," he said, "but three-fourths of all people in prison for drug offenses are African American or Latino."

I wish I had another reference other than HuffPo, a pretty sad rag, but it's a quote and I'm in a hurry today, lots of meetings, the quote's been on TV, and it's referenced.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/18/rand-paul-mandatory-minimum-laws_n_3949415.html

Paul, proving the broken clock being right twice a day theory, is saying the system is punishing people based on race and income and I say that's destroying families.

It's cheaper to go into a highly populated minority neighborhood and bust people than in the suburbs, where there are more drugs but things are more spread out. And it's cheaper to prosecute a poor kid than a suburban kid who's parents will probably hire a lawyer and make things tougher.

And I'm saying Turley-Hanson was spreading ignorance and racism by leaving out little details like that. And she's a family values parrot to boot!

BTW, I never said doing drugs was evil, I prefer scotch, but it's a personal choice and if it does not go well for you, then it's a medical problem, white or black.

But we live here in Ahwatukee, why would anyone here care about someone in some big city far away, or even across town, so how about this, if you don't care that the war on drugs unfairly targets minorities, maybe you do care about your hard earned tax money being wasted:

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/05/13/ap-impact-years-trillion-war-drugs-failed-meet-goals/

Seems that everything costs more these days, even the price of racism has gone up.

rick3390
rick3390

What exactly is a community leader and why are there no white community leaders? Why do we have black history month but no white history month? There are dozens of examples of somehow acceptable black racism against whites. Most racism today is perpetrated by blacks and perpetuated by black community leaders.

Chet
Chet

Wow, Rick, those are some pretty odd questions. Read a history book sometime. Learn about America.

How about I sum it up like this....if you were black, every time you looked at a dollar bill, you'd see a picture of a slave owner.

Every day in America is White Day, Rick. Every one who organized a Tea Party is a white community leader. Rush, Beck, and the rest are white community leaders.

Most racism today is perpetrated by ignorant people, Rick.

How about all of us White Folks in All-White-Tukee stop thinking we're experts on race in America?

Or at least stop posting ignorance on public websites.

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