Still Jim Crow: Blacks often barred from court juries in the South

Racism, Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, is “the hound from hell that dogs the tracks of civilization.” The truth of that adage is far less cruel in America today than it was when I was a kid in the 1950s. Younger people can only read about how bad it was in the segregationist South of half a century ago. The civil rights movement improved the situation in countless ways. But let’s not kid ourselves. There still are problems. Consider, for example, the situation with regard to criminal court juries in most Southern states. New research, as we see HERE, shows that blacks are more likely than whites to be excluded from juries: [A] groundbreaking new study absolutely confirms much of what we’ve believed to be true for decades about African Americans being denied a jury of their peers in districts all over the country. In Shreveport, Louisiana, where more black men  are being sent to death row than any single district in the country, district attorneys and prosecutors would routinely preemptively strike African Americans from juries at three times the rate of their white counterparts. For preemptive strikes, no rationale or reason is required. Similarly disturbing rates and practices were actually found throughout the American South in Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama. The impact is staggering and often means the difference between life and death for those on trial. Here are some reasons prosecutors have offered for excluding blacks from juries: They were young or old, single or divorced, religious or not, failed to make eye contact, lived in a poor part of town, had served in the military, had a hyphenated last name, displayed bad posture, were sullen, disrespectful or talkative, had long hair, wore a beard.  ...

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Seven days in June

One week ago today, the social and political buzz among Americans was focused mainly on Donald Trump’s announcement of his presidential candidacy and anticipation of an encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change. Otherwise, nothing terribly earth-shaking seemed to be going on. Nightfall, however, brought a tragedy, the aftermath of which is still reverberating in ways that could not have been predicted. A racist madman shot and killed nine especially fine people in an iconic black church in Charleston, S.C. — and America suddenly was changed, perhaps profoundly. Casual racism is now much less acceptable than it was a week ago. The Confederate cause in the Civil War is now more widely seen as ignoble. Southerners generally are now more circumspect in celebrating the traditions of their region. Politicians in general, and Republicans in particular, now seem a little more careful not to convey the wrong message in their evocations of the so-called good old days. America seems much different from what it was a week ago today. Whether this difference will endure remains to be seen. It’s up to us....

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Let’s put Obama’s public use of the N-word in context, shall we?

In a radio interview in the wake of last week’s tragedy in Charleston, S.C., President Obama said this: Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior. Predictably enough, some pathological Obamaphobes say the president’s public use of the N-word betrays him a racist in his own right. Consider, for example, THE REACTION from some guy at Right Wing News.com: So, now we have a president who is using this incendiary word in order to continue riling race-hate in this country? This kind of thing is so common among Obama’s wingnut critics. To hear them tell it, all the vile racism heaped on Obama since he first became a candidate for president eight years ago is own fault. Indeed, every problem America has faced in recent years is his fault — every last one of them, even the imaginary ones. But let’s put the president’s use of the N-word in  context. Clearly, he uttered that ugly word in a cautionary, disapproving sense. More to the point, he said that widespread disfavor for the N-word is not the only measure of whether racism still exists. I know lots of bigots who would never use the N-word but still harbor terribly racist views. Changes in vocabulary don’t always reflect changes in attitude. I expect that the next phase in this controversy will include right-wingers asking this question: “If he can use the N-word, why can’t I?” That’s how stupid some people are....

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I hate to say it, but expelling racist frat boys violates their rights to free speech

I don’t often agree with Eugene Volokh, but he’s RIGHT about the expulsion of several fraternity members allegedly involved in leading racist chants aboard a bus full of students at the University of Oklahoma: First, racist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions…The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise. (Snip) Likewise, speech doesn’t lose its constitutional protection just because it refers to violence — “You can hang him from a tree,” “the capitalists will be the first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes,” “by any means necessary” with pictures of guns, “apostates from Islam should be killed.” 3. To be sure, in specific situations, such speech might fall within a First Amendment exception. One example is if it is likely to be perceived as a “true threat” of violence (e.g., saying “apostates from Islam will be killed” or “we’ll hang you from a tree” to a particular person who will likely perceive it as expressing the speaker’s intention to kill him); but that’s not the situation here....

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Seventy-five years ago today, Hollywood released a racist masterpiece

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are as many ways of interpreting the movie “Gone With The Wind” as there have been occasions on which I’ve seen it — which is to say many, many ways. Jimmy Carter, a native of the state in which the movie is set, once said the release of “Gone With The Wind” on this date in 1939 was “the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime.” One could argue with Carter on that point — the Supreme Court’s school-desegration ruling of 1954, among other events,  comes to mind — but I won’t.  As a piece of cultural apologia for the ways and mores of antebellum Dixie, the movie was a monument. At the start of the film, this passage from Margaret Mitchell’s book of the same title rolls by: There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind… I had seen saw “Gone With The Wind” several times before I had reached an age when my social consciousness had been raised, and I always considered it a masterpiece. I still think of it that way. As Stephen Marche of  Esquire magazine put it recently, “It remains, beyond any doubt, the single most influential film ever made.” But I, like countless other viewers around the world, have long since come to recognize the film’s racism. I needn’t itemize here all the overwhelming evidence supporting this claim. A Google search will bring you mountains of examples. Better yet, watch the movie again — and pay special attention to how the black characters invariably are depicted as stereotypes. Notice how the slaves at Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation are docile and contented. One of the great ironies of “Gone With The Wind” is that the black actors who appeared in the film were barred from attending the premiere at a theater in Atlanta. None of them were mentioned the souvenir program, and all of them were excluded from advertisements for the film in the...

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