Thursday, April 16, 2015

Being Fitted For White Sheets

It should be difficult to criticize someone who, appalled at the killing of a suspect by a volunteer Sheriff's Deputy in Tulsa, recognizes "these forms of neoliberal policing — in which private citizens and private monies impact the culture of policing but escape governmental checks and balances — endanger us all."

But it's not difficult when it's Brittney Cooper, whose Salon mini-bio informs us teaches "Women's and Gender Studies" and "Africana Studies" at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ).  God help her students.

"Why is the refusal of breath to Black people endemic to the American condition," she asks rhetorically, posing a question with no answer, given that the pretext to the question is false. She continues "What about the Black body makes the life-breath that we all hold so dear — so sacred — such a profane and devalued thing in the hands of white people," and I resist the temptation to arrest, indict, and prosecute myself on the charge of being a white person. (Fortunately, there is no capital punishment in New Jersey.)

When she charges "The fact that white men can sign up with government approval for the right to play cops and robbers on the weekends is appalling,"  she is conflating race with the practice of making significant contributions to the election of a sheriff, then to arming the latter's department. Were a black man to give to the campaign, he, too, probably would have been afforded privileges other people aren't. (Generally less well-off, blacks would be less likely to contribute, reflecting the privilege of class, a factor Cooper seems never to have picked up on.)

Reading "His breath seeped out of his Black body as public service officers taunted him in a barrage of profanity," one is tempted to ask why our sympathy is commanded only because of the race of the victim, but then one remembers this is Brittney Cooper, for whom such a diatribe is routine.

The hostility toward individuals who are not black mirrors that toward police whom, she maintains, "we all watch as" they "and the state communicate their clear disregard for the value of Black life" (all police, apparently).  She claims there is a "systemic disregard that police regularly show to Black people in America" and believes "police complicity and participation in lynchings and in the KKK make that clear," without noticing what occurred in the south during the pre-civil rights era may no longer apply.

This vendetta would be almost tolerable were it accompanied by an understanding of law enforcement in the nation.  Cooper slams "the supposed lack of control of working-class Black and Brown people (which) justifies the stultifying overpolicing of our communities." Cooper (wisely) avoids specific details, in this case what black communities are subject to "overpolicing."

If Cooper believes that poor black communities receive disproportionate attention from law enforcement, she really has to get out more often.  Far too frequently, police departments focus their attention on the downtown and affluent residential neighborhoods rather than the neighborhoods in greater need.  Much of this emphasis derives from class considerations, the concept which consistently is absent from a Cooper analysis.

The Rutgers academic argues the "life breath" of "the black body" is "such a profane and devalued thing in the hands of white people." Understandably, Cooper cites the shooting of a black male by police in Tulsa, Charleston, S.C., Cleveland, Staten Island, NY and Chicago. She does not, perhaps as understandably, cite the shooting death of a young black male by police a mere 100 miles from her job, captured on video:

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