The Old Normal

Changing the underlying racism

“Safe” at home, I’ve been watching a pandemic, wrapped in a depression, with tales told by an idiot genius, hoping things will return to a new normal. 

Except the old normal wasn’t or isn’t so great for a lot of people. To be sure, this isn’t the first pandemic to strike this continent. The common cold, flu, syphilis, gonorrhea, smallpox, devastated Indigenous populations.  

Healthy doses of the memes justifying colonialism, and white supremacist Manifest Destiny, accompanied the germs, and helped establishing endemic underlying conditions of a new normal. Intersectional discrimination became the new normal. Primary symptom of this infection is an inability to remember what came before, especially that which you are doomed to repeat.

Recalling the ’92 Rebellion in Los Angeles (riots are spontaneous, rebellions are planned), two-thirds of the arrestees were not Black. Meaning, more people are suffering American inequities than Black people, though we are a sort of very visible indicator species. What was once done to us because of race is now being done to others for the money. Dogs and firehoses in the ’50s turn to peppergas, bean bag rounds and drone surveillance in the 21st century.

 Even in Eugene, where the white anarchists, white supremacists, white vandals outnumber the BIPOC peaceful protesters, that seems to reflect a national trend. 

What happened to Rodney King was a well known, commonplace experience in communities of color. So, nobody believes us, until a white man video tapes the beating? 

Still the cops are acquitted, because “Strange Fruit” is always in season, not just in the South. Training officer Derek Chauvin, even while being videotaped using a known kill move on a suspected fake $20 bill passer, didn’t feel there were going to be any negative consequences for his actions, even lying on his report of the incident. He was setting an example for the cops of color, witnessing George Floyd’s death: This is the expected behavior because the only color you need to see is blue.

While I am heartened by the condemnation by the law enforcement and legal community, I am sobered by my long career as a mandatory reporter. How do you abolish the police, and still provide protection for kids facing sex slavery, child abuse and other common horrors?

I’m not aware of any civilization reaching our level of urban complexity that hasn’t had somebody enforcing the behavioral norms of society, especially when those norms were unjust. 

When it was the law that it was illegal for people of color to be on Eugene streets after dark, because it was also illegal for them to live within the city limits, I’m sure the cops, sheriffs, banks, chamber of commerce and many citizens enforced those behavioral and legal norms. The resulting low ethnic minorities in the city, state and county was an intentional feature of the permanence of racism. So breaking the windows of businesses does nothing to dissolve the bedrock of systemic discrimination.

Renaming Deady Hall, by itself, does nothing to the curriculum taught inside those walls nor racist attitudes of math teachers. No more than tearing down the Pioneer statuary changes neither the urbane, nor the bucolic expressions and manifestations of institutional racism within the university, or the city, county and state within which it resides.  

It’s progress to switch the name of a dorm, from Eugene Klan #3 Exalted Cyclops Frederick Dunn, to Black Architect DeNorval Unthank, and I supported that. 

But Dee’s future wife had a cross burned in front of her sorority and was ejected from that sorority because she was dating a Black man. Her ejection was supported by a woman whose family name graces another prominent building at the University of Oregon.  

I wish the Math Department in Deady Hall could find a way to mathematically measure, therefore predict, the degree of racist meme infection, a sort of memetic viral load, to assess the degree of feverish delusional supremacy someone labors under. Apply quarantine, isolation, social distancing, before they infect others with their deadly strain. 

Perhaps they could partner with the Psychology Department, which could be part of the movement within that field to declare how racism might affect and infect people emotionally and psychologically: ethnic identity dysphoria. Devise at least a talking cure.

The utility of such mathematical precision and psychological healing could be useful to prevent needless injury and death. What strain of racist meme infected Dylan Roof to commit racist mass murder in a church, and then have the arresting officers take him to Burger King on the way to jail?

What strain prevented officers from simply taking a drunk Black man home, to sleep it off, rather than illegally shooting him in the back when he ran away, still drunk, in fear, apparently justifiably so? What anti-racist vaccine can increase our common humanity, and compassion, and help reduce the impact of the disasters we find ourselves in. I think I remember the cure.

Mark Harris is retired from 27 years at LCC, teaching addiction studies, ethnic studies, and cultural competency and is now privately counseling and consulting through:

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