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The truth of Rodney King.

April 17, 1993, and a Federal jury has found two Los Angeles policemen guilty in the beating of Rodney King twenty-five months ago. This same jury found the other two police defendants not guilty. And, immediately, attorneys for the convicted have declared their intention to appeal. So, today, there is less than a full-fledged national disgrace recurring in Los Angeles.

But we would be ill-advised to assume that even this partial delivery of justice will stand. And we would be oblivious to brutal colonial attitudes if we did not note and decry that the overwhelming state response to the first miscarriage of justice has been paramilitary, at best. There has been no top priority of focus and think-tank frenzy to relieve the beleaguered citizens of South Central Los Angeles with money and programs that could lift them out of the violence of poverty and the violence of unequal protection under the law.

Nothing basic has changed. And so my spirit remains riveted, still, with grief and misgivings, to one year ago: On April 29, 1992, the whole world learned of the Simi Valley verdict of "not guilty" in the first trial of the Los Angeles policemen accused of brutally beating an unarmed African-American man named Rodney King.

My own initial reaction to this terrible and completely shocking news was to burst into tears of bitterness and terror: In my lifetime, will violence ever be made to stop inside the national black community? In my lifetime, will the American system of justice ever deliver anything besides injustice to the black community?

Because there had been a videotape documentary of the police assault on Rodney King, I had expected, along with millions of other African-Americans, that for once the guilty would be punished and the victim would be protected by due process under the law. But the visual documentary evidence of unlawful police violence - evidence that was sickening to watch even at the remove of a TV set - that evidence did not carry the day. Racism carried the day.

According to a defense attorney, hideous, monster images of black men as wild and depraved subhuman creatures motivated Los Angeles police to attack one unarmed African-American man with nauseating and relentless savagery.

And where did the police acquire such racist images?

Is it not the case that American media coverage of young black men promotes such violent, such vicious fantasy?

Is it not the case that, as Malcolm X observed, media coverage of blackfolks serves to criminalize the black community in the minds of white America and, having criminalized our community, police violence against our communities appears justified and necessary to most Americans?

Is it not the case that the lamentable nature of our usual school curriculum is such that most white Americans, most Asian-Americans, most Latino-Americans, and even a sadly significant number of African-Americans, ourselves, do not learn anything important and accurate about African-American history, or culture, and so in the absence of coherent, valid, historical instruction, all of these various Americans accept the cultural perversities of media coverage as objective, reliable, and truthful information?

It was that very same one unarmed African-American man, Rodney King, the victim of inarguable and unlawful police savagery, it was he who said through the microphones of the press that rushed to cover the L.A. uprising against the injustice of the Simi Valley verdict, "Please can we get along here. . . . We all can get along. I mean, we're all stuck here for a while. Let's try to work it out."

These were the words of the black man who, allegedly, so terrified the L.A. police that they could not help but beat and stomp him almost to death. You would think that, perhaps, the truth of his being that spoke to his countrymen beginning with the word "please" might well explode and exorcise the racist fantasies and misinformation and ignorance that underlay the police assault upon his defenseless body.

But that would be a woeful underestimation of the racist nature of Rodney King's predicament. That would be a willful blindness to the racist nature of the national response to the L.A. uprising against the depravity of judgment that led to the "not guilty" verdict in the first trial.

The truth of Rodney King and the truth of African America is not anything that racist America intends to allow, or learn, or teach, or protect.

The truth of Rodney King and the truth of African America is an integral part of the truth of the emerging new majority of these United States: a majority that is neither white nor necessarily English speaking. In less than sixty years, most Americans will be descendants of the peoples of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Hispanic world, and Arabia, not Europe.

Where is the public-school curriculum that is ready to teach all of these new Americans what they need and deserve to know about themselves, and about each other?

How can anybody justify compulsory public schooling and yet deny the racial and ethnic reality of the students compelled to sit inside our classrooms?

Despite media coverage of the L.A. uprising, it is a fact that most of the people arrested were Hispanic, not black. Forty per cent of businesses destroyed were Hispanic, and most of the rest of the businesses destroyed were owned by Korean-Americans.

Where is the public school curriculum that is ready to teach these three communities - African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latino-Americans-how our histories intersect and how our bound-together destinies depend upon our ignorance or our knowledge of our connections: our common oppressor, as Malcolm X would put it?

If we could gather together the political force of African- and Asian- and Latino-American communities, if we could coalesce these peoples into one lobby for educational reform, a national housing program, and job training for jobs that exist, we could empower the numerical new majority of Americans and become the political new majority.

Since 1970, twenty million Asians and Latinos have emigrated to America. But, so far, the necessary American redefinition of race and the necessary American revolution of public education in America - a redefinition and a revolution required by this enormous infusion of new, non-European human life into our mainstream - so far these transformations have not happened. And so far these communities have competed and contended for a pitiful slice of leftover pie. Coalitions have yet to come together.

And so I would like to respond to Rodney King. I would like to say, yes, we can all get along - but first we will have to coalesce in order to enlarge that pitiful slice into a whole. big. massive pie. And second, we will have to coalesce in order to secure the revolution of America's public schools so that the faces and the names and the languages of our children demand that we change the meaning of "we" and that justice and equality in the courtroom, in the streets, on the job, and in the classroom are, as Martin Luther King Jr. would say, the best guarantors - the only guarantors - of our "getting along."

First, let me deal with the pie:

In Ron Takaki's brilliant forthcoming book, A Different Mirror, he cites these lines written by a Japanese immigrant describing a lesson learned by Mexican and Asian farm laborers in California: "People harvesting work together unaware of racial problems." But as we know only too well. since 1970 there has been less and less to harvest, here in America.

Since 1970, we have had to survive a calculated Federal withering of every program capable of ending poverty, or mitigating the misery of poverty. Since 1970. we have been forced to survive huge Federal cuts in aid to our cities, cuts in public education, cuts in the care of the sick, cuts in drug rehabilitation. And we have had to survive the massive deterioration of our bridges and our roadways and our public facilities even as we have had to survive the massive deterioration of the best hopes of our young people and the massive deterioration of our economy as a means of support and purpose and security for our American lives.

Those twenty million new Americans who arrived from 1970 onward came here from Mexico and from El Salvador and from Vietnam and from Korea and from Japan because, just like the Seventeenth Century pilgrims, they were desperate for a better life. But they arrived just as an official white backlash against African-Americans was going into high, inhuman gear.

And so these past two decades have seen an enormous swelling of citizen need coincident with an entirely cruel, shortsighted, unjust, and always racist construction of citizen opportunities and citizen entitlement.

This is why there is just a leftover pie.

Secondly, we will have to coalesce in order to secure the revolution of America's public schools. We must demand recognition of the faces and the names and the languages of our culture. Those of us who have been designated for so long as special interest/fringe group/minorities - we have the happiness now of realizing that we have become the mainstream; we are the people.

We: African-Americans and Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans and Native Americans and Pacific Islanders and Arab-Americans and women and gay Americans and lesbian Americans and Americans with disabilities - that is the new American meaning of "we," that is the de facto coalition that put Bill Clinton into the White House. We constitute a de facto coalition responsible for electing the current President of these United States.

We are truly powerful! And now we must move from de facto coalition to selfconscious, aggressively activist coalition and take over the classrooms and take over the American core curriculum of public education.

This means, for one thing, that we must laugh or fight the so-called controversy over so-called politically correct instruction out of our lives.

And if we could provide these new Asian and Latino-Americans with the accurate and coherent historical information that they need - if we could properly educate these new Americans, then they would know, for example, that their own heartbreak predicament of rejection and hate crime and taxation without representation and poverty and startlingly high rates of tuberculosis and suicide - their newfound American predicament - directly derives from the ongoing, hateful predicament of African-Americans against whom racist white America raised a Federal backlash meant to whip blackfolks into invisibility and silent suffering.

And if we could provide African-Americans with the accurate and coherent historical information that they need, then African-Americans would understand the completely legitimate, kindred aspirations of these new immigrants, understand the persecuted histories their emigration bespeaks, and understand our heavy, real connections to these new Americans.

But can we provide such an education?

I say we must. And I say we can, absolutely.

We must organize the parents of our students. We must teach the parents of our students so that they will join hands with us to defeat every single so-called "school voucher" proposal that comes up - wherever it comes up!

We must organize and teach the parents of our students what that school-voucher brainstorm is all about. We must make it unmistakably clear that the idea behind that brainstorm is this: Since the American public is changing so that the so-called minorities now constitute the majority population in our public schools, it is time to eviscerate public education in order to protect the new white minority of Americans: Take away the money, and we will have to close the schools and/or close the libraries and/or use completely obsolete and indefensible textbooks and/or crowd the classrooms so that teachers must resign for the sake of their sanity.

When public education served the powerful. it was compulsory, and money flowed into the coffers of our schools. Now that public education must challenge and displace the currently powerful - or else betray its obligations to its new American clients - the currently powerful oppose and seek to weaken and to destroy the validity of public schools on which the overwhelming majority of young Americans must rely for their empowerment.

Today we have California Governor Pete Wilson saying ridiculous things like, we must increase community college tuition by 300 per cent. Today we see teachers in Los Angeles bullied into a so-called vote about whether to take a 10 per cent cut or lose their jobs altogether. That, I submit, is not a vote, not a choice. That is a shameful episode in our state and in our country.

We must reject outright any and all pay cuts for teachers. Let's get serious about who is doing the work. Let the members of Congress and the governors and the chancellors and the football coaches - let them take a 50 per cent pay cut!

It is lunatic to ask of teachers any further sacrifice. It is lunatic to tolerate any further erosion of the well-being and capability of our public education system in America.

Just as President Clinton recently pledged $17 billion in new money to the high-tech industry, he needs to commit an additional $20 billion to the industry of public education.

Yes, but where is the money to come from? President Clinton has said that there are no sacred cows in his budget. But I beg to differ:

The 1992 Defense Department received $307 billion of our money. That's 20 per cent of the total budget. And the $307 billion stipulated does not even include veterans' benefits.

And what about education?

The 1992 U.S. budget allocated $45 billion to education - and job training, too, that is.

I say there is a sacred cow in the picture.

A B-2 bomber costs $2 billion - each. Let's have a B-2 bomber for the public school system of every single city in America: $20 billion in additional money for education would mean only ten fewer B-2 bombers on the runway to nowhere.

President Clinton has said it is time to invest in America. I agree, completely. Which is the better investment: ten B-2 bombers, or $20 billion in additional money, our money, for the physical refurbishment and democratic reform and academic revolution of American education?

At this point we put 20 per cent of our total budget into bomber planes and missiles while Germany and Japan put 5 per cent of their respective budgets into "defense." Where is the mystery of our inability to compete?

The Cold War is over, the Berlin Wall is down. What the hell are we defending against?

We need to call our own Senators and Representatives. We need to call Ron Dellums, who now chairs the House Armed Services Committee. We need to call Bill and Hillary Clinton and tell them to cook that sacred cow. We are starving out here!

Now, supposing we get a B-2 bomber for every public school system of every city in America. That's $2 billion a pop.

Then supposing we use that money to duly remunerate American teachers of American children so that, at last, our teachers receive the financial and social respect they deserve - as the literal, designated mentors for our national destiny.

And supposing that we succeed in transforming ourselves in our minds and in our deeds from minority and special or fringe-group members into an aggressive majority coalition of Americans determined to get real about this new America in our hands - and in our classrooms.

And supposing we successfully devise a core curriculum that includes the whole world and all of America rather than something else - something quite familiar and dangerous and useless and wrong.

And supposing then that we learn what we need to learn in order to teach our students about themselves - that is to say, teach them about American diversity that is the beginning and the test-ending truth of these United States.

Then, can we all get along?

In Martin Luther King's essay, " A Testament of Hope," which was published after his assassination, he wrote:

"When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care - each is a bitter component of the oppression that has been our heritage. Each will require billions of dollars to correct. Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost for this society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms. This fact has not been grasped, because most of the gains of the past decade were obtained at bargain prices. The desegregation of public housing cost nothing; neither did the election and appointment of a few black public officials. . . . "The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws-racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. . . . It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be forced."

I propose that we begin by facing the political nature of education, the political nature of knowledge, and our collective power to change what our children know about themselves and about each other so that we can get along with the business of saving the world for human life.

I propose that we underscore to ourselves and to our elected representatives and to our students and to our civilian police force that the achievement of a great society depends upon securing justice and equality for all of its citizens.

I propose that we redesign our political and our academic and our social lives so that we can finally answer that one unarmed African-American man, Rodney King, saying to him, well, yes, we can all get along as soon as we take care of some serious business - on your behalf and mine, and ours.

We have to join with every American who would love justice and equality more than a law-and-order status quo of hidden but combustible inequities and chasmic. silent suffering.

And, then, yes, we can all get along.

Yes, please God: I believe we can.
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Author:Jordan, June
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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