Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 1-2015, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

The Case of Ferguson
Racism in the USA — where it comes from and why it won’t go away

1. Mass protests in the USA: What they are against and what they reveal

In the USA, crowds of people gather across the country to demonstrate against racism and the use of force by police. Their anger is directed against police who regularly shoot or in some other way kill Blacks and against a justice system that just as regularly gives its approval to the deaths as a product of the lawful performance of police duties.[1] The protests were directly provoked by the shooting of an unarmed youth in the small city of Ferguson, Missouri. But as the demonstrations show, the list of such incidents is quite long.[2] It is evidently a normal part of the service to law and order for America’s police to act with a firearm on their suspicion of unlawful intentions on the part of a person they encounter — in good conscience, apparently. And it also seems to be normal that this suspicion is always linked with the circumstance that the suspect is a Black man — all according to the equation, “young, Black, male = suspicious.” And not only the police proceed in this way: in 2012 following the same logic, a good American citizen shot the Black youth Trayvon Martin, who was hanging around a “white” residential area at night. He was out of place there, hence bound to be up to no good, and shot. And rightly so, as the courts confirmed.

This logic apparently also makes just as much sense to the legal system: as a general rule, official as well as self-appointed guardians of law and order are allowed to have acted in “self-defense” or in response to a “subjectively perceived threat.”[3] In this way, the police and judiciary duly corroborate that the customs established at the governmental level and present in the everyday practices of American citizens ensure that a significant number of American citizens have every reason to fear for their lives any time they encounter law enforcement.

Against all this, the protesting masses chant, “Enough is enough!” In slogans such as “Black lives matter!”, “I can’t breathe!”, “Justice now!”, “Fuck the police!”, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”, and “Poverty is Black!”, they make it known that they by no means intend to let such incidents be dismissed as individual misconduct by police or members of the judiciary. They diagnose a system in the actions of government agencies. They call this “institutional racism,” by which they mean a deep-seated disrespect of Blacks practiced by those who wield state force, a quite fundamental nonrecognition of their basic right to life. The protesters discover this disrespect not only in the behavior of the police and judiciary, but often also in the material conditions in which Blacks eke out their living. Of course it is obvious that Americans of darker skin color are disproportionately affected by wretched living conditions and state use of force, starting with their percentage in the lower ranks of the poverty statistics and in the upper ranks of the unemployment statistics, through the lousy quality of their neighborhoods including schools and hospitals, up to harassment by police patrols and the outsize number of Black prisoners.

But for all protestation about the systemic character of the racism that Blacks get to experience in the form of their brutal treatment by the police and judiciary as well as their shabby living conditions, this is not a finding about the American system itself — about the principles of the state and the economy it governs. On the contrary, when the protesters talk about a racist “system,” they are talking about something more like the superlative form of the reproach that those responsible in the state and in the economy are just not acting in conformity with the system, but instead are guilty of sheer deviations from the system enshrined and promised in the American constitution. All this racism could not possibly have anything to do with “liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.” However extensive and even systematic the deviations may be, they are not, for the protesters, actually inherent to the American way of life. In this way, what prevails in the condemnation of the political and economic conditions is a rather affirmative prejudice about the principles that the real conditions in America should actually have to correspond to under the constitution. A certain Jamelia from New York — on behalf of the rest of the protesters — spoke accordingly:

“‘America is supposed to value all of its citizens. We’re supposed to have justice for all, But clearly that’s not what’s going on. So we have to fight for what's right.’ Added another, ‘It just seems like the cops are Teflon. There's no justice.’” (CBS News, December 13, 2014)

Against the widespread disregard of these principles, the protestors resolutely take to the streets in numbers. Though they clash more or less violently with a heavily armed police, they are preaching to the converted with the principles they invoke as far as the representatives of the authorities are concerned. After all, both sides agree that ethnic identity rightly plays a huge part in American society and politics. No one is making the case that it simply doesn’t — or shouldn’t — matter that as an American one is also “African-American,” “Latino”, “Asian,” or “white.” Everyone finds it not only normal, but also absolutely okay if the president’s rise to the highest office in the nation is celebrated by Black ghetto dwellers with whom he has nothing in common except ethnic classification. In the American view, this only proves just how far a member of the “Black ethnic group” can now go in the USA. Nobody finds it objectionable when politicians on the campaign trail seek the “Latino vote” or the “African-American vote,” i.e., address people as members of an ethnically defined “community” to whose particular interests they vow to give priority attention as office holders. Regarding and treating people in terms of their race like this is seen to have nothing to do with racism, as if ethnic characteristics could be appropriately taken into account without there being such a thing as unequal treatment. For all sides, ethnic distinction is fully consistent with America's highest principles of all citizens being free and equal.

None of the parties involved wants to let it be said that they have violated these high principles. Even and especially representatives of the police and the courts emphatically deny acting and judging with an eye toward the skin color of those affected. All leading authorities avow that racism does not fit with America and therefore should not be; all officials protest that they would never ever accept aspects of racial sorting in their decision making. In the free market economy, too, every suspicion of racism is vehemently rejected. Large companies avow that they intend to ban every element of possible “racial discrimination” from their personnel policy and enact codes of conduct relating to this for their decision makers.

If, however, all the leading authorities assert that they at least are not doing anything racist, and everyone agrees that racism is not right: why then is it so persistent?

2. Competing for money as a life principle and moral guideline

All sides in the debate are certain of one thing: as free citizens to whom what matters is making it in this country, all Americans are equal. Skin color and ancestry play no part in the legal treatment and moral assessment of people. The only thing that counts is their willingness to plunge into the fray of free competition and succeed there; according to the self-image of all good Americans, that constitutes their quite special national identity. Pursuing one’s own private interests in the competition for money is at the same time not only supposed to constitute the defining essence of the free American, but that of man in general. According to the ever-present founding legend of this nation, freedom-loving people of all countries come together in America in a community beyond “color and creed”; their shared identity, their commonality and unity, lies — quite beyond any primordial confinement to soil, region, and former national affiliation — in an identical will to pursue their private happiness. And there is some partial truth to the legend: the USA does not acknowledge any relation between a specific, ethnically or historically based “nature” of America’s population and the national community they belong to as a people. When an immigrant from wherever is first officially allowed into the country, he is then one of the “free” and defined by his will to face the challenges of the competition for life’s opportunities and to prove himself in it.

This proving oneself — Americans do not fool themselves much about this — is a tough thing. The pursuit of the quite private materialism that unites Americans is one, big system of antagonisms, i.e., a less than cozy affair. In this system, the constant struggle of each against all for money is the elementary, solely authorized means of material existence; and this guarantees that any condition of life one can reach is fundamentally insecure. Why it is that the struggle for existence never ceases and brings forth the most abject poverty alongside immense wealth; what that has to do with the purpose of increasing private money wealth — this does not interest the hardworking American, if only because he’s far too busy trying to secure his share of this wealth. It is a lot to do: he has to gird himself for the climb and against the fall and see to it that he ranks among the winners. Positions of economic power — disposal over or access to sources of money — have to be attained against others, onesided dependencies created and permanently maintained. And this applies not only in economic competition but also in the spheres of law and politics. The fact that large financial assets are employed in these spheres, but can also be acquired there, goes along with acquiring and exercising public office — not to mention the notorious permanent war between cunning lawyers over their own competitive success and over that of their clients. Of course, those who make out best in competition are those who enter it with a large fortune; those who have nothing but their ability to work as a source of money have to sweat away quite differently. The acquired rights one already has in the matter of earning money are always the best means for obtaining more, by using them against others.[4] In this way, competition plays out quite appropriately as one, big process for producing, utilizing, and securing differences between all parties — regarding the means one can amass against others, as well as the material results each so gains for himself.

But none of this spoils the egalitarianism of the American nation: everyone is equally authorized to compete for opportunities in life. Anyone who makes it in this way is then a “self-made man,” and anyone who does not make it after a second chance is no doubt a “loser.” After all, for everyone involved, it’s a foregone conclusion that who racks up a positive result in competition and who ends up one of its victims depends to no small degree upon how determined one is to stand up to it. So in the case of success, everyone may justifiably regard the result of his exertions as his own achievement; failure has to be correspondingly chalked up to one’s own shortcomings. What the individual then has does not therefore simply consist of a base, material return on his exertions. He has “made something of himself.” As evidenced by the attained material means, he has gained status in matters of respect and recognition — or not. This is how the results of material success coincide with the moral valuation of those who “worked hard” for it. So seriously do good Americans take the self-deception that forms the basis of their community — that the will to compete creates their society — that they flat out celebrate the personified materialization of their common moral code in the economic success of one of their own. So that an American also has no problem holding the opposite thought: it is very much a question if those he has identified as “losers” — whether they be homeless, “white trash,” or Black ghetto dwellers — are real Americans.

3. “Communities”: The free individual builds himself a home, and in that he has the support of the authorities

Free competition runs riot in this way, and the vast majority of the inhabitants of the USA go around competing not only with their American-style individual-freedom nature, but at the same time as members of some ethnic and/or religious group that they quite self-assuredly class themselves with. For all the effects of the American “melting pot,” the ethnic and religious communities originally formed by immigrants have not dissolved into a loose jumble of purely free-floating individuals, even after more than two hundred years. The freest of all countries still presents itself as a collection of parallel societies; and nobody discovers in this a contradiction to the individualism of free competition. And rightly so, since just because what matters is securing a livelihood in a world in which this livelihood is constantly contested, the rejection of old family-, friendship-, or clan-relationships that every immigrant to the United States in substance expresses was, and is, always only half the truth. In the new homeland, in the free and equal struggle for money, such communities became important and become important once again. Ethnic communities still play a crucial role in this struggle — originally because of the common tongue: they are first and foremost benevolent societies for finding one’s way and getting ahead in the world of competing; they offer their members support, assisting them with careers and, in case of losses, with funds; and they organize the satisfaction of basic necessities of life that the individual would not get hold of by himself. They are at the same time levers used in competition to secure advantages to one’s own society against others. Finally, they are for many the place where the purpose of the whole business is realized: the extended family unit and nexus of private life where one belongs and is rooted. This is how a good American builds himself his home, in which and for which his own existence as a competitor has an ultimate reason he can believe in. The especially American attachment to the home often includes the organized cultivation of a completely distinctive ethnic or religious identity, out of which one is then completely American, unconditionally — if not in the form of the actual life nexus, then still in large family gatherings, genealogy, and the cultivation of one’s own “roots.” In this way, one supplements the struggle for survival not simply with a realm of private freedom; one looks for it in — of all places — the idea of a belonging that lies beyond any free decision, a belonging for which and in which one ultimately lives and works.

These communities, as crucial social units, are the object and target of state policy, and themselves are involved in the political life of the country. In the fight for offices and power, the parties refer to the specific concerns and complaints of the various communities, even often launching their candidates for elective office as whites, African-Americans, or Hispanics. Seeking votes, the candidates promote themselves as authentic representatives — because they are genuine members — of the interests of their respective ethnic group. This is how voters are addressed as members of their respective ethnic group and courted as suppliers of votes. During and after the election, therefore, and also in the voting statistics, how well which party has managed to attract which ethnic group to its side is recorded and neatly documented according to ethnicity.[5] This competition also includes the victorious party’s use of the power to define electoral districts so that the votes of members of certain communities are diluted as much as possible. Finally, there is a prevalent, unwritten law that the communities make use of their power in the state as a means to secure advantages in the competition over appointments and sources of money — e.g., when a Latino mayor awards municipal construction contracts to his pals, or the Irish clan makes a priority of reserving police service as its domain in the American East Coast states.

The state relates fundamentally affirmatively to the self-sorting of its people along ethnic or religious perspectives: it is committed to seeing that their members enjoy the right of equal participation in the political, social, and economic life of the country. This is how the state takes into account the impact of communities in the competition for money and power, namely, in the light of the danger that in this competition the members of one or another ethnic group are unfairly rode roughshod over — whether it occurs in electoral districting, in access to public services such as hospitals or local transport, but especially in regard to jobs. It obligates itself — and the companies that seek government contracts — to fill jobs in an ethnically neutral manner: an applicant’s affiliation with an ethnic group may not count either for or against him.[6] The state officially recognizes that its citizens ethnically sort themselves out and stick together in order to cope with competition; what is not recognized is the consequence of competing, that whole sections of its citizens come off badly. The state sees this as a violation of equal opportunities through an improper presorting of the equal and free competitors. To correct such results of a competition deemed “unfair,” it then concerns itself with its citizens in their particularity as an ethnic group. In this way, the state adds its bit to the emergence, from the ethnic sorting of its population, of a social and economic status: a conglomerate of real and notional benefits that every community is entitled to.[7]]

As if capitalism were the great equalizer! In the techniques the communities in the U.S. come up with to secure sources of money and privileges against others; in the relentlessness with which they insist they and not others are entitled to such privileges due to their special qualities — in all that, the principle of all capitalistic competing can be seen instead: the creating and emphasizing of differences in oneself and others that can be utilized as sources of money against competitors. These differences then also rightfully serve as evidence for why the various communities have gone as far as they have. The respect that one’s own ethnic society can credit itself with for competing successfully; the living conditions and opportunities for success it can offer its members on average — all this not only makes a significant material difference as a plus or minus. It belongs to them at the same time as their specific social character. The most striking example of what all that includes, and how much, is given by Blacks in America.

4. African-Americans: the somewhat different lower class

African-Americans, too, are equally entitled to participate in the market-based competition for money and the economic power connected with it — and the vast majority of them notoriously find themselves way down in the hierarchy of income. This is not due to a lack of willingness to prove themselves in this competition and if possible to advance in it. For all the pathos to the “unlimited possibilities” the land of the free offers equally to its inhabitants, success in this egalitarian competition takes quite a bit more than resolving to want it and putting one’s shoulder to the wheel. In that respect, the substance of free competition makes itself felt in the very fundamental distinction of whether one has means to make others compete for one’s own benefit, or whether, absent one’s own suitable means, one must compete to prove oneself as a means for others’ benefit. Someone who offers nothing of economic significance on the free market except his good intentions remains on the shady side of the great wall between winners and losers.

Hence not a few members of the Black communities are busy with a daily struggle for survival — and at the same time are faced with a legal system that opens no legal way for them to get by, but instead confronts them purely as an instrument of exclusion from the material wealth they are dependent on and that is plentifully available for money. In the “land of opportunity,” that includes the necessity of finding and seizing the corresponding opportunities to earn money that lie on and/or beyond the fringes of illegality. For some, the capitalistic promise, “risk brings profit” lies here in the risk of illegal businesses with their splendid profit prospects; for most, this means an alternatively simple struggle for survival.

In the poor, Black communities, the opposing virtues of getting by and self-assertion compete accordingly. For the most part — just like in all other poorer communities — the virtue of decency is as much practiced as celebrated in the struggle for low-wage jobs: one takes the work one can get, and turns a forced modesty in matters of pay and performance into an attitude of proud integrity. All this is combined with resignation regarding one’s chances of success, as well as some insistence on the resolve to simply keep going on with head held high and within the scope of what is permitted. In this section of the market-economy idyll, another virtue of competition also flourishes and is bestowed with the highest level of respect in the bourgeois world: solidarity, sticking together and persevering in the midst of a hostile world. Neighbors stick together, standing by to help each other in need; and because this need is very general among them, their solidarity plays itself out as the redistribution of extremely scanty means, which all the more increases their moral worth — especially in the view of their pastors. The morality of getting by as African-Americans includes not least cultivating a variant of the Christian faith that stresses the saving (i.e., the meaning- and hope-giving) powers of God in a terrible and terribly unjust world — for which this community finds some recognition even and especially in mainstream America and Hollywood. In addition — for a minority far more prominent in public awareness — the need to carry on the “pursuit of happiness” outside the law is stylized into a quite distinctive “way of life”: into a craftiness in the struggle for survival of the toughest kind, outside the state’s monopoly on force and against its enforcement. The poor living conditions into which capitalist competition dumps people are readily interpreted as an injustice; so in these circles, what the state punishes as “excessive criminality” is regarded as a legitimate, or in any case understandable method of getting something at all.[8] But much to the regret of the well-behaved Black majority, it does not stop with this rather defensive morality. In the Black community of poverty, a morality — even more prominent in public consciousness — has carved a niche for itself that carries the American dream to the ghettos and gives it a correspondingly rougher form. What holds sway there is the maxim that, even outside the official world of competition, one can not only have success, but can also celebrate it as an emanation of one’s own character. So, in the midst of the poor suburbs and “inner cities,” the mainstream virtues come into their own, only in a somewhat tougher form: the famous “gangs,” which with illegal businesses of all kinds organize the survival of their members with utmost brutality against their peers, considering themselves at the same time as families that demand unconditional commitment from their members, which includes the willingness to die for the greater cause especially because it is a question of defending the “’hood” against constant threats by other “gangs.” And in so-called “gangsta rap” — for several decades the musical and fashion export hit from the United States — success in the age-old bourgeois pursuit of money, power, and sex, relevant even in the ghetto, is staged in exaggerated form. The will to compete is thus also not in short supply here — the only thing lacking is respect for the law that obstructs its success in the normal ways and very aggressively confronts this will with its armed guardians.

The mixture of economic situation, community building, particular customs including bad habits and moral self-awareness, the image the community presents, and finally the image the rest of society forms of their Black, fellow citizens, has its consequences. First and foremost is the consequence drawn by the holders and representatives of the societal power — political power and especially the private power of money — that in modern polities decides in general on the distribution of life chances and in particular on jobs and professional careers. Someone who organizes his own competition by getting his free, fellow citizens to compete also examines the candidates who are supposed to benefit his cause according to their expressed will and their presumed ability to produce the required benefits; for that, he is first guided by what people bring from “home”; and that includes a rather poor prognosis for those who are recognizable as members of a community of those notoriously less successful and morally rather unreliable. So the individual specimen of the special community of African-Americans that is recognized as a distinct race is in practice effectively subsumed under his origin — always subject to the possibility that he frees him/herself from it and positively surprises the decision-makers, but then is also not a typical Black. The permanent reproduction of the status in free economic competition that distinguishes the Black community from others is thereby ever guaranteed.

It should be added that in an enlightened, knowledge-based bourgeois society, the judgment of rulers is also the prevailing judgment: how the powerful view their more or less usable human material quite automatically provides, for all the free actors who compete for careers on the step ladder predetermined by the political economy, the standards by which they customarily judge, thus already perceive, themselves and others — and in the Land of the Free that means: perceive as specimens of a sub-collective of free citizens distinguished by social characteristics. According to this logic, appearance — by means of which even the dumbest can assign someone else to such a collective, and in the case of African-Americans is already visible in the skin and hair — also already defines how someone is classified, above all with regard to the fictive bourgeois virtue par excellence in which the decision-making authorities summarize their appraisal of applicants and by which those affected tend to critically examine each other: the competitive virtue of aptitude for success. From this achievement of a faculty of discrimination schooled in the everyday life of competition and ultimately determining “spontaneous” stirrings of sympathy and antipathy, even the simplest white mind gets his self-evident authority to despise niggers and to find the world perplexing when one of them rises higher up than himself; it also becomes clear from that why even a top job and lots of wealth do not spare a member of the Black race appearing as such from being looked at askance and, if need be, arrested as a precaution when an alert, suntanned cop catches him in a white district.

That in democratic capitalism, state and capital have the power to have the mass of free citizens compete for a livelihood according to the criteria of power and business success, that the distribution of “life chances” is accordingly decided on in school and on the labor market and humanity is rigorously sorted out: all that is completely normal for critics of racism. They do not see that as a basic law of liberal-egalitarian discrimination at all. What they find scandalous is the circumstance that the results of the selection redound disproportionately against Blacks. They respond to it by demanding a ban on discrimination: egalitarianism must prevail in the sorting of winners and losers — and if in the process Blacks do badly, then this cannot be allowed to rub off on the worth of their ethnic community. Added to this moral exclusion of racists from the good, American society is a theoretical one — namely, the lament that racial discrimination has “still not been overcome” a century and a half after the abolition of slavery; that old prejudices live on “despite” legal equality. In this way, the free competition in which people are racially sorted is acquitted of bringing such results about. Though the life of Blacks in the USA has in fact its own historical particularity, its present significance nevertheless lies entirely within the rules and customs of competition that Blacks, like all other communities, have to contend with today.

Unlike their compatriots with immigrant ancestors, Black Americans do not owe their being in the land of freedom to a free decision, but to a system of forced labor, for which their ancestors were forcibly imported as beasts of burden. After the American Civil War, these slaves did not free themselves but were released from forced labor for plantation owners in the southern states into the world of free wage-labor. And they were released, in fact, totally destitute, so that their subjugation under their slaveholders was seamlessly carried over to dependence on the need of free entrepreneurs for workers, to whom they had nothing to offer but their absolute cheapness and their willingness to take on the worst menial work — but definitely that. This is how the historical particularity of Blacks has resulted in a particularly difficult condition for participating in free competition. The majority remained in the South and tried their luck as farmers under the poorest of conditions or were hired as free farmhands by their former slave owners; the others found their way to the industrial centers in the rest of the country and ended up as colleagues and competitors of the traditional, free wage-workers on the production line and in the labor market. In principle, in exactly the same way as any other immigrant group escaping poverty that showed up there, Blacks also had the conditions from which they came pinned on them as their social character, but with one small, relevant particularity: it was questionable from the outset whether slaves were capable and in command of the work ethic of free Americans — and it became even more questionable because the supposed moral shortcoming in the appraisal of Blacks as free wage-workers had its effect. It is therefore not the circumstances from which Blacks were “freed” that comprise the persistent reason for the situation of the Black minority, but rather the circumstances into which they were released. The impoverished conditions in which Blacks find themselves today in the southern states and in the former industrial centers of the rest of the country now verifies nothing but the circumstance that capital is able to increase its wealth with less and less paid work and fewer workers; that therefore the USA, like everywhere else, includes an ever increasing number of people who depend on work for money but find none or only poorly paid. The fact that Black Americans end up in this poverty population on an increasingly large scale is testament to the durability of the community that offers the affected victims of free competition under the regime of capital the nexus of life in solidarity with which and in which they not only endure their situation, but also affirm it as a kind of home — and in that way reproduce themselves as what capitalism already reproduces them. For the prevailing popular opinion, of course, that testifies to something quite different: that they are “just” inferior competitors who do not have the qualities it takes for success in free competition. After all, they have had every opportunity in the last fifty years to “arrive” in America — and where do they end up? In the ghetto. That figures!

5. The political “struggle” against “racial discrimination”

It is a fact that African-Americans have been recognized as full-fledged citizens since the abolition of racial segregation in the southern states and the elimination of legal inequality. That their struggle for participation in the “American dream” is burdened not only by the handicap of limited economic means, but also by the everyday racism of their fellow citizens that confronts them in private life, in the workplace, and in dealings with authorities, is, however, also a fact; the egalitarian American competitive society cannot be imagined without it. Those affected as well as their advocates turn to the state with their complaint about the failure of equal treatment to materialize, which is nevertheless guaranteed to them by law. And they have long since gained a hearing there. At the national level, even if not in all the individual states, politicians have been convinced by the civil rights movement that the formal-legal equality of Blacks does not mean that everything has been done regarding their access to the opportunities that America offers its citizens. They have accepted the underrepresentation of Blacks in the upper echelons of education and careers as valid proof that something fishy is going on in the competition over advancement. They have taken compensatory measures, launched development programs for the new generation of this section of the population, enacted quota systems for access to seats of higher education,[9] and the government has committed itself to taking action against discriminatory practices in its own institutions: with anti-discrimination directives for public tenders, in the issue of electoral districting, and also in the dealings of police and courts with their clientele.

With these kinds of rectifications of imbalances in the matter of “equal opportunities,” the state has done its bounden duty. On the fiftieth anniversary of the “March on Washington,” the current president reminds today’s Blacks that their release into the freedom of competition promised, even then, nothing more than exactly the conditions the state has promised ceaselessly to improve for the past fifty years. The legal enactment of their equality was, according to Obama, nothing more than a test

“whether this country would admit all people who are willing to work hard regardless of race into the ranks of a middle-class life…. The test was not, and never has been, whether the doors of opportunity are cracked a bit wider for a few. It was whether our economic system provides a fair shot for the many — for the Black custodian and the white steelworker, the immigrant dishwasher and the Native American veteran. To win that battle, to answer that call — this remains our great unfinished business.” (Remarks by the President commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, August 28, 2013)

Making some conditions of competition easier, supporting the will of some people to prove themselves in the private struggle for money; getting some of the willing and able out of their miserable living conditions, busing children from Black residential areas to learn in the better schools outside their districts: such actions sum up the “battle” the state wages against the racism in its society. By selectively managing the results of the regime of competition in the Black community, it reinforces the valid criteria according to which people are distributed across the various levels of a proletarian existence, and thus also the living conditions that make success in the struggle for existence so notoriously difficult for Blacks. The Black chief of the Land of the Free can therefore live very well with their criticism of always only having done much “too little” for the equal treatment of Blacks: he himself with his career is indeed the best proof that in this country everything is on the right track and one can get far despite the handicap of bad parenting.

The second and, in practice, far more important chapter in the country’s coming to terms with the “race question” concerns the state’s dealings with what it at any rate also finds, alongside the politicized complaints of upwardly mobile competitors of darker skin color, in the form of its Black parallel societies: a not ubiquitous, but in many places already very firmly established, well-organized and well-equipped criminal counterculture poised against the decency that governs the ordinary customs of acquiring things. It is well known that the American monopoly on force knows no mercy for violations of the rules of fairness that apply in the civilian struggle for money: in some states, getting caught breaking the law three times gets the offender sent to prison for a lifetime, and life in prison according to established case-law lasts in some cases a few hundred years. It should now no longer be a mystery why the extremes of police violence regularly and disproportionately impact Blacks: the official guardians of the rules of competition for money and property and watchdogs over morality in competition do not in any case let themselves be provoked on account of some idiosyncrasies into attacks against Blacks, which then make the headlines. They may well foster these attacks, but even when they let themselves be guided in the use of their firearms by their prejudice about an equal sign between dark skin color and criminality, they carry out their public duties and act in good conscience. After all, their personal pre-judging against Blacks is not just a private opinion one adopts and then discards again when one feels like it: the racism of a trigger-happy cop reproduces on an individual basis all socially valid judgments — which for the representatives of the Black community only apply to the societal garbage of the honest, American, acquisitive society — according to which a vanishing minority, at most, finds consolation in gospel and blues for botched life chances and cultivates hopes for better ones, while the vast majority has long since moved into the illegal branches of money-making and are criminals by profession. The guardians of the law are therefore completely well informed about what they are up against with the residents of Ferguson and other municipal districts of other metropolitan areas where Blacks cultivate their ghetto culture, and from this understanding inevitably arises everything that is of the utmost self-evidence to them in the practice of their profession. Their policing practices have been beautifully memorialized by Hollywood's great directors, who need hardly any cinematic imagination for that, since they get presented material enough in view of the fact that the street-level executors of the state force monopoly want to see respect for themselves substantiated and, when they can compel it with their imposing weapons, put them to use. So it happens that when two Black youths are walking in the middle of the street and the police tell them to step aside, a violent confrontation between agents of law and order and representatives of a notorious lawlessness immediately ensues. This face-off is then normally decided by the former with rather unequal weapons and a fatal outcome.

In a country that now for more than fifty years has engaged in the most official “struggle” against the unequal treatment of whites and Blacks, it is not only Blacks and other moral citizens, who also certainly still exist, who regard these types of incidents as being fairly scandalous to problematic, especially when they happen regularly and increasingly often. Even the White House acts seriously concerned:

“The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown. They are on the ground and along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation. The attorney general himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ [Department of Justice] personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation and he will receive an update from them on their progress. He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson. … We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s community relations service, working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among the local stake holders and reduce tensions among the community.” (Remarks by Obama on the shooting of Michael Brown, August 18, 2014)

“Peace and calm” is thus supposed to reign again in Ferguson; instead of rioting, looting, and burning cars, the normality of daily life that produces all that is supposed to hold sway again, and the President knows a way to successfully return to this peaceful, daily life:

“The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is we know there are things we can do to help. And I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.” (Remarks by Obama after announcement of the decision by the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, November 24, 2014)

The Black communities hear from their top fighter against racial discrimination that they are simply entities in which poverty and crime naturally go hand in hand. It is therefore axiomatic that when the state in the form of its police fights Black criminality, it basically only serves them, namely, as members of communities who want to be and become nothing other than part of the great community of hardworking Americans, who, merely through a freak of nature, have been given a unique pigmentation as an addition to the genome of homegrown, American competitors. It is therefore called “tragic” when shooting Blacks dead by order of the state leads to distrust of the authorities, who really only want the best, especially for them. But the good news is that Blacks have him, who they can trust unconditionally: the boss of all Americans simply orders his agencies to foster “better relations” with Black ghetto residents — and has already won a small, partial victory in the “struggle” against racism in the country.


[1] “Thousands of protesters marched across the country Saturday to call attention to the deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police and urge lawmakers to take action. In New York City, tens of thousands of people marched up Fifth Avenue in Midtown … Organizers of Millions March NYC are demanding justice for 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island father Eric Garner, who died in July after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold, and Akai Gurley, the unarmed man fatally shot by police in a stairwell in East New York last month. They also want special prosecutors appointed to handle cases of alleged police brutality. The noisy march through the heart of Manhattan swelled to at least 25,000 people … thousands of people rallied outside NYPD headquarters as officers stood guard at the entrance to One Police Plaza. ‘There is a systematic murder of people of color in this country and it's institutionalized racism …’ a man at the rally …told CBS. … Family members of people killed in New York City police encounters going back decades also were among the demonstrators. They included Iris Baez, whose son Anthony Baez died after he apparently was placed in a chokehold in 1994. Donna Carter, 54, marched with her boyfriend, whose teenage son was shot and killed by police in the 1990s while carrying a toy gun. … In Washington, D.C., a crowd gathered in Freedom Plaza before marching down Pennsylvania Avenue and past the White House, carrying signs reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Who do you protect? Who do you serve?’ Also speaking were Sharpton, the civil rights leader, family members of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot and killed by a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer in November as he played with a pellet gun in a park.” (CBS News, December 13, 2014)

[2] “An 18-year-old teenager, Michael Brown, is shot and killed on Saturday by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The circumstances surrounding the shooting are in dispute. The police say Mr. Brown was shot during a skirmish with the officer. A friend who was walking with Mr. Brown, Dorian Johnson, says the officer opened fire when the young men refused to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk. He says Mr. Brown’s hands were over his head when the officer fired. All agree that Mr. Brown was unarmed.” (New York Times, August 9, 2014)

“Within a week, three young African-Americans are shot to death in several US states. The number seems unusual, but it is not. Black men, Stephen Cotter writes on the news portal The Root, are considered as dangerous wild animals in this society. They are accorded neither humanity nor compassion.” (Frankfurter Rundshau online, August 17, 2014, translated)

[3] In Florida, legislation on self-defense says that the subjective feeling of being threatened entitles every citizen to use "deadly force," even in public spaces: “…a person may use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. In some cases, a person may use deadly force in public areas without a duty to retreat.” ( "Stand-your-ground law," Wikipedia, March 2012)

[4] This principle also substantially determines the policies of the American unions. See “The richest capitalist power looks after its working class: The proletarian version of the ‘American way of life’.”

[5] Obama is said to have owed his first election victory largely to the fact that he had succeeded in attracting new voters from among Blacks and Hispanics and bringing them to the polls. And since then, the Republican Party has been working away, on the one hand, to be the party of the conservative white majority, but, on the other hand, to open the door to the "Latino voters" who have become increasingly important because of their increasing numbers.

[6] With this high-minded intent, the American population statistics also collect, in addition to traits that are standard elsewhere, people’s "race" affiliation — with the following justification:

“Information on race is required for many Federal programs and is critical in making policy decisions, particularly for civil rights. States use these data to meet legislative redistricting principles. Race data also are used to promote equal employment opportunities and to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks.” (

[7] And it thereby gets the unusual problem of now needing to define what "race" actually is because it is not supposed to matter. This is how the population statisticians solve this problem: “The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture …” (ibid.) With this contradiction in terms of a "social definition of race" — somehow socially determined, but then really determined and not simply chosen freely — the statisticians attempt to define their way out of the dilemma of wanting to capture an attribute somehow inherent to their citizens, at the same time that it is not to be said that for them it is completely beyond their free will. For the same reason, the authorities in the year 2000 came up with the original idea of leaving it altogether to the people to decide where they get sorted to.

[8] “I've lived in this world, and I know there are drug dealers who are only doing it for the money. Until one is arrested, one earns a lot more money than one might expect from any honest work. In the public schools of this district, one was never prepared for a career that would have yielded more than the minimum wage. The attraction of work that pays well is a tremendous temptation.” (Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court justice, interview with Patrick Bahners, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, May 5, 2014, translated) So not everyone can manage to resist such “temptations” and maintain the will to advance properly.

[9] “Affirmative action or positive discrimination refers to socio-political measures to counteract the negative discrimination of social groups in the form of social disadvantage through targeted granting of advantages. ‘Affirmative’ in this sense means the special endorsing and supporting of such groups … Measures of affirmative action were first developed in the wake of the civil rights movement in the United States.” (German Wikipedia, translation) This is how the University of Michigan to some degree admits applicants for a place at university based on a point system by which they can score 20 out of 150 total points through social and/or ethnic disadvantage.

© GegenStandpunkt 2015