by: Marceline Donaldson
A huge topic and we will not even skim the surface.
Racism, when it has become “structured” into a society and into its institutions, is a very complex thing. We like to think it is an “unfortunate incident” which happened because the person to whom it happened was complicit in some way. It is not. Every action you take is governed by the bigotry structured into the society in which you live which has successfully structured that bigotry into every core and every cell of its existence. The experience of bigotry is not a one time experience. It is all day everyday for those who are the “minority.” It is also an all day everyday experience for those who are “white.” Their lives move ahead beyond their talents and contributions to this society because of the fact that they are in the “better than” group.
Step out of your house and it starts. Stay in your house where bigotry wafts in with the very air you breathe – it is constantly ongoing and just as constantly denied. Bigotry happens – denial follows and is given credibility.
The United States has much to deal with to become the society it claims to be and the main thing is its bigotry which was installed at its beginnings with the way American Indians were treated and with slavery.
The Rittenhouse case deals mainly with the structural/institutional racism of the Court system. It has been a showcase for all to see how this structural racism works – how and why it was set up – what is to be gained by the “better than” group through the existence of institutional racism.
My background and growing up years is totally intertwined with what happened in the Courts and with what happened on the streets which came before today’s Court system. This “street happening” brings to the forefront the relationship between Blacks and Jews – which is fraught with much bigotry itself and so much more.
What didn’t come out to the general public, until after the verdict is that the men killed were Jews. They were characterized and described as “white.” That is far from the truth. Maybe it is my age, but I remember when Jews were as ostracized as blacks and when the “n” word was applied and Jews were called that and worse – all names most blacks would know and recognize. It is thought today that those words applied only to Blacks. Blacks were and are called “nigg…”. They are not the only group so called by the Northern European-ancestry group. It is spread around to the rest of the world encouraging it to pick up and use those names. East Indians are another group to whom the “n” word was applied, especially when England colonized their country.
Let me give you an example of black/jewish relationships and what happens in these United States – from my own background:
Way back when I was a young child my grandfather used to bring me regularly to #1 Audubon Place in New Orleans when he picked me up (grandparents visiting rights) and he had business with Sam Zemurray or just went to visit. I loved the house. I especially loved the dining room with its spanish feel and walking through the wrought iron decorative gates into the dining room.
My grandfather would announce his appearance by calling out to the cooks to put water in the soup because O.C.W. had arrived. Everyone thought that was funny. I also spent many a summer’s day at the Zemurray home outside of New Orleans. A kind of life I loved and embraced quickly. When we arrived, my grandfather was there to visit with Sam Zemurray and someone working on the estate was called to take care of me. Mostly that meant taking me out in a canoe on a pond from which we could see people walking around in the distance which I was told was to admire the azalea garden open to the public. I never did see that azalea garden, but I saw pieces of it because whenever a shipment of azaleas arrived at the Zemurray estate my grandfather was called and we went out to pick up the latest truly beautiful plant for his garden. Before he died my grandfather had an exquisite azalea garden in his front and back yards all from those shipments.
Other times, we went to one or the other Zemurray estate because my grandfather, with his Columbia University education, tutored two of the Zemurray children. My grandmother was a regular visitor with her skills put to use and my mother was named Doris Taylor after Doris Zemurray – Sam Zemurrays’ daughter.
It is a long involved story which needs to be told in full because it shows the beginnings of a corporation which today is dumped on because of how it developed. The story of its Black/Jewish start is nowhere to be found. That has been “whitewashed.” Could that be the history those in control wanted to hide and wound up instead with a company considered “inhumane” by others?
My great-grandfather was an Episcopal priest. He was the Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor. There was a strong connection between one Jewish family and one Black family way back when. My great-grandfather was a close friend of “old man”Zemurray”, the founder of United Fruit. A company which today has a horrendous reputation including in the fields of racism and more. Back then it was clear and uncontroverted that the company was founded by a Jew, but grew because of this alliance between this one Black family and this one Jewish family.
“old man” Zemurray, as he was called then, founded United Fruit by going to the docks in New Orleans with an ice cream-type push cart. The kind that would appear in most neighborhoods with the man pushing the ice cream cart jingling his bells and calling out for the children to hear and they came running with their nickels and dimes to buy ice cream.
In New Orleans there was more than one kind of such push cart. Hot tamales were sold on the street in the same way. As I recall, a dozen hot tamales from such a cart cost 45 cents.
In New Orleans, “old man Zemurray” had such a cart full of ripe bananas he picked up from the docks and some given to him by those on the ships that came into the docks. They could not be sold to the stores, for which the other bananas were sent because they were ripe and they would be black by the time they reached the stores for which they were intended. Zemurray’s business grew rapidly. He had a business selling a product for which he paid nothing. So very quickly, he went from the push cart selling bananas on the street, which is how he started United Fruit, to a business hiring employees mostly from Honduras.
Mr. Zemurray’s problems grew with his business, as happens to most who start new businesses. His were mostly personnel related. The people who came to the United States to work at United Fruit came from Honduras and had a very different culture, a different way of living and that began to cause major problems. My great-grandfather was the priest/rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (a part of the Anglican communion). Most, if not all of those from Honduras were members of that Anglican communion and so Rev. Dr. Taylor and Mr. Zemurray formed an alliance beyond friendship into business. Rev. Taylor would work with the people United Fruit employed to help them acclimate to this American culture and Mr. Zemurray was then free to dramatically grow his business.
Today, United Fruit is a huge corporation, but that Black/Jewish beginning is almost lost in history. In today’s world it would be seen very differently from what it actually was. It was beginning to lose that history when I was growing up because Jews were beginning to call themselves “white” and the general U. S. society could not see such an alliance and friendship as one amongst equals as existed between the man who founded United Fruit and the man who was responsible for a serious part of its early growth. When I was a small child, the stories and the talk were about how United Fruit would not have existed or grown as it did without the friendship and working together of those two men – the Jew and the Black. Back then Jews were not hired to work regular jobs. In fact, it is within my lifetime that banks went from hiring no Jews to now hiring Jews for jobs up and down the bank ladder. Jews back then had to either start their own company or find some other independent way to make a living. That is what Mr. Zemurray was doing. Looking back into that history from today, it is easy to re-write it so that its real beginnings are “cleaned-up”.
When I became an adult the relationship between Blacks and Jews remained, but had changed. There were many Jews around Martin Luther King and the black civil rights movement. They were there because they were experiencing bigotry because of their Jewishness; they were struggling to overcome the “n” word and all that it implied; and they were fighting for the freedom and equality of both groups. In many places where you had to fill out forms, it was clear that Jews could not fill out and check “white’ as many do today.
All throughout the Jewish community in this country and abroad there was that alliance. Sadly, it has substantially diminished because many Jews see themselves as a part of the Northern European-ancestry group and discriminate against Blacks the same way they do.
Before we get too ‘sanctified’ I think I need to point out here that there are many Blacks who have taken the same route. The more money the more they feel “different from” those with the same skin tones and the more justified they feel in doing to other blacks what was done to them and/or their ancestors.
What the Rittenhouse case surfaced is the fact that there are still many Jews working in civil rights groups with Blacks to gain equality for both groups and so the two Jews who were killed by Rittenhouse. They were not bystanders they were participants in a movement which they and their families saw as important. They had been trained, apparently, as children not to be bystanders to benefit from the sacrifice of others, but to be participants in bringing about a world where we all enjoyed equality and took responsibility for each other.
The Court system in this country, from the smallest court to the United States Supreme Court, has grown from its beginnings to where it is today, laced with bigotry and put in place to maintain the superiority of the Northern European-ancestry male, especially over the slave.
One need look no further than the Plessy decision at the end of the 19th century which brought into being “separate but equal” as a doctrine we have had to live by and which continued and put in stone the separation of the races with non-‘white’, none Northern-European-ancestry people as those who had to be controlled and kept in an inferior place. When society could no longer keep those inequalities then the Court stepped in to make sure white was also “better than”, “superior to”, and all those other terms by which we have lived almost from day one of this country’s founding.
Brown vs the Board of Education came along and reversed the Plessy decision and we all rejoiced. However, the rejoicing became muted as we saw what that meant institutionally/structurally.
An integrated educational system has never been a reality, in spite of the Brown decision. Real estate interests, amongst others, were employed to keep that from happening. Even today, separate neighborhoods and thus segregated schools are the norm – which is one way we found around the Brown decision. What did happen was the promotion of a group called the Black Muslims or Nation of Islam which promoted the Jews as evil and tried to promote Blacks as “better than.”
The real “better than” people allowed and promoted such groups because they would cause the split between Blacks and Jews that this Northern European-ancestry group had been trying to bring about, but couldn’t because of the long history of such cooperation. They did manage to do a great deal of harm to that relationship and did help to spin a tale, even though not true. It put a lid on real equality for generations to come.
Jews didn’t help because many tried to move into the “better than” group and did everything they could to hide and move ahead without their Jewish identity showing.
The one place it was clear the “better than” people could not lose was the Court system. Lots has been happening in this Court system under our noses and we are just now awakening to the damage done. The “better than” group has been able to structure into its system what is needed to maintain bigotry. The loudest verdict so far is the Rittenhouse verdict, but more is coming. The Republican Party has focused intensely on “stacking” the Court with judges who would maintain a system of inequality where they and those like them would always win and the others would increasingly be denied their rights.
The judge, the defense attorneys, the prosecution all worked together like a well oiled machine – set up from the start of slavery and has just been given an overhaul after the shock of the general voting public having elected an African American president. It is clear the concern before that was not as strong as it is today. Not even looking at the fact that the general population in this country is now about to turn majority-minority. That was true in the south during Reconstruction. There were blacks elected to Congress, to their state legislatures and in all areas of the south. That was not so true of the north. The majority of citizens in the south were black and mostly former slaves.
Violence raises its head quite high today – as it did when there was a threat of African Americans gaining equality. The huge threat in Tulsa-Black Wall Street – brought the ancestors of those who are the white terrorists of today out to kill Blacks who seemed to be gaining equality and in fact, had achieved more than they and/or their families had achieved in terms of education and finance.
Today that is also beginning to be true as you look around at the condition of today’s minorities and so we are attacking and attempting to eliminate generational wealth of minorities, health, property and more of those considered “less than” and we are doing it through a corrupted Court system.
Take a close look at your Courts. Many incorporate a mafia where all else fails. In Massachusetts who was head of the Court system? Whitey Bulger’s brother. The problems we are facing in the Courts in these United States are much larger than we will talk about, write about or attempt to rectify.