The Coastal Post - April, 1998

Racism, Poverty and Cosmetics

By Frank Scott

Racism and poverty are among the most serious problems in our national life. When dealt with only on a local or single issue basis, they can bring further division among people, cause self-righteous behavior, and at best, create short-term solutions that are more cosmetic than substantial.

Two recent local episodes show how citizens can react to problems with sincere motivation, but create more dissension, in part by neglecting the larger institutional forces that must be confronted and changed to really solve these problems.

A high school cheering section was accused of using a hateful, racist slur while at a basketball game. Despite vehement denials on their part, the students were harshly criticized and made to apologize. Many condemned their behavior and attitude, often with little information beyond hearsay, while racism in the larger society was hardly noticed.

The sensitivity to racially-charged language is experienced-even if the language was mistakenly interpreted-because of a shameful history much older than the kids in question, and as yet not understood by most of their elders.

A county which follows national patterns of economic apartheid and dumps non-white people into ghettos, found a righteous voice in criticizing these kids. The alleged term, if used, was awful, but cleaning up language while maintaining a dirty everyday reality is much worse. The ugliness of modern racism is less a factor of insensitive language, and more the material fact of housing and job segregation that helps create further racial separation, and more social degradation.

Further, the rude conduct of a high school cheering section was cited, with no criticism of the often disgusting behavior of adults at professional games. Why expect young kids to be level-headed and mature, when their elders often carry on like idiots at professional football and basketball games?

When a basketball player steps to the free throw line at a visiting arena, fans howl, yell and wave distracting towels or placards, hoping to break concentration and blur vision. And when the visiting team has the ball in a football game, the home fans are induced to scream in order to deafen players and keep them from hearing signals. Fair play is an alien concept among these adults, and their behavior is encouraged by millionaire athletes, and their multi-millionaire corporate owners. Where might high school kids get the idea to over-react?

The racist term allegedly used by students allowed some residents of lily-white communities to feel superior to these kids. Criticisms were made by people who are genuinely offended by racist language, but whose society's class and race bigotry is apparent in their own neighborhoods. And the larger problem of racism in America, and our appa Another case is an outpouring of concerned citizens trying to keep a free dining room in a downtown location. The political and business groups wanting it relocated were often dismissed as bigoted, even while its defenders wouldn't dream of having it in their own neighborhoods. More important, decent supporters stand up for the rights of the poor, but poverty, which existed long before the dining room and will do so long after if not seriously confronted, is reduced to a matter of one free meal a day.

When human decency is mobilized only to give away some temporary free food or shelter, a society dependent on the creation of poverty goes unquestioned. Why do people need to be fed by charity, in a nation where expense account dinners cost hundreds of dollars, and are written off as tax deductions? Why does a rich county have so many poor people? Why are so many without homes, in a nation where millions of dogs and cats are well accommodated? These facts go unquestioned when communities fight over locating a free dining room or a homeless shelter .

The realities of young blacks wasting away in rich prisons and poor schools, of homeless populations in the streets, of human beings without money to eat, are cruel aspects of a political economic system that needs change. Polite racial speech, free lunch rooms , holiday collections for the poor, and brief shelter for those without homes are nice gestures that do little to change that system .

In the short term, all those things are absolutely essential. But if we settle for short-term solutions, the long-term problems continue. No amount of local dialog or politics practiced for instant gratification will make any real difference, without action in the larger environment where such problems originate.

Racism, hunger and homelessness cannot be confronted simply by being good, or by blaming other people for being bad. The controllers of our economy never use racial slurs -in public-and they support charity for the poor, especially if it is tax deductible. There is little essential difference between the actors in these small and often disconnected struggles.

In the larger world, actions often need to be small and local, but they should be part of a politics whose intended impact is big and national. That is, if the desire is to make change that is substantial and not just


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Coastal Post Article - Poppy Charges Dropped-

The Coastal Post - April, 1998

Poppy Charges Dropped-

Case Dismissed

By Jim Scanlon

On March 10th, the Marin County District Attorney's Office announced that felony charges of possession of morphine and codeine-extracted from dried poppy seed stalks-against Jerry Knight of Forest Knolls would be dropped. The decision, outlined in detail, was rele