RACE IN AMERICA – The Violence of the Status Quo: Michael Brown, Ferguson and Tanks

Published on Antropology News, by Pem Davidson Buck, Sept 15, 2014.

Years ago I thought about writing a paper I would call “The Violence of the Status Quo.” I never wrote that paper. Perhaps now is the time—although it would have been appropriate any time in the last 500 years of US history. Michael Brown, yes, and as of August 19 four other young Black men, all unarmed, perhaps not perfectly behaved, but killed in the last month by White police under circumstances in which Whites are almost never killed by police … //

… But the militarization of the police is merely the latest twist in the punishing deployment of force on which all states are, at root, dependent. States are, among other things, the mechanism by which an elite gains the power to systematically transfer the wealth produced by the labor of people and the resources of the land into their own hands. Doing so requires the use of force, and that force is deployed by the state. People don’t choose to be exploited. They don’t choose to watch children starve. They don’t choose to die of Black Lung; they don’t choose the Trail of Tears, or slavery, or debt peonage, or segregation or encomienda; they don’t choose near slavery as immigrant contract labor nor to die crossing the border to enter the US as did the grandparents or great-grandparents of those trying to keep them out, or to live in fear of Homeland Security in their homes and workplaces if they survive. They don’t choose terrible schools for their children, despite their high taxes, nor spotty health care. Neither do they choose to watch their daughters and sons struggle with minimum wage jobs, assuming they are available, or with discrimination even with a college degree. And they do not choose to see their sons incarcerated or shot dead by the very people deployed by the state to serve and protect.

Maintaining such conditions is never easy; protest and resistance, as well as acting out, is nearly continuous. Even people suffering through the confines of slavery managed, as Gerald Horne’s The Counter-Revolution of 1776 makes clear, to keep Whites in a state of terror with arson, poisoning, murders and plots—sometimes successful, and sometimes timed to coincide with Spanish or French attacks—to rise up, kill Whites, and take control or flee. Punishments were delivered with horrifying public spectacles of pain—sending a message to other would-be rebels. One has to wonder about the bleeding body of Michael Brown, left in what amounts to public display for hours. The perhaps escalating pattern of police killings of young Black men, along with mass incarceration, is part of the ongoing state terrorism that has kept voting down and those most likely to turn to the use of force in response to inequality off the streets.

Maintaining such conditions now and the ideology needed to mask them is particularly difficult in times of increasing misery for people used to a little privilege. There is the danger that those who develop a bit of class consciousness as a result may join with those who have been suffering all along; they may infect those who might otherwise turn to racist backlash and victim blaming, the ideologies that are so powerful in masking the injustice of the status quo. That danger has arisen now, with a greater questioning of the hegemonic narrative than has been seen in years. It has arisen with the present massive transfer of wealth to the 1% in the face of the misery of structural adjustment and its destruction of the social safety net, the faltering of US global dominance accompanied by continuous war and the misery it brings—financial, emotional, physical—to soldiers, their families, and to the community at large. When legitimacy is questioned and the usual ideological tactics haven’t worked, the tanks roll. But they have rolled in Ferguson not so much to terrorize the people of Ferguson—although they are the target—as to display the punishing power available for all of us, should we be sufficiently recalcitrant as to threaten the ability of the few to control the transfer of wealth into their own hands. Those tanks send a message: The state will protect its own—as it has done throughout US history, to the detriment most dramatically of people of color, but also to the detriment of all but the elite. Unless we stop them.

And we can’t stop them if we don’t see through the masks to the underlying quotidian nature of the violence of the status quo. This is where anthropology can step in. Progressive journalists and commentators have quite rightly focused their explanations of the events in Ferguson on such issues as the long history of inequality there and in the US, on the long history of violence against Blacks, on the racial disparities of the justice system, deindustrialization and financial meltdown, and sometimes on White privilege. They have also blasted the militarization of the police and the outrageously disproportionate response of the police which they feel sparked greater protests and perhaps the violence of a few of the people of Ferguson.

But there is a deeper level of explanation that is needed, and it is here that we anthropologists have a part to play. Anthropology can furnish analysis of the state, of the use of force, of whiteness, of structural inequality, segmented labor forces, and structural violence. We can connect the dots between past violence and present violence—we can show that the violences we have been taught to dismiss as isolated are in fact part and parcel of the same thing. And in so doing—in straight-forward, readable language—we can help move us all toward a more just future.

(full text).

(Pem Davidson Buck the author of Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, Power, and Privilege in Kentucky and of In/Equality: An Alternative Anthropology. Her recent work has focused on mass incarceration and on the role of punishment in state formation. She teaches at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College in Kentucky).

Related Links:

Some Articles:


on en.wikipedia:

Guidelines for human subject research on en.wikipedia, Various organizations have created guidelines for human subject research for various kinds of research and for various situations (this article exists in no other language on wikipedia):

Other Links:

The discovery of the Khorasan Group in Syria, on WSWS, by Niles Williamson, Sept 27, 2014;

Iceland: Bankers Convicted, Unemployment Down, on naked capitalism, by Yves Smith, Sept 27, 2014;

Philip Pilkington: Is Economics a Science? Dogmatic Economics Vs. Reflective Economics, on naked capitalism, by Yves Smith, Sept 27, 2014;

Stop The Deportations, on GoFundMe, Sept 27,2014;

Americans have no idea how unequal the distribution of income is, on RWER Blog, by David Ruccio, Sept 26, 2014;

A Voice for the Dead: Recovering the Lost History of Sobibór (the gas chambers at the Nazi death camp), on Spiegel Online International, by Claus Hecking, Sept 26, 2014 (Photo Gallery): Henchman with the Nazi SS sought to cover up the mass murder that occurred at the Sobibór concentration camp in eastern Poland. Archeologists recently uncovered the site’s hidden gas chambers and important artifacts that shed light on the victims …; (see Sobibór extermination camp on en.wikipedia).

Econometrics — still lacking a valid ontological foundation, on RWER Blog, by Lars Syll, Sept 25, 2014;

Ukraine’s uprising against Nato, neoliberals and oligarchs – an interview with Boris Kagarlitsky, on Counterfire, by Feyzi Ismail, Sept 8, 2014;

… and this:

… und noch das:

  • Die Evolutionslüge – Joachim Zillmer, 75.53 min, von Quer-Denken.TV am 3. Kärz 2014 hochgelade (… rüttelt an den Grundfesten der Paläontologie und der Vor- und Frühgeschichte …) … und weitere 198 Videos in autoplay.

Comments are closed.