Showing posts with label The Grapes of Wrath. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Grapes of Wrath. Show all posts

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Not all white people live in a "place of privilege": Minneapolis City Council wants to dismantle the police department

Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma.  Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you're scum.
John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath 

Last month, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to dismantle the municipal police force and replace it with an agency that will address crime more holistically. I take it that means more social workers and fewer guns.

Although the city council wants to deny police protection to the citizens of Minneapolis, some officials still want it for themselves. The city hired a private security firm to protect three council members at the cost of $4,500 a day. In other words, security for me but not for thee.

A CNN reporter asked Lisa Bender, president of the Minneapolis City Council, what people are supposed to do if their homes are being burglarized. "What if in the middle of the night my home is broken into," the reporter asked. "Who do I call?" 

Bender basically said the police aren't necessary to deal with a home invasion because if you're calling 911 to report a burglary, you're coming from a "place of privilege."  By privilege, I think Bender meant white privilege. 

If I follow her reasoning aright, Bender is basically arguing that white people don't deserve police protection from theft because they (or perhaps their ancestors) benefited unfairly from our society's structural racism.

But of course, that's bullshit. 

As far as I know, my family hasn't exploited anybody. My great grandfather on my father's side worked in a brick factory in England. Sometime in the 1880s, he immigrated to Canada with his wife and children and finally wound up in Kansas. No slaves on that side of my family.

My mother's people emigrated from Germany before the American Revolution. They settled in Pennsylvania, and several of my ancestors fought in George Washington's army. No slaves or racial exploitation on the German side of my family.

Even if you buy the tortured argument that my ancestors engaged in racial exploitation simply because they were white beneficiaries of a racist society, they certainly paid for that sin. Both sets of my grandparents lived in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and suffered greatly. 

Although my immediate ancestors did not migrate to California during the 1930s, many of their relatives and acquaintances did. Much like today's Mexican immigrants, Oklahomans uprooted themselves and headed to the Golden State in search of a better way of life.

And when they rolled up to the California border in their broken-down cars, the state police would not let them enter. These economic refugees were referred to as Okies--a term almost as derogatory as the N-word.

Think of that: Today's California politicians want to abolish all immigration laws and allow anyone to enter the country--even criminals. But in the 1930s, the Californians denied entrance to American citizens who just wanted to work and feed their families.

American history is tainted with systemic racism to be sure. Africans were enslaved in the South, Chinese workers were abused in the West, and the Irish were exploited in the East. And if you want to know how the Okies fared in 1930s California, view John Ford's great movie, The Grapes of Wrath

But today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we all deserve to be treated equally and with respect. And if someone breaks into our homes, don't we all deserve police protection?

Okies, keep out of California.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Two Homeless People Were Shot While Sleeping in Their Blankets Under a Baton Rouge Overpass: What Can We Do to Alleviate the Homelessness Crisis?

Last month, two homeless people were shot to death while sleeping in their blankets under a Baton Rouge overpass. Christiana Fowler, age 53, and 43-year-old Gregory Corcoran Jr. were found dead near a roadway not far from the Bishop Ott Homeless Shelter.

Violent death has become almost routine in most American cities. In 2019, Baton Rouge experienced 83 murders, and the toll in many US cities is much higher.

But for me at least, the deaths of Fowler and Corcoran were especially poignant. As Advocate news writer Jacqueline Derobertis reported, both victims had people in their lives who loved and cared about them. Ms. Fowler had a daughter and an ex-husband who had offered to get her hotel room on the night she died just to get her off the streets. Mr. Corcoran left four children under the age of 18.

The Advocate published photos of Fowler and Corcoran, which powerfully attested to the fact that neither one had always been homeless. Fowler appears radiant with a smiling face and a confident gaze. Corcoran's photo shows him wearing a coat and tie, serenely looking at the camera.

Homelessness is an urgent problem in America. Thousands of Americans live on the streets or in tent jungles.  According to some reports, almost half of America's homeless are in California, but who knows the truth of the matter? Almost every American city has a significant homeless population.

The experts say homelessness is linked to mental illness, joblessness, and drug abuse. Indeed, Fowler suffered from drug addiction, and Corcoran had been thrown out of work. But to better understand the nation's current homelessness crisis, we might learn something from studying the last great period of homelessness in America--the Great Depression.

That era was powerfully depicted in John Ford's great movie, The Grapes of Wrath. Based on John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, the movie tells the story of the Joads, a family of Oklahoma tenant farmers who were forced off their farm by a heartless landowner.

The Joads were fictional, but more than a million homeless people flocked to California during the 1930s, where they hoped to find jobs and a better life. Thanks to World War II, most of the Okies were able to regroup. Many found work in the defense and construction industries. Others settled in California's Central Valley and became truck farmers. The great Merle Haggard, who penned the song Okie from Muskogee, was the son of Okie parents.

The homelessness crisis of the Thirties differs from today's homelessness epidemic. Many of the homeless people of the 1930s survived as intact families. The Joad family, for example, was made up of four generations. And the Okies of the Thirties had job skills. Most had been smalltime farmers, who knew something about construction, agriculture, and mechanics.

It should not take another war to solve America’s homelessness crisis. Our communities have the resources to alleviate this human tragedy. Expanding mental health services will help, along with more treatment options for drug addiction. But all of us have a personal responsibility to nurture young people to develop job skills, to become self-reliant, and to be resilient. 

And we should recognize our fellow citizens who help unfortunate people get back on their feet. Ivy Alford, my father-in-law, has cooked meals for homeless men at the Bishop Ott Homeless Shelter for more than 25 years. Over the years, Ivy and his family have cooked more than 5,000 meals for the homeless.

Ms. Fowler and Mr. Corcoran had family members who reached out to them. Had there been more time, both might have lifted themselves out of homelessness. Tragically, they were murdered.  Let’s hope their death underscores the urgency of the homelessness crisis in Baton Rouge.

Christiana Fowler and Gregory Corcoran Jr.: Homeless
Photo credit: Baton Rouge Advocate

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Suicides and a Jail Death in Anadarko, Oklahoma: Bitter, Angry and Frightened, Oklahomans will not vote for Hillary

Last January, the Washington Post reported on a spate of suicides in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Four people committed suicide over a period of less than two months. All were young, all were racial minorities, and all killed themselves with guns.

And last April, Darius Robinson, an African American father of seven, was killed in his Anadarko jail cell, asphyxiated by jail employees. Jailers say Robinson was trying to escape, but the Oklahoma Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide.  A small demonstration was organized a couple months after Robinson's death; about 50 people attended. Robinson, by the way, was not in jail for a violent crime; he was in the slammer for failing to pay child support.

You might think these tragedies would draw the attention of President Obama. Four desperate young people killed themselves with handguns--what a great opportunity for the President to talk about gun control. A black man strangled by his jailers while in police custody--that's as least as shocking as the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore/

Nevertheless, as far as I can determine, Barack Obama has said nothing about these deaths, and Hillary Clinton has said nothing about them. And, to the best of my knowledge, neither Al Sharpton nor Jessie Jackson has shown up in Anadarko.

Why? Because the Oklahomans don't matter. The Democratic political operatives have written off Oklahoma, and well they should. In the Democratic presidential primary, Oklahoma Democrats voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders--Bernie Sanders! And  God knows they didn't vote for Bernie because they are socialists. No, Oklahoma Democrats loath Hillary Clinton, and Bernie was their only alternative. And if Oklahoma Democrats loath her, you can imagine what Oklahoma Republicans think.

In truth, Oklahomans are bitter, angry and frightened. Outside a few pockets of urban prosperity--Oklahoma City, metropolitan Tulsa, and Bartlesville--the state is in deep depression. From the Winding Stair Mountains in the east to the short grass country of western Oklahoma, there are no jobs. Anadarko, my home town, may be the epicenter of Oklahoma's desperate condition. Abandoned houses, suicide, alcohol abuse, drug addiction--rural Oklahomans are among the casualties of the new global economy.

Hillary and Barack despise these people, and the Oklahomans know it.  Barack sneeringly dismissed poor white Americans generally when he said they comfort themselves with guns and religion. When Hillary condemned the "basket of deplorables," she was talking about the people I grew up with.

Eighty years ago, John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a tribute to the strength and courage of the Oklahomans who were driven off their land during the Dust Bowl years and migrated to California in rattletrap cars. "We're the people that live," Ma Joad says in the novel. "They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

Do you think Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton have read The Grapes of Wrath? Not likely. Do you think they give a damn about contemporary Oklahomans who are suffering now just as much as their ancestors did during the Great Depression? No, of course not.

Image result for darius robinson death
Darius Robinson: "We're the people"


Sarah Kaplan.'It has brought us to our knees': Small Okla. town reeling from suicide epidemic. Washington Post, January 25, 2016. It

Xin Xin Liu. Protesters Gather At Caddo Co. Courthouse After Inmate's Death,, July 22, 2016. Available at