The United States is a caste society.
As the national demographics change, the system is under greater strain. However, like an archeological dig,the lowest strata are full of bodies, detritus, broken pottery shards, and trash. There are a few shining baubles, even gold chains, in the form of ideas that looked forwards to another country. But the ugly sub-strata of this dig reveals a lot of pain, dirt, and family secrets.
Our present is the likely confrontation of that past. What we are living through the dying days of this old system that survives in the lowest strata of this dig. The country was created on two original sins. These are chattel slavery and genocide. We all like to pretend that we did not kill, or own slaves, which is technically true. However, slavery and genocide are rife with justifications for them, and some people openly believe in these. But once one starts digging into the strata, deep in the ground lies the reasons for chattel slavery. It is almost biblical, and from time to time the reasons bubble up. We saw this emerge from the deep strata when Jeff Sessions, then-Attorney General of the United States, use the same Bible passage to justify breaking up families, as was used to defend chattel slavery.
According to the Washington Post:
The passage — “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” — has been read as an unequivocal order for Christians to obey state authority, a reading that not only justified Southern slavery but also authoritarian rule in Nazi Germany and South African apartheid.
This emerged from the dark recesses of the history of the country. It’s deep in the darkest chapters of American history. This is not unlike what Michelle Foucault called the archeology of knowledge. If we read the history of the country as an archeological dig, slavery and genocide are near the bottom of the strata, so is the need for social control of lesser groups.
This becomes transparent every time we have an incident involving police and Black and Brown bodies. This is especially clear when people of color are killed. One of the latest examples involves Breonna Taylor who was killed during a no-knock. warrant. I am concentrating on this case since the grand jury indictment was just released. I will spare some of the details. This New York Times story will give you all the background, good, band the ugly, you need. The attorney general of the state of Kentucky refused to indict any of the officers involved in her death. Realize, there is a saying that an AG can indict a ham sandwich, so the questions as to what evidence was presented is critical. The only officer facing any potential justice is on the grounds of a lack of regard for human life. Let’s be clear here. This involves ammunition that went into a white household.
The message to law enforcement and the rest of the community is clear. The threat to a white family was the problem. Bullets into a black body that just happened to be there are okay. It is clear that Black lives have little value. We might pretend to be shocked by this. We should not. This is part of who we are as a society and why that history has to come back from the substrate, and why the far-right does not want this dig to continue. This is also a reason for the far right to attack those who want to remove statues or change Columbus Day to First Peoples Day. This is about control fo the past and present stories we tell each other.
The Attorney General of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, is not just a Republican but Black. This matters, because he apparently refused to present any information on behalf of Taylor to the Grand Jury. This is why there was no indictment of a white officer. Granted. It is hard to indict, let alone convict, law enforcement officers. While Blacks are at the bottom of this caste society, some have risen to positions of power. They need to keep the dominant group calm and content in their place of power. This is one reason many Black and Brown elected officials try to not make many waves. This is especially the case with those who chose to become Republicans, which is odd to me. The Party of Lincoln has morphed into a white nationalist party.
Partly Black lives do not matter to many whites who don’t know many people of color outside work environments. Usually, they meet these people as subservient to them, or when as equals, there is still distance. In particular, many poor working-class whites want to go back to an era when women did not have a right to credit or jobs. They want a society where White Christian cisgender males were dominant. The ethnic changes that are coming scare them. Why Donald Trump’s message resonated in 2016. It was some economic anxiety, but it was a lot of racial anxiety.
Caste societies have a lot of unwritten rules. The United States is no different from India, for example, where the untouchables still have trouble ascending the economic ladder. This is what in my view we saw in Kentucky. It is also why many in the community are very angry. While the word “Uncle Tom” has not crossed anybody’s lips, it has not been far from the intent. Like racist language used by the dominant group, there is a rhythm to the language used by the victims of white supremacy. It is part of the archeological dig we are on.
In my mind, a lot of what we’re seeing shows the relationship of power. It is why police reform is going to be next to impossible to achieve. Police are the guardians and protectors of the social order and the caste system. While the jobs are available to lower caste members, this is in an effort to extend legitimacy to Blacks and Latinos. This is a strategy that is part of classic counter-insurgency. It came home from international missions. It was not just done out of the goodness of reform after the 1960s. Nor was professionalizing police forces about reducing the violence of the state. We know this because the next step was to transfer a lot of military surplus through the 1033 program. Ergo the police these days is indistinguishable from army troops in both equipment and outlook.
This was not accidental and came as a reaction to the 1960s. The police have been the tip of the spear to control the social order which this caste society needs. It started to break down after the reforms in the 1960s until it retook its path with mass incarceration. This is not about law and order. Thought the term is code for the caste system we live in and well understood by white racists. This is why laws are enforced deeply in the urban core where a-lot of poor Black people live. However, not as much in primarily white areas, especially slightly better off. The reason for this is that this enforces the idea that some people should know their place. Indicting police officers at this point is near impossible. It is not just about qualified immunity. We live in a society that is still resisting the idea that police may be corrupt or abusing its powers.
The Larger Picture
It is very easy to just talk about policing or narrowly about the justice system, because this is where the problems are the most obvious. This is especially the case when we talk of Black people who are doing better than their urban core counterparts and work as enforcers. Whether these are the police officers who join the force at times thinking they will be able to change the system. Or politicians who have run and achieved posts in the judiciary or political system.
Many of these people are in a career path and have adopted a political ideology. Whether they are Republican or Democrat., in particular in law enforcement, they have a very narrow line to tread. If they are the chief law enforcement officers of a locality they have to follow a certain oath if they are going to be voted again into office, especially with a group of people who is becoming increasingly nervous, since they will become a minority in a majority-minority country.
The people who run for Attorney General or prosecutor need those votes. The people I talk off are males of the majority group. These politicians have to do what they can to keep racial anxieties down. This goes for college-educated whiles as well, but in particular for those without any college degree. After all, those who have a college degree are less threatened by lower caste members who have a college degree. They may fear the inner city “thugs” and criminals. However, this is the reality as it affects our politics:
“If Republicans see little prospect of winning over racial or ethnic minorities in the near future, they have two choices: Moderate their appeals in order to restore their advantage over more educated white voters, or repeat the Trump strategy to maximize their support among less-educated whites,” they write.
“As the norms governing political rhetoric appear to have largely been shattered in 2016, the latter strategy is at least as plausible as the former,” they add. “That may have significant consequences for the stability of American democracy.”
This matters, because it has already changed our politics, making it far more divisive. The caste system is starting to shatter. Republicans will be tempted to imitate Trump in the future, But it is not just politics. This also extends to everyday life and how media and Hollywood represent minorities. This is why Black Panther was such a big deal. This was a strong Black caste that presented a very different version of African (and by extension Black culture) than what we are used to. There are groups that did not like this. Specifically white supremacists, who find little of value in other cultures, or the lowest caste in the United States. This means that young Black children now have strong models to follow. It is not just in the fictional world of Wakanda but also in real life.
President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle are exactly those symbols. Whether you agree with them politically, or not, they broke that glass ceiling. This matters to those young children, which also points to the reaction by a white supremacists. Barack is a member of the lowest caste. His election violated all kids of social standards. In short, He was the alarm bells of the coming new American political reality. This is when whites are no longer dominant.
For the moment Black and brown politicians need to maintain a sense of the familiar order. Why law and order matters ever to minority law enforcement officers. There is a fantasy that we still live in. And then there is the present we live in, five weeks from a critical election.
The Fear of the Minority.
Ours is a society with a clear social order. The poorest of the poor, who are white are in a letter social place than the wealthiest minority member of society. People of color who drive cars are stopped more often by law enforcement. This is colloquially known as driving while black. Its is not accidental. It enforces the social order. The poorest of white people will not have store security to follow them either. Black and brown people are, or if you speak a foreign language.
There are other aspects to this. Going to college can be more difficult. So is getting good access to good schools, or banking. Food deserts are also far more common in the urban cores, and unemployment is higher. Getting good medical care can also be a problem. It’s not because of poverty. It’s because of the structural biases in the medical system. For example, psychiatry is a mostly white profession. This leads to lower rates of treatment for black men. The biases are such that doctors do not believe they will go through the treatment and be compliant.
The system is stacked against minorities. Therefore, generational wealth is not as constant with people of color, even if some have been incredibly successful, such as Oprah and former President Barack Obama. This leads to envy from people in the majority group. This envy was one reason for the Tulsa, Oklahoma riot. After all, how could Black people own a grand piano or other obvious signs of wealth? What we saw then was the utter destruction of Black Wall Street. The riot was promptly erased from memory. This is part of the pattern and why the majority fears the demographic change. Not only do they dread a similar treatment once they become another minority, but complete erasure from history. This is why they are reacting the way they are with confederate statues, and their removal. We have done that to the other, so the thinking goes, why should they not do that to us? The old nugget from George Orwell, “he who controls the past, controls the present” is part of this dystopia where others will hold power.
This is not a minor thing. Nor should be discounted. Fear of change is every present, but especially when that change could leave you behind. For poor whites, there’s always the reality that they are better than the wealthiest of blacks. This is by definition part of a caste system. Blacks are not unlike the Indian untouchables who no matter how well they do in life, can never escape that reality. Blacks and darker Latinos are marked by that melanin content in their skin. This is also why darker Blacks and Latinos have a harder time in the job market, and in professional life. In general, there is an unconscious bias against them.
This is the larger picture that we have yet to confront. That deep stratum needs to come out of the ground. We need to face it and deal with it. This will be good for all of us, long term.
Schools as a Means to an End.
There is another element to this story. This is the public school system. This is filled with the reality of that caste system we live with. In theory, the public school system should offer the same opportunities to all children. We all know better. Urban school districts have fewer funds than suburban school districts. Why? The tax base is lower because of the white flight of the 1950s and 60s that was driven by the civil rights movement, and integration efforts. Then there are the differences within a single High School, were AP students are a different breed than the rest of the student body.
The differences between urban and suburban schools happen even in school districts that have both the urban core and suburban schools. San Diego Unified is a good example. Lincoln High in Encanto has a lot fewer resources than La Jolla High. Both are in the same school district but funds are allocated based on the local tax base. There is more. They consistently get new teachers, who lack experience. The more experienced instructors get transfers to better schools. None of this is accidental. Which leads us to charter schools. While in general, these are a bad idea, in the inner cores these schools offer a way out of lower quality education, or at least the hope of one.
Let’s be clear, not every charter school is mana from heaven for children trapped in generational poverty. In fact, many are just as bad as their public school counterparts, if not worse. However, some are much better and offer the lucky few a leg up for the rest of their life. Education is a key to success in the United States. We should be troubled though, the zip code where you grow up can pretty much tell us how well you will do in life. Those with less money for public school have a lot less potential and real opportunities. You could even argue that this is one way for the caste system to defend itself from changes that would undermine it.
This is why education is a key, and why there has been resistance since the 1950s to improve education for Blacks and Latinos. The system is built to keep segregation in place. Brown v Board of Education was intended to remove these divisions and make education more equal. Efforts to do this during the 1970s included things like bussing. For the most part, we saw a white flight to the suburbs. Why? Many whites did not want to share schools with Blacks and Latino children. Moreover, when they moved, they removed a lot of funds through taxation. The United States funds schools through local taxes at the local district level. In this sense we are quite unique, This white flight kept segregation going, and bussing was fought. The end result is that today schools and housing are more segregated than they were in the 1960s. The system successfully defended itself from a frontal attack. This is why when Donald Trump says that he wants to protect Suburbia, he is trying to activate these voters and the racist ideology that drives many of them.
So we come back to Breonna Taylor. She is a powerful symbol. She grew up on the segregated side of the city. Yes, I know most of us do not speak in these terms these days, but we should. It is the reality of life. She was the daughter of a single mother, who had a dream to become a nurse. This would allow her to escape the structural poverty she’s lived in. In the meantime, she trained to be an Emergency Medical Technician and held a job at a local emergency room.
From experience, this is not an easy job or well paid.
Her apartment was on the wrong side of the tracks, and one of her boyfriends was also the product of this harsh reality. Some will make hash of the fact that she had contact with the criminal justice system from the time she was a young child. This included her last boyfriend who was suspected of dealing drugs by the local police.
The police are not trusted by the local community partly because they over police the local Black community, The city wants to develop the area where Taylor lived since a lot of it is blighted. They say they want to develop this into affordable housing, However, some local activists accuse the city of wanting to gentrify the area. This way they can attract young white families, reversing the white flight of fifty years ago. Ergo, this will bring back a tax base.
Her case tells us about racism, policing, poverty traps, and bad education. It also tells us a lot of how we protect the police, the enforces of the system, at all costs.
We are at a critical moment in our nations. The fact that we are having a discussion about statues is good. They are symbolic and let’s be honest, statues to the side that lost the civil war is not just about Confederate generals. But we need to start having these conversations. They are scabs that never heal partly because we have yet to remove them. They keep bleeding and getting infected.
Yes, say his name, and yes say her name. But we need to move well beyond this/. Which is what Black Lives Matter is about. We also know the price of human life in Kentucky. Her family received 12 million from the city, yet we have yet to see any officer indicted. We also use this tactic in foreign wars. Compensate people for a life taken, to buy their silence.
As to the election. We are entering a very dangerous time in the United States. We know what drives white supremacists. They will do all they can to stop the change that is coming, This includes violence if they can get away with it.