Thursday, March 5, 2015

American politics and learned helplessness

Was glad to hear about a Justice Department review of the police department in the city of Ferguson, Missouri. That review is part of what is often called a breaking news story at this point, as it just recently happened, and I'll link for reference to one article addressing it at The Atlantic from Conor Friedersdorf here.

And national attention has apparently revealed much that should have been known and addressed a long time ago, in a nation where racial issues have long been problematic.

So why wasn't it?

Another recent example involves allegations against a wealthy team owner which lead to his loss of his team, and for me it was strange listening to extremely wealthy and powerful athletes, who seemed certain that as Black men they could do nothing except accept.

Which has me thinking about learned helplessness.

In a country where Black people dominate at many levels from the presidency, to giants in the entertainment industry, and yes, in business though less visibly, why would it be taken for granted that there's just no way to address these kinds of situations as in Ferguson, Missouri until they explode?

How could the Justice Department have a Black Attorney General, who somehow can't handle a police force like in Ferguson, until intense national attention forces him?

Isn't it the job of his department to protect American citizens?

And why did those powerful Black athletes, tolerate what they did for as long as they did, until a dramatic story forced people around the globe to wonder?

As a Black man myself I am often amazed to listen to others tell me how hopeless the situation supposedly is, how supposedly impossible it is in this country, which they believe is just relentlessly hostile to Black people where they also believe it will never change.

When pressed they may calmly inform you that nothing has really changed in this country for Black people. And they are certain it never will.

Absorb that for a moment: the history challenging belief that NOTHING has really changed in this country for Black people and never will.

Psychology covers this area well. And it turns out there are basic reasons for why people can learn that there is no reason to try, when they have been oppressed for long periods of time.

If someone believes such a thing, why would they address injustice? What would be the point?

Too many supposed leaders of all races, as I don't think race is actually a real political issue any more in the US, get away with not addressing real concerns of citizens, based on a de facto belief that the system is too rotten to support justice.

So what makes them think they are then loyal Americans? If they no longer believe in their country?

Science has many of the answers we need. But it takes leadership to protect the people.

James Harris
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