Blacktopping American Racism: A Reflection

A contented American driving a glimmering SUV on a sunny and empty seaside road is a pervasive icon of the consumerism and vainglory that fuels American culture. Drivers are white, male and handsome. The truck’s imposing grill proclaims privilege. The road’s surface a pristine blacktop rarely seen in less luxurious locals. Drivers are ruggedly independent and powerful, basking in the envy of those whose conveyance is less intimidating. The drivers don’t just own a status symbol. They own the road.

On Saturday, December 8 in Hartford, Connecticut, I joined the “Never Forgetting Ferguson” march and rally sponsored by Connecticut United Against Mass Incarceration and Mothers United Against Violence. The multi-ethnic demonstration braved cold, wind and rain to protest the continuing police brutality against communities of color across America. The marcher’s anger was palpable, the chanting of “No Justice, No Peace” all to familiar. The poignancy of one sign reading “Newtown Mom Says Black Lives Matter” invited all to connect the bloody dots of American gun violence.

As we marched past protecting-and-serving police, horn-honking traffic and supportive residents, I glanced to the recently laid blacktop of Hartford’s historic Albany Avenue. My thoughts travelled back in time to October 1968. Then, I joined a massive march down the same urban street denouncing the War in Vietnam and supporting an increasingly demanding civil rights movement. I was also reminded of a sign held high at an anti-Afghan-war demonstration years later that read, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit.”

Forty-five years on, the malignant racism and militarism that enraged protesters in 1968 remains. Segregated lunch counters are gone, but a burgeoning “New Jim Crow” now robs African Americans of their civil rights, their dignity and often their loved ones. This time it wasn’t vicious attacks on unarmed Blacks in Birmingham, Alabama by “Bull” Connor’s dogs and fire hoses. It wasn’t the murder of the three civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and “Mickey” Schwerner that stirred outrage. Now, there is a growing recognition of the connections between recent, unwarranted killings of unarmed Blacks and a larger structural racism. Police racial profiling practices, stop-and-search laws and state-sanctioned “Broken Windows” policies magnify the misfortune of a racist War on Drugs. Each conspires to incarcerate Blacks in disproportionate numbers. (Racial Disparities in Broken Window Policing. Retrieved 10 December 2014.)

I thought of the routine moralizing, apology and historical revisionism that forms the layer upon which today’s gleaming “Post-Racial America” proudly rides. Each time progressive politicians resurface the nation’s thus far intractable racial morass. Today we have calls for cop cams, ending “Broken Windows” policing and even evening curfews for businesses. (Business Curfew. Retrieved 18 Dec 2014.) Soon the routine of shameless, smug self-congratulation begins among white American politicos. America announces its storied dedication to civil equality and justice, and its government’s ability to right the course of its democratic program. Thus, America repairs its depiction of the condition of the Black community. It celebrates an approaching racial equality progressively built of layers of “responsible” legislative remedies. As required, American’s commercial-media dream machine fabricates a new iconic Black person. As Blacks become corporate executives, Space Shuttle commanders and even Presidents, the comforting images and narrative of gradual social reclamation becomes a truism. One watches The Jeffersons morph into the Huckstables, then into the Obamas. The myth of Black upward mobility celebrates itself in the living rooms of squalid urban housing projects across America. The meme of Black achievement becomes a commercial portraying an imposing white Cadillac Escalade parking on spotless blacktop in front of a bleached mansion. The passenger side door opens and a shapely brown female leg stretches to the ground, while a white butler dutifully attends to the baggage. (Cadillac Commercial. Retrieved 3 Jan 2015.) If that doesn’t get your attention in America, nothing will. I am reminded of the infamous Virginia Slims “feminist” commercial from 1968. Today, America’s ruling class reminds Blacks, “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” One remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon in London on December 7, 1964 that reflects upon “negro”  progress and obstacles on the road to racial equality. ( Retrieved 19 Jan 2015.)

Hence, a meme of Post-Racial America announces that the nation’s moral compass is righted. While capital offers increasing opportunities to Blacks to serve capitalism, the oppressive and exploitive tendencies of racism find new avenues of expression. Yet soon, the latest layer of bourgeois cultural branding begins to show signs of deterioration. Black rights are being eroded in state legislatures and courts of law. Fundamentalist-Christian racial bigots continue to fashion clever ways to circumvent federal civil rights law. Fees for approved IDs that the poor can little afford replace banned poll taxes. Black voting power is diminished through widespread Republican gerrymandering. Cookie-cutter voter suppression laws written by the extremist, right wing business organization ALEC are pervasive. (ALEC and Voter Suppression. Retrieved 10 December 2014.) The Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by invalidating the Act’s requirement that states with a history of voting discrimination must get federal permission to change voting laws.

The star of The Huckstables becomes an obedient mouthpiece proclaiming a wishful bourgeois ethic. It is the pick-up-your-lazy-ass-and-get-a-job doctrine of poverty mitigation. It is the serve-capital-and-you’ll-be-equals program of civil justice. For the preachy Bill Cosby, the cultural menace is clear. “People putting their clothes on backward. Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?” Unfortunately, it is a normal step for police to reason from an indefensible generalization to a threat embodied in a teenager in baggy pants on a dark urban street. This complicity with discriminatory policing emboldens the stop-and-search harassment that entangled Mike Brown and Darren Wilson in a deadly dance, and strangulated Eric Garner. The continued denigration and criminalization of contemporary Black urban culture provides just the meme that enables the intimidation of Black families and justifies the reckless pulling of triggers. (Cosby’s Social Analysis. Retrieved 10 December 2014.)

As in 1968, there is a growing call for more than the usual legislative Band-Aids. The Socialist Party USA recognizes that widespread racist attitudes and structures exploited by capital must be revealed and resisted.

“The Socialist Party recognizes the intimate link between racism and capitalism and demands the elimination of all forms of discrimination in housing, jobs, education, health care, etc. We are committed to the creation of a pluralistic society that defends and promotes a multicultural/multiethnic presence in both the public and private spheres. The Socialist Party rejects the social construction of race [My italics] and we commit ourselves to the eradication of racism.”

The Party’s dedication to democracy governs its civil security policy.

“We call for the immediate establishment of completely independent and democratically elected police control and oversight councils, with full power to fire police and to arrest, detain, and indict police officers who brutalize or abuse people or who commit any violation of laws or civil rights and liberties. [My italics] We call for the ultimate replacement of the police with community residents trained in conflict resolution who live in and serve the community under community control.” (SPUSA Principles. Retrieved 10 December 2014.)

Socialists know that decentralized and democratic worker’s governance can effectively reduce racial strife. It can do so by directly engaging workers in the process of ensuring their own lives and wellbeing. It will not simply move the racist virus around to just emerge later, and in a more stubborn form. There would no longer be a need for blacktopping social history. No longer would “the government” need to lie to its least fortunate about economic mobility. It would no longer need to arrive on a white horse to save Blacks from their present unpleasantness at the hands of Jim Crow. Congratulations, well deserved, would go to all workers for their unwavering commitment to human justice and liberty.


J. Richard Marra

lives in Connecticut. He received his Doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1977, majoring in Musical Composition and the History of Music Theory. While on the Faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, he completed graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in the Philosophy of Science. He is a member of the Socialist Party USA, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Philosophy of Science Association. His articles have also appeared on the websites of the Secular Buddhist Association and The Hampton Institute. He is a 2014 recipient of the SPUSA's Eugene V. Debs Award. To read other essays by J. Richard Marra, please visit

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