RACISM: Anatomy of a Nation

Cecile Pineda
7 min readJan 27, 2020

This week I was going to focus on one of our many illnesses and on some of its headlines such as Operation Relentless Pursuit , which escalates “law enforcement” (code for racial profiling) in seven cities, Albuquerque, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, and Milwaukee. Or how local politics critically shape the “criminal justice system” in a theater near you, highlighting the roles of public defenders, district attorneys, sheriffs, and other officials. And how a bill introduced in Kentucky will make it harder for formerly incarcerated people to vote. And Analysis shows unarmed black men are 13 times more likely to be victims of police shootings. And how the current “administration“ just opened a new immigrant prison in Michigan. In the present day, although the U.S. holds 4% of the world’s population, it incarcerates 22% of that population, disproportionally people of color.

Thankfully, a bunch of uppity women turned me on to the state organ, the good “grey” lady, The New York Times series titled 1619: America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One. I read “Our Democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written, Black Americans have fought to make them true” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, which pins down the moment in 1619 when Dr. Frankenstein began to create the entity we now call the United States.

“American slavery is necessarily imprinted on the DNA of American capitalism,” write the historians Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman. The Times series amplifies this idea further as it chronicles Southern Senator John C. Calhoun’s advocacy of the theory of nullification, whereby he argued the state can do as it pleases even defying Federal statutes.

But ultimately, we have blow back from the election of Barry Obama (as he was known when he lived in Hawaii) for our present state of affairs, where the current White House resident waited till last Friday to nullify the Clean Water Act. The present regime is the ultimate expression of the deeply structural racism alive and well at the heart of many of this nation‘s voters.

Focused on incarceration, I first turned to Bryan Stevenson’s Times’ series contribution headlined “Slavery gave America a fear of black people and a taste for violent punishment. Both still define our prison system.”

There Stevenson refers to his firm’s work exonerating Black folks, many of them minors when they were incarcerated for life for minor or non-existent offenses, and whom his firm works to free.

But this series’ seminal history lesson is best summarized in the words of Nikole Hannah-Jones who takes us back to the origin of the structural problem lying at the root of this nation’s (and now the world’s) woes:

“Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery….The wealth and prominence that allowed…the…founding fathers to believe they could successfully break off from one of the mightiest empires in the world came from the dizzying profits generated by chattel slavery.”

And that imperative lies at the heart of our governing Constitution which describes the Black man as 3/5 of a person, and which still sanctions slavery (in the 14th amendment) for incarcerated persons.

The Times has made an invaluable contribution towards correcting this sad nation‘s history. But there is one serious omission. Nowhere is there acknowledgement of the delight Black culture contributes to our lives (except perhaps when Wesley Morris reveals why white musicians like to steal ideas from Black music), nor to its joy, nor to its grace, nor to its bottomless ability to forgive. The Black world is one of the few surviving islands of sanity still managing to lend this American life some meaning.

In the 1897 words of W.E.B . Du Bois: “Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal, dyspeptic blundering with the light-hearted but determined Negro humility; or her coarse, cruel wit with loving, jovial good humor; or her Annie Rooney with Steal Away?”

Demand Department of Justice investigate Mississippi prison conditions at


Support clemency request for Nick Sutton threatened with execution at


Free wrongfully incarcerated Rosa Jimenez and drop all charges at




Help Navajo and Apache tribal members work with new technology to deny #45 Arizona’s 11 electoral votes at


Stop supporting climate chaos with taxpayer money at


Write your Senators: No War with Iran at


Tell Congress: Defund #45’s border wall at


Tell EPA to strengthen rules protecting farm workers against pesticide drift at


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