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American Thugocracy

POSTED: April 22, 2015, 7:00 am

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In just eleven short years the United States will celebrate its 250th anniversary. Like the bicentennial commemoration in 1976, the events in 2026 will undoubtedly extol the American narrative of a nation born as a unique democratic experiment; emerging from powerful words on parchment and not the barrel of a musket. And like that flag waving extravaganza from my high school days, the storytelling will be the stuff of myth and lies, and likely reinforce the historical inequality that defines the American experience.

It is what is left out of the story of our nation’s past and the denial of our present state of affairs that has this country on a collision course with the truth. Sooner or later, if for nothing but sheer survival, we are going to have to reconcile the American myth with our reality. The imagery of a noble founding; spurred by conscientious and moral men who simply sought liberty and an escape from the tyranny of the British crown makes for good TV, the Broadway stage and the movies but fails to bring our nation into a state of political and economic maturity.

The tale of a unique democratic experiment in which the people are the government and citizens are equally disposed to the fruits of abundance the nation produces is sheer fantasy. From the outset we have been a nation that uses ‘any means necessary’ to enlarge its domain and collect what we deem we are entitled. The idea of a ‘peaceful revolution’ belies the bloody decimation of the American Indian and the enslavement of Africans. Yet, the sanitized imagery of the grand experiment persists even though early observes like de Tocqueville witnessed the hypocrisy of early America and pointed out the inconsistencies in the narrative that has now been passed down for generations.

The truth is that we, the nation of the enslaved and the racially oppressed, should be more appropriately considered a Thugocracy. By Thugocracy I mean a system of domination constructed upon the control of political and economic institutions, achieved by the manipulation of intergroup relations through theories of dominant group superiority and exceptionalism; and the use of coercive, punitive and violent measures to compel submissive behavior in targeted subgroups. This nation has never been a true democracy. How can it be when large numbers of its population are legally excluded from being active participants or violently prohibited from full democratic expression – voting, work and shelter?

It is the institutions that most define our national character that are foundational to our Thugocracy. They include the vast prison industrial complex (local jails, prisons and detention centers), political institutions that preserve white privilege, corporations and corporate controlled media, faith-based institutions and the military industrial complex. While each institution acts independently, the damage inflicted upon those groups deemed subservient and expendable is the result of the interconnectedness of these very institutions. Taken as a collective, these forces use whatever means necessary – intimidation, the law, misinformation and deception, and violence – to maintain privilege.

Take for example the so-called school-to-prison pipeline; the invisible yet very apparent pathway of Black and Latino children from the schoolhouse door to the prison cell. A number of institutions, including schools, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the judiciary, without coordination proceed in a manner that connects the dots and consumes children of color. Likewise, corporations protect their economic interests, in part by sheer exploitation but more deftly by manipulating public perception and buying behavior through advertising, and influencing political institutions that in turn protect business interests often at the expense of public safety and welfare. Corporations have now invaded the education space to carve out new profit centers based upon the marginalization and discrediting of public schools and public school teachers, and by doing so, aid political actors who seek to deny children of color a quality education. Law enforcement reinforces historical patterns of suppression, often by force but more often through intimidation, harassment and creating narrowly crafted classifications of anti-social behavior most often applied to black and brown people. Political institutions aid the profiling of people of color by creating laws that apply more significant penalties for the same offenses on people of color than on their white counterparts. It is a system ripe with thuggery and that continually deprives Blacks and Latinos of their full citizenship rights.

Buttressing this Thugocracy is a media infrastructure that communicates messages of Black inferiority to the public in patently biased news reporting and editorializing, the peddling of negative imagery of Blacks in so-called ‘objective’ reporting and stereotypical characterizations of African-Americans on television and in movies. The bombardment of white America with a collage of Black ‘failure’ lends legitimacy to racially biased public policy that aims to disfranchise African-Americans and limit our economic advancement.

“Poor and working class whites fare little better than most Blacks in America but appeals to their whiteness succeed in severing the possibility for unity between African-Americans and less advantaged whites.”

What drives this system, what makes it possible is the clever manipulation of class interests through racially coded messaging and partial benefits to disadvantaged whites. Poor and working class whites fare little better than most Blacks in America but appeals to their whiteness succeed in severing the possibility for unity between African-Americans and less advantaged whites. Meanwhile, the nation’s privileged class has no fears of a class uprising so long as race can be used to distract, raise suspicions and scapegoat. The ability to ‘game’ the system is the ultimate proof of thug behavior and we witness the masterful manipulation of Americans on a daily basis.

It is no insignificant point that as America approaches this next historical benchmark the complexion of its citizenry will take on a different hue. By its 250th birthday, much of this nation will see the decline of a white majority. The continued oppression of people of color suggests a coming apartheid-like state where institutions of political and economic power are controlled by a dominant white minority. How we change this course is wholly dependent upon our willingness to make America uncomfortable, to deploy the truth in settings of institutional power, and contest those institutional forces invested in the maintenance of historical inequality.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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