Linn Washington

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: Although the Jim Crow laws which officially segregated the American citizens in public places based on their race and color were abolished in 1965, the legacy of racial discrimination still remains with the African-Americans and there are many instances of laws and practices that violate the rights of the blacks in the American society.

According to prominent American journalist Linn Washington Jr, systematic discrimination against the blacks in the United States still exists and African-Americans are subject to different types of inequity of bias in the social, political and cultural level.

“Discriminatory deprivations directed against African-Americans remain systemic in American society. Such race-based deprivations have existed since the colonial-era founding of America. While intense individual and legalized racism has subsided, a more subtle yet substantive institutional racism remains,” said Linn Washington Jr. in an interview with Fars News Agency.

Linn Washington Jr. is a journalist and journalism professor based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington is an award-winning journalist whose career spanning more than three decades includes providing local, regional, national and international coverage.

Washington is an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department at Temple University where his teaching includes instruction in investigative reporting and multi-media urban reporting. Washington is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program. He holds a BS in Communications from Temple University and a Masters In The Studies of Law from Yale University.

Mr. Linn Washington took part in an interview with FNA and responded to a number of questions regarding the continued racial discrimination against the blacks and Latinos in the United States and the different manifestations of racism in the American society.

Q: In one of your articles, you noted that the Veterans Administration hospitals and other governmental and private sector organizations openly discriminated against meritorious and qualified black professionals until the late 1960s and early 1970s and prevented them from earning a living and improving their livelihoods. Do you see any traces of the same discriminatory approach toward the African-Americans in the United States today? How has that prejudice and discrimination affected the lives of the American blacks in the 21st century?

A: Discriminatory deprivations directed against African-Americans remain systemic in American society. Such race-based deprivations have existed since the colonial-era founding of America. While intense individual and legalized racism has subsided, a more subtle yet substantive institutional racism remains. Such facts as the level of unemployment among blacks being double that of the rate of whites and blacks receiving prison sentences longer than whites convicted of the same crimes evidence the ongoing character of racism in America; racism that pervades this nation’s domestic and foreign policies.

Q: You’ve sometimes talked about the disenfranchisement laws in Iowa and three other states which prevent some 2 million American people, 70% of whom are black, from voting in elections. As far as I know, the disenfranchisement laws in the United States were in place from 1880 to 1965. Are they still being practiced officially? Does the government acknowledge that it has introduced such rules? Would you please elaborate more on that?

A: Efforts to erect barriers blocking blacks from voting date from the founding of the United States of America where free blacks who were not slaves faced obstacles in the exercise of voting rights despite their meeting the property-owning/tax-paying requirements for voting. Barriers like felony disenfranchisement that strip convicted felons of their right to vote for life date from the post-Civil War era and were implemented in many states specifically to exclude blacks from voting. In recent years, Republicans in states across America have passed news limiting access to the ballot box through such restrictions as requiring photo identification to vote and eliminating early voting.

These Republican initiated vote-limiting schemes particularly target racial minorities, the elderly and students – groups perceived by Republicans as favoring Democratic Party candidates. Even the US Supreme Court, in 2013, sanctioned limitations on voting rights when that court’s right-wing, conservative majority voided a key provision of the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act. That high court ruling stripped power from the US Justice Department to act against laws approved in southern states to limit voting. In the wake of that ruling many southern states, controlled by Republicans, approved a flurry of laws against inclusive voting that many perceive as a return to Jim Crow segregationist practices that the Civil Rights Movement fought to end.

Q: Do you think that the legacy of racism has still remained with the United States? Historically, there have been very sad moments for the black Americans who were racially segregated from the whites in public places, and as I learnt, in 1942 the Pentagon ordered that the black people’s blood should not be used for transfusion for the whites. These are very disgraceful insults to the identity and personality of the African-Americans as a large community in the United States. Does the American society still work that way?

A: Fortunately, American society does not have overtly racist practices like the Pentagon having separate blood supplies based on race. However, the more insidious institutional racism remains. As Dr. King once remarked, Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America with races worshipping in churches with congregations predominately of one race. Law and custom no longer excludes minority students from major universities across America yet faculties’ at those universities remain largely white and male. Top management at most major corporations remains largely white and male. America’s news media – legacy and net based – remain largely white, excluding qualified persons of color. Law enforcement remains a predominately white profession. Racism remains a dominant operative dynamic in America and racism remains a problem that is denied by a majority of Americans; denials that replicate societal postures in pre-Civil Rights Movement times.

Q: Would you please elaborate on the instances of racism in the U.S. educational system? In one of your writings, you had alluded to the fact that some Arizona officials had once approved a legislation that eliminated ethnic studies programs in public schools, which was seen as a measure specifically targeting African-American studies, Native-American studies and Chicano studies. Are there other measures which restrict the academic and educational freedoms of the African-Americans or target them in some ways?

A: Governmental funding for public education in America is abysmally low and that underfunding is most pronounced in areas with high numbers of minorities or poor whites. The Republican governor of Pennsylvania, for example, has slashed billions of dollars from public education since 2010 – budget cuts that have crippled Philadelphia’s majority-minority public school district. Yet, that governor, Tom Corbett, has increased the budget for the state’s prison system where it costs $34,000 to keep one prisoner in one cell each year – a figure nearly twice the cost of annual tuition to Pennsylvania State University. Nearly half of the 51,000+ inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system were unemployed when arrested and had low educational achievement. Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing education and employment lowers crime. About one-third of all Pennsylvania state prison inmates come from one city: Philadelphia – a city where 28 percent of the households live in poverty. Governments from New York City to Los Angeles, Chicago to Miami are closing inner-city schools, thus depriving predominately minorities children of educational opportunities provided to students in affluent suburban communities who are predominately white.

Q: It’s said that the blacks are the main victims of the U.S. government’s campaign of war on drugs, and that they constitute the majority of the culprits arrested for marijuana possession. As you once wrote, “Marijuana is a big piece of African Americans in prison.” Why is it so? Is it really the case that the African Americans are seriously involved in drug trafficking activities?

A: America’s onslaught on drugs has always contained a racial caste. In the late 1800s laws were passed to target Chinese immigrants, banning the smoking of opium by Chinese even as opium-based products were legally sold to whites who were then the largest number of drug addicts in America. As the extensive 2013 ACLU report on America’s failed War on Marijuana stated, Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Much of the mass incarceration in America is driven by the War on Drugs that repeated studies show unfairly targets blacks through tactics like racial profiling. The federal government’s war on crack cocaine, with its draconian mandatory-minimum prison sentences targeted drug addicts and small time dealers but not major traffickers of powder cocaine, the substance used to make crack cocaine. The US Congress made the mere possession of five grams of crack cocaine subject to mandatory five year prison sentence while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive a five year mandatory. Thus white powder cocaine traffickers escaped the draconian sentences meted to black drug addicts. A 1995 US Sentencing Commission study on racism in crack cocaine law enforcement found that only four percent of the federal prison inmates serving crack cocaine sentences were high-level dealers.

The Obama Administration did succeed in reducing crack law sentences. In recent years, the US Justice Department has fined major US banks for facilitating billions of dollars of money laundering for Mexican and other drug cartels but not a single executive of any of those banks who facilitated that money laundering faced prosecution much less prison time. The racism that infects so many sectors of American society runs rampant in law enforcement, prominently evidenced in America’s failed War on Drugs. The lack of jobs and other economic deprivations arising from institutional racism is a major yet dismissed reason why some African-Americans are involved in drug dealing.

Q: When Barack Obama was elected the U.S. President in 2008, the American citizens and many people across the world came to believe that he is a pacifist who intends to promote peace and friendship across the world; however, after a few years, it turned out that Obama is following the path of his predecessor, authorizing drone attacks on four countries, intensifying economic sanctions against Iran, increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, interfering in the internal affairs of the Latin American countries and waging a proxy war in Syria. Why has President Obama failed to deliver his promise of change and adopt policies different from those of George W. Bush?

A: The answer to this question lies in reality of the US presidency. The main job of the US president is to protect and perpetuate the ‘America system’ and that means protect and perpetuate US business interests. America makes money making war. Obama, the nice talking presidential candidate did not break with tradition when he entered the White House by moving America away from its posture of seeking to economically dominate. Obama used much of his Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify and support waging war – a philosophical stance in conflict to the acceptance speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who President Obama says he admires.

Q: In the recent years, movements have emerged in the United States whose ultimate goal is to speak out against the restriction of civil liberties and personal freedoms in the States. One of the most controversial laws passed in the U.S. Congress was the Patriot Act signed into law by President George Bush in 2001 which legalized the clandestine monitoring of the American people’s email correspondences, phone conversations and other communications. What’s your assessment of the success of such movements? Have they been able to draw the American statesmen’s attention to what many U.S. citizens are opposed to?

A: Various efforts to convince Americans of the democracy undermining restrictions on their civil liberties through the Patriot Act and other assaults like mass surveillance by the NSA have raised awareness but have so far failed in arousing the population to demand change. Sadly, societal conditioning has indoctrinated Americans that their constitutional rights and civil liberties are immune of erosion. Acculturation makes it difficult for many Americans to see that the way of life they cherish is being steadily constrained by the mushrooming security state.

Q: The iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela has just passed away and the world was engulfed in regret and sorrow with his death. He was a legendary leader whose struggles for regaining the stolen rights of the blacks under the apartheid regime of South Africa will be always remembered. What’s your viewpoint regarding his heritage and the impact he left on pro-democracy, pro-freedom movements of the Africans across the world?

A: Mandela made a truly historic mark on South Africa and the wider world. His iconic stature extends far beyond his country. But it must be remembered that Mandela was part of a movement that began before his birth. History will judge if Mandela made the best moves for South Africa when during the transition from apartheid he did not seek to radically change the economic balance that had been tilted against the African majority for centuries. The economic imbalances oozing from the apartheid era have contributed to South Africa having the distinction as the nation with the largest income disparities in the world. Neo-colonialism ravaged most African countries after their respective ‘independence’ and now neo-liberalism ravages South Africa, along with gross corruption by many in the ruling ANC.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.