Bigotry in Brentwood
By Dr. Lamont A. Francies, PPSC
December 22, 2020
On November 5th, 2020, a reminder of the reality of racism in the United States manifested itself close to home. A local Brentwood resident decided to make public statement for his disdain of President-elect Joseph Biden. He believed the Democratic nominee was a part of a conspiracy to steal the 2020 presidential election and therefore was justified hanging a dummy from a noose outside of his home decorated with American flags. The tag on the dummy read: ‘Sleepy Joe Biden’ (one of many derogatory nicknames given out by President Donald Trump). The sign said one thing but the symbol said another. The dummy was not dressed like a typical 77 year old Caucasian American male. Yet the dummy was adorned in ‘urban’ style clothing and symbolized the 3,400+ African Americans lynched in the U.S. from 1882-1968. The Brentwood resident and ardent Trump supporter appeared to blame the 9 in 10 African Americans who voted for Joe Biden in the presidential election of 2020.
This latest manifestation occurred in Brentwood California, a city where most residents would deny racism’s systematic existence. For most people racism is still unfortunately equated with individuals bigots who hate people from differing racial backgrounds. Many African Americans have bought into this false definition of racism and therefore begin to deny its prevalence because of the beneficial nature of their interracial relationships. Racism however is not that simplistic. The result of racism may manifest itself in individual relationships but the root of it is systemic. The systematic definition of racism is not always easy to accept because it goes against deeply held ideas of equality and justice in our nation
Racism is prejudice plus power. Racism encompasses a web of economic, political, social and cultural structures, actions, and beliefs that systematize and ensure an unequal distribution of privilege, resources, and power in favor of the dominant racial group and at the expense of all others (Derman-Sparks, Phillips, 1997). Racism in the U.S. therefore is not fluid, it does not benefit Whites one day and the next benefit Blacks. Racism systematizes White supremacy institutionally. Racism exists to maintain barriers and therefore must be addressed as a form of structural violence. If we see racism in the 21st century with new eyes we will discover that racism is a part of the DNA of this country, and yes even our county. Too often we are disturbed by the results of racism without truly understanding the roots of it.
Many Africans Americans in East Contra County were not shocked by the actions of this individual. This man is not an aberration of a racist county but a product of it. How can the city of Brentwood denounce this man’s actions when just a few days before hosted numerous Pro-Trump rallies? Donald Trump has advocated offense without apology. His presidency has promoted ethnocentrism, xenophobia, negrophobia and propagandized it under the mandated mask of American patriotism. This resident decided to place this symbol on his Brentwood home because he understood the silent system of support that he would receive. He would not have dared tried this display in Southeast Antioch. Some Brentwood residents were upset with this individual because he ruined the perception of a suburban utopia. So while most are concerned about protecting the city’s perception of racism, few are focusing on the city’s practice of it. The perception of racism in 2020 is bad for business. As a result many rushed to the defense of the city, denying racism exists systematically while only residing in the hearts of a hand full of misguided individuals. This could not be further from the truth. Racism is the air that we breathe, causing some to survive while others suffocate. Racism is invisible, but not invincible.
While the heartbeat of racism is denial, the heartbeat of antiracism must be confession (Kendi, 2019). Many will acknowledge the city’s racist past but fail to see its racist present. There are racial disparities that exists in criminal justice, housing, and the local Brentwood schools. African Americans only comprise 6.6% of Brentwood’s population yet can make a difference only in its collective voice. In the past we have protested, we have prayed, and while both of these actions are critical to our progress, we cannot make them the only things. We must use our Black economic capital to patronize businesses, churches and non-profits that support our collective interests. We must develop a plan after the protest to secure communities where African Americans are not viewed as perpetual guests. We must demand a strong repudiation of systematic racism from city officials that goes past meaningless statements and interracial photo-ops. We must move beyond surface friendships and forums to definitive actions and outcomes that ensure sustainable Black empowerment. This was not the first time we have seen a noose in the city of Brentwood and unfortunately it will not be the last. That noose had our collective names on it and so it is up to the Black community to control the counter narrative. As African Americans we can focus on the symbols of racism or we can seek to neutralize the source of it. We must stop being reactive and start becoming proactive by demanding action from the city that is truly affirmation. However, anytime we demand the right answers by asking the right questions the powers that be do what they do best with Black people: leave us hanging....
Derman-Sparks, L., & Phillips, C. B. (1997). Teaching/learning anti-racism: A developmental approach. New York: Teachers College Press.
Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. First Edition. New York: One World.