WASHINGTON — It's good that Starbucks, with its announcement this week that it will close thousands of stores for a day of "racial bias training" in May, is taking steps in the right direction after a video of two black men getting arrested in one of its coffee shops went viral. But white America's habit of needlessly calling the police on black people is not just a Starbucks culture problem. It's an American culture problem.
The tragic examples are all over the Internet. In McKinney, Tex., in 2015, after a neighbor called police about a pool party, a responding officer used brute force on 15-year-old Dajerria Becton, slamming the girl to the ground by her hair and jamming his knees into her back and neck. The video of the sobbing, 100-pound, swimsuit-clad girl went viral. The officer was fired.
That same year, South Carolina officer Ben Fields was fired over a viral video of him flipping a black high school girl over her desk and dragging her across the classroom. Her offense? Refusing to put away her cellphone.
And, of course, who can forget what happened in 2009 when a woman in Cambridge, Mass., called 911 to report a possible burglary in her neighborhood? The man she called the cops on was renowned black Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. He was arrested and charged — for trying to get into his own house.
"My anger is directed not just at the cops but also at the cowardly Starbucks manager who made the call to the police to begin with," Jason Johnson wrote in an excellent account for the Root on the Starbucks incident, in which two black men quietly waiting for a friend ended up in handcuffs. "The men and women making these outrageous and unwarranted calls to police, which result in the harassment, unfair prosecution and even death of people of color, need to be found and publicly shamed."
The first U.S. memorial to the victims of lynchings is set to open next week in Montgomery, Ala. Black people in this country have long known that disturbing white Americans in white spaces can mean death. "In the early decades of the 20th century," author Isabel Wilkerson noted in the New York Times, "a caste system ruled the South with such repression that every four days an African-American was lynched for some perceived breach or mundane accusation — having stolen 75 cents or made off with a mule." Indeed, between 1877 and 1950, almost 4,000 black people died this way, mostly in Southern states.
We should be pushing for prosecution against these callers.
What the Starbucks incident has in common with the lynchings of the past — as well as the police brutality and mass incarceration of the present — is the basic fact that black people in America can be physically eliminated at any time, in any place, for little reason — whether that means being kicked out of stores, suspended from school, priced out of their neighborhoods, locked up in jail or put in the grave.
Johnson proposes a legal remedy. "You can get arrested for pulling a fire alarm, making fake bomb threats and making false claims of an alien invasion — why not a false police report that results in death?" he wrote. "We should be pushing for prosecution against these callers just as much as the cops who pull the trigger."
Maybe something like this could help. It would certainly be better than having the second thoughts come after the fact, after it's too late. In Sacramento in March, a white neighbor investigating the sound of breaking glass called the police to report a man in a hoodie on his street. Stephon Clark wound up dead, in his grandmother's back yard, after police fired 20 rounds at him. He was unarmed.
The neighbor has said he never wants to call 911 again.
Starbucks will do what it needs to do to protect its brand. But what is America doing to protect its own citizens of color? Who will train Americans to stop calling the cops on their unarmed black neighbors? Who will train school officials not to use police force on black kids just for being kids? Who will train the convenience-store managers? The mom-and-pop restaurants? And how can we up the social and legal costs for people who make life-threatening decisions by calling the police on peaceful black people?
To echo pop singer Solange Knowles, the fundamental question I am asking white America is: "Where can we be free? Where can we be safe? Where can we be black?"
In 2018, I don't think America has an answer.
"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.
BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.
Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."
Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!
Communist curriculum replaces global subjects
This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.
Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.
But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?
The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.
Targeting pop culture
The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.
What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.
A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.
Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.
Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.
"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."
Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.
Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.
From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."
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