An African American blog of politics, culture, and social activism.
Insularity kills! Institutional building requires leaders and followers to have a singularity of purpose. Rarely do great institution come into being without the full commitment of all those involved. Institution building has a pernicious side, however. Institutional leaders delude themselves into believing that wrongful deeds must be swept under the rug for the sake of unity.
History is full of examples!
Citizens of the United States willfully and illegally ignored treaties signed by U.S. government with various Native nations. U.S. citizens without the permission of their government conquered and confiscated Native lands. Critics of these citizens were consistently ostracized and denigrated. As a result thousand upon thousands of Native people were killed in destructive wars and genocidal actions and their lands were illegally confiscated.
The problem is that institutional unification is often accompanied by arrogance and hubris. Frequently institutional leaders live in echo chambers and are surrounded by people like themselves. This is delusional and it prevents them from responding to wrongdoing.
The framers of the United Constitution were ingenious in attempting to limit the abuses of political power. Though the framers of the Constitution were ingenious, there ideas about democracy were problematic. They believed in a democracy for exclusively white men. They did not believe that Africans, women, and children were capable of democratic participation. And they excluded all Native people, even when the Cherokee adopted their modern principles about agriculture, education, and governance! The world they created was about white men. As result many people were abused.
People of African descent were abused as non-persons and the most exploited laborers of all exploited labor in the United States. All this meant that Black Americans could be bought and sold to exploit physically and when citizenship arrived lynched, imprisoned, and denied the right to vote in the old states of the Confederacy and this abuse was cultural and politically replicated throughout the United States.
All women, no matter their race or ethnicity, had little protection in this kind of system. Men routinely abused girls, especially the poorest ones. Anyone doing a study on laws of rape, marriage, and property know that women’s rights legally were virtually non-existent until 1964. And rape laws were not updated until late 1980s and 90s in the United States.
My point is that institutional culture allows for the victimization of the vulnerable! Practices of exclusion set up the context for individual behavior in an institutional setting. Practices of male exclusivity guided the decision makers at Penn State.
So here we are twenty years after Anita Hill came before the Senate judiciary committee and charged Clarence Thomas with sexual harassment looking at a sexual abuse cover up.
In 1991, Hill was made into a villainous enemy of Mr. Thomas and all that was supposedly good about political conservatism. The men, and it is always men, sitting on the judiciary committee, led by our sitting vice-president, Joseph Biden, refused to allow other women to backup Hill’s charges. Instead the committee allowed Mr. Thomas to play his own perverse version of the race card.
Thomas charged his opponents with carrying out a “high-tech lynching.” Lynching in America was always associated with the allege rapes of white women by black men. This rhetorical counterattack was effective and clever and closed the hearing before a cast of all white men who were shamed by Thomas’s inference to America’s history of extra judicial racial violence.
And Thomas’s alleged wrongdoing was co-signed by a higher authority. President George H. W. Bush continued with the nomination of Thomas refusing to withdraw his name for fear of that his presidency would look soft and the political right would outflank him in his party’s 1992 primary election. So Mr. Thomas gained a sit on the Supreme Court.
In the 1990s, as Hill’s charges receded in the public’s imagination, boys were being allegedly raped by an assistant coach on the Penn State University football program. The go along to get along mentality inside the athletic department and the upper reaches of an insular administration allowed alleged criminality to continue to protect the prestige of Penn State.
In this case, all male administrators were involved, like the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and no one was willing to step out and protect children, even when individuals witnessed the rapes occurring. The administration at Penn State instead of being transparent tried to keep it quiet. In both cases, interestingly enough, male leaders did not want to publicly discuss unwanted sexual advances and rape as though the victims themselves were the cause of institutional instability.
Like Anita Hill, the courageous victims have openly sought justice! And thank heavens for the lawyers in the prosecutor’s office and the citizens who made up the grand jury that have demanded accountability.
The lesson here is that institutions and institutional culture must be constantly examined. All institutions are subject to abuse power. Democratic institutions stay vibrant only when rules are constantly enforced through judicial processes that include diverse persons, opinions, and experiences.