The GrioFrom The Grio — The current spying controversy at the National Security Agency has caught many Americans off guard and has conjured up images of Big Brother.  The NSA has secretly collected the private phone calls and internet data of its citizens, allowing the federal agency to monitor people who were not suspected of any unlawful activity.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked information on the secret surveillance programs, is now a fugitive in hiding in Hong Kong.

And yet, while civil liberties advocates may find this type of surveillance illegal, an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and even grounds to sue the government, African-Americans may not necessarily react with as much outrage.

Decades under the microscope

It gets complicated. The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government.

Yet, a new poll from Pew Research Center and the Washington Post suggests that blacks may have forgotten about all those years of surveillance, or perhaps have even internalized all of that snooping.

According to the Pew survey, 56 of people believe the NSA tracking of telephone calls is an acceptable way to fight terrorism.  That includes 53 percent of whites, 62 percent of blacks and 63 percent of nonwhites in general.

Further, 45 percent of Americans believe the government should intrude even further into our internet activity in order to prevent terrorist attacks, while 52 percent disagree.  Meanwhile, 55 percent of blacks believe the feds should go the extra mile if such a move would thwart terrorism.  And when asked if it is more important for the government to investigate threats if it intrudes on privacy, or not intrude even if it limits the government’s ability to investigate threats, 62 percent voted for investigating threats.  While 60 percent of whites and 67 percent of nonwhites approved of investigations, 75 percent of blacks approved.

African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.  The slave patrols, consisting of white slaveholding and non-slaveholding men, were designed to prevent slave rebellions.  The patrols were ordered to stop the slaves they found on the road, compel the slaves to produce a pass, and have them prove they were not breaking the law.  Slave patrols often descended upon areas where slaves congregated, and could enter plantations without a warrant and search slave quarters for weapons, books, runaways or stolen property.

Tuskegee is just the tip of the iceberg

Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted experiments on 399 black men infected with syphilis in Macon County, Alabama in the infamous Tuskegee experiment.  201 men who had not contracted the disease were used as a control group.  The government treated the men as human guinea pigs by studying the effects of the disease yet failing to treat them with penicillin, never telling them they even had the disease, and allowing them to die.  A class action suit in 1973 on behalf of the men and their families resulted in a $9 million settlement.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research.  One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

For years, the federal government monitored black civil rights leaders.  As early as 1917, federal agents kept tabs on Marcus Garvey and his speeches, fearing his power of his black nationalist movement.  Beginning in 1919, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover became fixated on Garvey, calling him a “notorious negro agitator” and using black informants to monitor the leader and dig up damaging information on him and his Universal Negro Improvement Association, the largest black organization in history.

Using the first black FBI agent, Hoover ruined Garvey’s Black Star Line, a shipping line operating throughout the African Diaspora, and ultimately sent Garvey to prison after a politically-motivated prosecution for mail fraud.

In later years, Hoover would employ the techniques he used against Garvey to neutralize civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and groups such as the Black Panther Party.  Under his secret COINTELPRO (counterintelligence) program, Hoover monitored and disrupted domestic groups and social movements the FBI claimed were threats to national security.

(Continue Reading @ The Grio…)

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  • Rue

    Yeah some of us do…

  • Mademoiselle

    Do I care about government spying? Tough question since I don’t believe the government has had a stretch of time when it wasn’t spying on people. And, to be totally honest, there is a tiny miniscule part of me that is slightly (unjustifiably) relieved that it’s not just us. I know, stone me, sorry.

  • talaktochoba

    growing up militant in the 60s-70s, when everyone knew a family member recently lynched or recently picked up on a bogus charge and given the choice of jail or the army in Viet Nam, where over 80% of the front lines were black but couldn’t use certain latrines, mess halls, even whores, bars or brothels on leave, we got to watch “hip” young white guys infiltrate our organisations, always starting by befriending, even romancing our women so their acceptance was assured at private parties, dorm meetings, meal gatherings, etc.;

    we knew what they were doing but could never convince the women of it, and time and again organisations would splinter against each other and fall apart over accusations someone was giving away our secrets and plans–in other words, a snitch who surely would’ve been silenced if caught;

    now it never could be pinned on the “cool white guy”, but the trouble didn’t start til after he showed up, so it’s a pretty safe bet he turned somebody inside our organisation;

    we know the FBI were involved because who else takes down license numbers in Men In Black suits at the height of a summer’s day…the Nation of Islam?

    who else is waiting in pairs in your already cramped dorm room, knowing your routine is to return between certain classes?

    who else won’t identify themselves til forced to do so later, by the media if they should get wind you were captured?

    Miranda who?

    the fact that Hoover was a racist closet cross-dressing Communist-hating mysogynist bigot who used such luminaries as fellow racist bigot Walt Disney to spy on Dr. King instead of protecting him, that even bootlegger Papa Joe Kennedy and his boys John and Bobby were afraid of him, should tell you what we in the black community think of the government surveillance and subversiveness;

    we’ve had to endure terrorism 500 years–President Hoover even invited the KKK to hold a rally in the White House lawn President Obama trods today;

    white folks have only had a taste of terrorism twice–in 1941 and almost 70 years later, in 2001;

    it’s hard to be sympathetic when you’ve had a grandfather treed or taken the long way around town to the police station;

    maybe white folks better go rent “Enemy of the State” again…

  • MLI

    I care, I’m just not surprised. I kinda assumed that they already were spying. The patriot act gives the government wide berth to do all sorts of things, and since this spying is being done in the name of fighting terrorism, I am not surprised.

    I actually believe the government is doing more than just collecting metadata as they put it. I think they are actively monitoring phone calls, emails, internet history etc. There was even a case not to long ago where a Muslim student took his car to a shop to get it fixed and they found a gps on it, so this revelation doesn’t surprise me.

  • MySister’sKeeper

    Only white people have the luxury of being surprised that they are being spied upon. I think this whole thing is funny. In the age of social media, please know that privacy is on its way out.