Point of View Columns

The Negro Problem – Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has taken on a life of its own. The support – and opposition to BLM has been passionate and should not be surprising. After all, in this fifteenth year of the 21st century the United States of America still has a Negro Problem.
As noted in prior columns, Frederick Douglass correctly stated America’s Negro Problem when he wrote close to two centuries ago:

“There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution”

The need for a Black Lives Matter movement is proof that there remains a need for a fair and full reconciliation of the promises of the Constitution with the existence of black Americans in this country. Perhaps if the movement were entitled “Black Lives Matter….Also” there might be fewer criticisms of the BLM movement, particular attacks that claim that it is exclusionary or, incredibly enough, an example of “racism”.

But the reality is that if black lives mattered in the same manner as most white Americans, we would not be seeing higher infant mortality rates and lower life expectancies in the black community. If black lives truly mattered in this country we would not see the obscene disparities in arrests, sentencing and incarceration of black Americans. If black lives truly mattered virtually every encounter between a black American and a white police officer – whether for a traffic violation or disobeying an order to stop smoking a cigarette – would not have the potential for a lethal result.

The Black Lives Matter movement exists because from the very inception of this republic, black Americans were literally and explicitly excluded from the promises of liberty and freedom written in the Constitution – black people were 3/5ths of a human being in the eyes and minds and hearts of the so-called Founding Fathers. If black lives truly mattered in American history there would have been no need for a Civil War, or a Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery or a Fourteenth Amendment to confirm that every black person in this country was indeed an American.

The BLM movement exists because without saying, writing and shouting that black lives matter, in the hearts and minds of too many Americans they don’t matter. When the response to “Black Lives Matter” is “All Lives Matter”, the hypocrisy and inbred racist mindset of American thought reveals itself. “All Lives Matter” in this country as “all men are created equal”. The so-called Founding Fathers did not believe it, and too many Americans do not believe it today.

There has been an historical psychic disconnect between the stated ideals of these United States and the sad and sick reality of American racism and racist traditions. And that disconnect is why it has been necessary for the Supreme Court of the United States to confirm the rights of basic citizenship for black Americans, to confirm the right of black Americans to vote and even confirm the right of black American children to go to the same school as white American children.

Just as Frederick Douglass said that there is no Negro Problem, today he would have said that the Black Lives Matter movement is not the problem. The problem is the difference between being white or black can mean the difference between sickness and health, between wealth and poverty and even between life and death in these United States.

And until that difference is erased it will continue to be important to state that Black Lives Matter.

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Point of View Columns

A Eulogy for Julian Bond and a Generation

The recent death of Julian Bond caused a righteous outpouring of honor and respect for a man who dedicated his life to human dignity and liberation. History provides some context for the courage and passion that he brought to a struggle that benefitted not only black Americans, but all Americans.

Julian Bond was born in 1940 and during the first ten years of his life over thirty black Americans would be lynched in this country. In the year that he was born Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and during his entire thirteen year term in office he never supported a single anti-lynching bill that was proposed in Congress. And no anti-lynching bill has ever been passed.

The America into which Julian Bond was born was covered with the slime and ooze of sixty four years of legalized and institutionalized racism, segregation and bigotry, the horrid aftermath of Reconstruction. Julian Bond did not read about black and white water fountains, he drank from the black fountains. He did not hear stories about segregated schools, pools, universities and hotels – he attended those schools, swam in those pools only on “Negro days”, could not aspire to attend the public universities in the South and, if the opportunity had arisen, he could only stay in “Negro hotels”.

In 1951 when Julian Bond was eleven years old, Harry T. Moore, the head of the Brevard County (Florida) NAACP and leader of a black voter registration drive, was assassinated by the local sheriff. Harry T. Moore is a footnote to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement and that sheriff never served a day in prison.

When Julian Bond was fourteen the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court declared that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. In 1955 when Julian Bond was fifteen Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi, ostensibly for the unforgivable crime of whistling at a white woman.

Two years later, in 1957 when he was seventeen, Julian Bond watched with the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, when the National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army were needed to guarantee the safety of nine black children whose parents had the temerity to want their children to go to a quality school in Little Rock, Arkansas that had been all white.

This was the America in which Julian Bond and all black Americans lived when he enrolled at Morehouse College soon thereafter. And it was in this cauldron of bubbling racist toil and trouble that he became one of the founding members of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Looking through the cloudy lens of the past it is difficult to comprehend the courage that Julian Bond, James Lewis, Stokely Carmichael possessed to even try to organize resistance to a brutal and malevolent regime that valued racism and racists practices over the lives of all black men, women and children.

Julian Bond is well remembered for his role as a member of the Georgia State Legislature, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And well should he be remembered for these and his many other good deeds.

And, as we remember Julian Bond, we should take a moment to understand and comprehend the force and power and beauty and courage of his generation who confronted White Power when it was the law – and in a very real way prevailed.

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Point of View Columns

Remembering Watts – the Day that All Hell Broke Loose

It was fifty years ago, August 11, 1965, that all hell broke loose in Los Angeles. What began as a simple traffic stop, turned into a rebellion/riot that result in 34 people dead, 1000 people injured, over 4000 citizens arrested. The Watts Riots, as the event came to be known, also ripped the veil of complacency and hypocrisy from America’s self-image, as the immortal specter of racism and racial oppression made itself known to all the world.

In the last fifty years there have been scores of similar conflagrations – in Washington, Harlem, Los Angeles (again), Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Philadelphia. In the last half century there has been a sense of a “Groundhog Day” pattern – there is a police incident/miscarriage of justice/no justice – then frustration turns to rage that turns to burning and looting – there is a paramilitary response to “restore order” – “order is restored” – a commission/panel/forum is convened to identify the root causes of the disorder – recommendations/proposals/commitments to change are made – change takes place, but not fundamental/institutional/cultural change – Reset.

Even with the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Reset button has never been far away. Black mayors, Congressional Representatives, Senators, Governors and a black president have been elected, again and again and yet, the Reset button has never been far away. The failure to indict the officers who tried to beat Rodney King to death caused the Reset button to be pressed again –as was the case after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, as was the case after the police execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The philosopher George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And it seems that as a society, as a nation, although we claim to remember the past, we seem to ignore it or not give it the credence and importance that it deserves. As so we repeat the past over and over. The Reset button remains, simply waiting for the next tragedy or the next egregious demonstration of injustice.

A library could be filled with the books, reports, articles and commission findings that followed the aftermath of Watts, Harlem, Newark, Detroit, etc. Some of the presumed greatest minds have labored to propose strategies and solutions that would remove the need to resort to that damned Reset button. And yet, there is an unstated recognition that no time will be the last time because when it comes to the fire born of frustration combined with racism, inequality, injustice and racial oppression, the fire has never gone out, and there will always be a next time.

And as we watch the all too familiar made for television drama play out in Ferguson, the embers of death and destruction have only just now cooled down in Baltimore and we can only wonder when and where the Reset button will be pressed.

The sad symbols of sorrow, the inevitable eulogies, the pledges of reconstruction and reconciliation – they are part of the ritual of this country. They are part of the ritual because the necessary predicate of recognizing the humanity of all people, including black Americans has not taken place. The statistics of unemployment and mortality and incarceration tend to only partially deodorize the stench of racism.

The entire country watches the demented kabuki choreography of public officials refusing to recognize the fact that the facts don’t lie – the disparity, inequality, unfairness and injustice that are the unwanted birthright of the national black community leaves too many with no option other than to press the Reset button that leads to rebellion that leads to repression that leads to resentment that leads to soon to be forgotten promises of reconciliation and renewal.

As we remember the Watts Rebellion of fifty years ago, we would all do well to remember the words of George Santayana.

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Point of View Columns

Donald Trump and “Straight Talk”

One of the more interesting aspects of the Trump candidacy is how he is able to give voice to the major and minor prejudices and bias that infect the national bloodstream – doing so in a way that is supposed to be “straight talk”. His “straight talk” is appreciated by a significant part of the right wing of the right wing of the Teapublican Party. We will see how far “straight talk will take him”.

We have already heard Donald Trump attack, demean and demonize Mexican American immigrants, and by extension immigrants from just about anywhere in the world where white people are not the native population. He took a baby step backward by admitting that not all Mexican American immigrants are rapists, and that was very kind of him. But he still paints these immigrants as the lesser, as the other, as the unwanted in America.

And because this is supposed to be “straight talk”, not bigoted and hateful discourse, he has not disqualified himself to be President of the United States. Indeed, on August 6th, The Donald will be center stage at the first Teapublican presidential debate, playing the role of the leading candidate. Clearly, “straight talk” trumps the dog whistle rhetoric engaged in by the likes of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, et. al.

It appears that under the heading of “straight talk”, Donald Trump can get away with saying anything. In his passionate crusade to denigrate President Obama at any and every opportunity, he has departed from his “birther cruise to nowhere” and now is intent on proving that the president is incompetent, weak and “the worst president in the history of this country”.

Never one to let the truth get in the way, Trump conveniently omits President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, his leading the country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, saving the auto industry, saving the banking industry, instituting a national healthcare system and establishing a financial services regulatory system that most probably would have saved this country from the aforementioned economic crisis had it been in effect in 2007.

Trump is so concerned about being a “winner”, despite the multiple bankruptcies of companies with the Trump name and his own flirtations with personal financial disaster. But being such a “winner”, one would think that Trump would appreciate the fact that Barack Obama won the presidency with more than 50% of the popular vote – twice. President Obama is the only person to do that since President Eisenhower over a half a century ago. That should make him a “winner” by the Trump standard. But then, Donald Trump has never let facts get in the way of a good diatribe.

And so, as he continues his rant about the failures and deficiencies of Barack Obama, Trump engages in “straight talk”, saying that President Obama will make it impossible for another African American to be elected president “for generations”. Such language and thinking is precisely the source of the racist virus that has afflicted this country from its very inception.

Even if one wishes to accept Donald Trump’s outlandish assessment of President Obama’s record, even if he were as bad as George W. Bush – he of the stolen election and lie-based wars – why would that keep another African American from being elected president? Jimmy Carter was not considered to have a particularly outstanding one term presidency, but that did not prevent another white Southerner, Bill Clinton, from being elected twelve years later.

The racist tone and logic of Donald Trump’s statements regarding the election prospects of future African Americans, in the name of “straight talk”, is actually an illustration of dog whistle politics without the dog whistle. He is only saying what too many white Americans still believe. The shame of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is that too many Americans are listening and liking it.

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