Point of View Columns

Reflections on Black History Month 2019

It should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares at all about the legacy of Black History Month that since January 20, 2017, that legacy has been challenged, insulted and degraded. And it should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares about the legacy of Black History Month that the challenge and attack emanates not only from the current occupant of the White House – the challenge and attack emanates from America itself.

How else do we explain how over 62.9 million American voters – overwhelmingly white – chose a man to be President of the United States who openly and blatantly challenged the citizenship and legitimacy of the first black President of the United States for the sole reason that he is black. Donald Trump employed the dog-whistle of race politics like the racist virtuoso that he is – and over 60 million white Americans came running.

I hope that you will bear with me while I reference a book that was published in 1852, 167 years ago, a book that literally changed life for black Americans as it changed America itself. That book was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was one of the first international bestselling books in history, and it served to provide the platform for the abolitionist movement to make a virtually complete transition from advocating something called “moral suasion” to a call for immediate and complete action. And that action finally manifested itself in a civil war which opened the path to freedom for black Americans while almost destroying these United States in the process.

When you read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, you will be struck by how Harriet Beecher Stowe described slavery in human terms, in the process humanizing black slaves which, for most white Americans, was a revelation. One cannot read this book without being struck by the author’s very clear effort to present black Americans as human beings, no different from the white readers who were holding that book in their hands.

It is important to note that abolitionists, located primarily in the North, advocated the end of slavery, but for the most part they did not consider black Americans to be equal to white Americans. White supremacy did not reside only on Southern plantations, it could also be found in New York City, Boston and in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. where the Capitol and the White House were built by black slave labor.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” galvanized the abolitionist movement into an action movement that ultimately morphed into the Civil War. The book horrified readers as it revealed that the black victims of slavery were indeed human beings. And certainly Harriet Beecher Stowe succeeded in convincing many white Americans that black Americans were human, even if they weren’t equal.

There seems to be little doubt that America has accepted the fact that black Americans are human. But equal? That is another story.

While America has taken steps to recognize that black Americans are human beings, we have yet to see institutional or cultural recognition that black people are equal to human beings in terms of our humanity and in terms of equality or equity. Give this some thought:

Black people comprise 13.2% of this country’s population. Black players comprise 70% of all NFL players. In the NBA, 69.8% of all players are black. Unless you want to buy into the ancient slavery-based notion that black people are just superior athletes, you should be troubled by these numbers.

Because what they represent is a lack of educational and vocational opportunity for black Americans, many of whom turn to these sports as a path to success. Why not medicine, law, business, public service, the military or education, one might ask? It is clear that the opportunities to those goals are much more difficult for black Americans to access. This is what happens when white America sees black America as The Other, and not as equal.

Consider that sociologists and criminal justice experts estimate that one out of every five black boys born today will end up in the criminal justice system – arrest/parole/incarceration. I trust that we agree that if those statistics applied to young white boys born today a true national emergency would have been declared. White America still sees black America as The Other.

We have a current illustration of what it means to be The Other in America. During the 1980’s and 1990’s the crack epidemic was totally criminalized. New crime bills were passed in Congress, prisons were built, more police were hired and police departments were weaponized as never before.

It should be pointed out that crack was seen as an epidemic in the black community and a criminal justice response was the only strategy that was seriously considered. And mass incarceration and consequent devastation was visited upon black communities across this country.

Now we have an opioid epidemic. Now we have an epidemic that disproportionately impacts upon white America. And this epidemic is deemed a health problem, not a criminal problem. The tools being employed for this emergency involve medical treatment, counseling and decriminalization. This is a clear illustration of how White America still sees black America as The Other.

I am clear that the parents of our grandparents faced greater challenges. I am certain that our parents would not be deterred by the racism and discrimination and dehumanization that we face today. And I know, and you know, that we would dishonor the history that we celebrate if we allowed ourselves to be dismayed and defeated.

Nobody is going to turn us around. Not the miserable human being in the White House. Not the avowed racists and white nationalists who march by the light of tiki torches. And certainly not the closet racists who claim to support equality while watching the reality of inequality without taking any action.

Maybe it is time for a sequel to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Maybe it is time to remind white America that black America is here, black Americans aren’t going anywhere, and that black Americans are humans. Equality is not just a word – it is a culture. And is finally time for the American culture that treats black Americans as The Other to change – forever.

In closing I want to reference that it is important to understand the historical context within which Black History Month has its origins in 1926, inspired by Carter G. Woodson, the great black American historian. From 1882 to 1964 at least 3,446 black Americans were lynched in the United States. Men, women, children, returning war veterans in uniform, the aged, crippled and blind were killed by “civilized” American mobs. In 1926 black people lived in a reign of terror throughout the United States and not only in the South.

In 1926 voting rights were simply unknown for many black Americans. And in 1926 the great migration of black Americans from the South to the North, Midwest and West Coast was moving at a rapid pace. Of course “migration” is not the correct word, because many of the men, women and children leaving the South were refugees from the organized and casual terrorism that described the lives of so many and too many.

In 1926, the Black National Anthem, words by James Weldon Johnson and music by John Rosamond Johnson, had been introduced and sung since 1900. And during those 26 years Jim Crow segregation was cemented into the American way of life. During those 26 years President Woodrow Wilson, (the most racist U.S. President in modern history until the current resident of the White House assumed that title) reinstituted segregation in the Federal Civil Service and allowed the racial obscenity of a movie, “Birth of a Nation” to premier in the White House.

And so, as we observe Black History Month I would like to refer to “Lift and Every Voice and Sing”, the Black National Anthem, to provide some frame of reference and an historical perspective.

Consider the first verse:

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty,
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Remember that these words were written in 1900. Remember again that the horrors of human bondage were a recent memory and that the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and lynching were very much in the present tense.

Yet, listen to the power of hope and the absolutely magnificent belief in the promise of freedom and dignity – despite the fact that the fulfillment of this promise of the American dream had been so cruelly denied. Listen to these words and you begin to understand the strength and resilience that has sustained a people through the unimaginably worst of times.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Listen to these words and you hear that recurring theme of faith. The “dark past” is not a euphemism in this song. The “dark past” refers to the slave ships, and the centuries of bondage and human trafficking and rape and torture and degradation. And yet, despite and through these horrors, there is faith. And through faith resilience rises and through resilience comes the hope that sustains even during the present tense of 2019.

And we should understand, that the resilience reflected in these lyrics are accompanied by the theme of resistance. This is not a passive anthem. This is not a hymn in praise of eternal suffering. This is a call to action.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Consider the words – “new day” is such a clear reference to the dawning of a new era occasioned by Emancipation. We sit comfortably in the 21st century and find it difficult if not impossible to understand what it could have been like to have no living relative who had ever lived in freedom. We find it difficult to imagine the profound effect that the vile virus of slavery must have had on an entire people – both slave and free.

But if we try, we can imagine that the glorious day of Emancipation must have provided not only faith and hope, not only resilience, but also the will to resist encroachments on that new found freedom. And so, we begin to understand the strength and determination that underlies the words “till victory is won”.

Victory was never about just a seat on a bus or a seat in a public school. Victory was not about the first ballplayer or the first black president. Victory has always been about claiming dignity and humanity and finally being acknowledged as a full partner in the enterprise known as the United States of America.

And in a very real way, the struggle for humanity, dignity and full citizenship is a struggle that has been undertaken on behalf of all the participants in the gorgeous mosaic known as America. And we have seen that the civil rights struggle has empowered women – white and black, Latinos, Asians, the differently abled and men and women across the spectrum of gender choice. And what we know is that this country, imperfect as it is, is a better place because of the resistance and resilience of black Americans.

We should be clear that if there was ever a time to renew the call for resistance and resilience it is now. And we should never forget that Black History Month is about so much more than a litany of achievements.

Black History Month is a solemn occasion to reflect on the unfulfilled promise of greatness to which this country has aspired and will hopefully achieve on some great and wonderful day.

Standard
Point of View Columns

All Along the Watchtower

“There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief”
Bob Dylan – Sung by Jimi Hendrix (among others)

Ever since the inauguration of Trump on January 20, 2017, there have been apocalyptic visions and versions of what is happening to these United States expressed in news commentaries and columns, Saturday Night Live and on every late night television show. And Trump has obliged the purveyors of doom and naysayers by reigning over the most destructive, pernicious and dysfunctional presidency in the history of the Republic.

And yet, just when you don’t think that he can be any worse, sink any lower or be a true imitation of an avatar of doom, Trump gets worse. He actually sinks lower and he makes national doom seem like a real possibility.

Trump’s recent Executive Order proclaiming a fake national emergency would seem to be his final step in convincing even his most fervent supporters that this man should not be President of the United States for even another nanosecond. Of course, the cold shower of conflict politics in this country informs us that there may be literally nothing that Trump can do that will dislodge his base from believing that he is their Orange-Haired Savior come to rescue from the black and brown hordes that would keep America from Being Great Again.

Most Americans cling to sanity and believe that something called the American Way will certainly sort out whatever damage that Trump is wreaking havoc on America and the Planet Earth. However, this declaration of a faux national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and the Constitution constitutes a national emergency in and of itself. And even the laziest students of history in the modern era must understand that this is how dictatorships begin, flourish and  finally reign.

It is no small thing for the President of the United States to actually state that he will circumvent the Constitution, which vests Congress with the sole power to allocate monies for government activities, in order to pursue his blatant political goals. This particular of allocation of power to Congress is in the first Article of the Constitution, which convince anyone of how serious the framers of the Constitution were when it came to the allocation and separation of powers. For Trump to consider the words “national emergency” as the equivalent of “open sesame” in granting him powers that supersede that of Congress is way beyond dangerous.

It would do well to remember that dictatorships in the modern era find minorities to demonize and mobilize their base, cast the media and journalists as enemies of the state, degrade the electoral process and slowly but surely erode the modes of government until all that is left is an imperial executive. We would do well to remember that Hitler was elected. We would do well to remember that Mussolini was elected. It was what they did after they were elected that created dictatorships which ruined Germany and Italy respectively.

The historic government shutdown, the dog whistle appeals to the worst racists that this country has to offer, the self-aggrandizement of Trump Incorporated on an epic scale, the strong scent of collusion with Russia and the energized and intentional demolition of international alliances are turning out to be just a warm up for Trump. While it is probably true that since he does not read and apparently has no knowledge of history, Trump has no real idea of what he is doing. But like the proverbial bull in a china shop or the four year old at the controls of a 747, he is capable of doing great harm.

It is now up to Congress – not Democrats or Republicans, and the Supreme Court – not Conservatives or Liberals – to decide to keep political battles within the demarcated boundaries of the playing field. Trump embraces chaos and wants this country to go there and stay there.

Congress and the Supreme Court need to make sure that this does not happen.

And if they don’t it will be up to you and me. Things have gotten that serious.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Devil in The White Dress

Trump’s State of the Union speech received mixed reviews, to be kind. They ranged from “psychotically incoherent” (Van Jones) to “his worst speech ever” (Rick Santorum) to “the most inspiring State of the Union speech in history” (guess……………you are correct, Sean Hannity). The fact that for many the most memorable moment was Speaker Nancy Pelosi clap-shaming Trump kind of says it all. But there was more going on that night, and there are some women in Congress, all dressed in white, who have some explaining to do.

It was certainly noteworthy and historic and far too long in coming for the largest number of women in Congress be seated as members. Many of these women dressed in white to commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This amendment was ratified and became a part of the Constitution in 1920. The 19th Amendment was seen as the signal and most important victory of the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement.

One has to wonder if all of those women dressed in white knew what they were celebrating. The history of the (white) women’s suffrage movement existed hand in hand with domestic terrorists like the Knights of the White Magnolia and the Ku Klux Klan and the rhetoric of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton rang with words like “sambo”, “baboons” and “black rapists” as they advocated for (only) white women to have the right to vote.

But even in the age of Trump facts matter. The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote – it prohibited states from preventing women from voting. The 19th Amendment did absolutely nothing to protect or assert the rights of black women when it came to voting. And the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement was a virtually whites-only organization that grudgingly permitted black women a seat on the back of the suffragette bus, alternatively ignoring and insulting them.

And it is because of this skewed whitewashing of women’s history that little white girls and white boys and little black girls and black boys do not know the names of Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Coralie Franklin Cook, but they do know the names of unreconstructed racists and bigots like Anthony and Stanton.

While there was a linkage between the abolitionist and suffrage movements prior to the Civil War, ironically due in no small part to advocacy by the African American hero Frederick Douglass. After the Civil War the cause of the rights of black people diverged from the agenda of advocates for women’s suffrage.

That is because the female leadership of the women’s suffrage movement were as racist as their American male counterparts. Leaders like Anthony and Stanton opposed the 15th Amendment because they felt that white women should have the right to vote before black men. The leaders of this movement barred black women from their marches and many of their public events and the historic Women’s March on Washington 1913, black women were forced to march – you guessed it – at the rear of the parade.

And when the 19th Amendment was ratified, the leaders of these (white) women’s movement did nothing to support their black sisters in their effort to vote. Black women were arrested, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed in their efforts to claim the benefits that the Women in White celebrated at the State of the Union.

Of course there should be no surprise that white women in the North and South stood by while their white brothers, sons, fathers and husbands rained all kinds of holy hell on black people in America.

The book Without Sanctuary is a photographic history of lynching in America. In almost every one of these horrific pictures there are crowds of white people in attendance, looking on with undisguised pleasure and even glee. And at least half of those in attendance were — you guessed it – white women.

The facts are that the 19th Amendment did little or nothing for black women, and the rights asserted by white women as a result of this amendment meant nothing for black women until the passage of the Voting Rights Act — 45 years later. One wonders why these female members of Congress, black, white, Latina and Asian would think it important to celebrate this historic moment of white female supremacy – and not even notice the irony of wearing white for such a celebration.

The fact is that there are many times in this country’s history and in the present when women of all colors and backgrounds have come together to advocate justice for all. The fact is that the 19th Amendment is not one of them, and just like Robert E. Lee’s birthday and the Confederate flag, it does not deserve celebration or observation.

For more information and more facts please see Brent Staples NY Times article on this subject

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/women-voting-19th-amendment-white-supremacy.html

Standard
Point of View Columns

Stop in the Name of the Law

By now we have been bludgeoned by reality and accept that there is no rule, law or moral norm that means anything to Donald Trump. Whether its discriminating against black men and women trying to rent apartments in Cincinnati, or buying the silence of former lovers and porn stars (in Trump’s case on several occasions they are the same), or not paying hundreds of workers and contractors doing work on his failed casinos, or simply swindling thousands of aspiring dreamers who thought they could learn something from attending Trump University (spoiler alert – they learned that Donald Trump cannot be trusted), Donald Trump has found that he can get away with anything if he is willing to pay some money. But there are limits – even for Trump.

Ever since the Trump-induced government shutdown ended, Trump has loudly hinted that he might declare a national emergency and siphon funds from various federal agencies to build his hallowed wall if Congress won’t give him what he wants. Somehow his bullet head advisors like Steven Miller and John Bolton have Trump believing that all he has to do is to say “emergency powers” like some sort of magical incantation and presto – he will have the power to build his wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. But Trump and his enablers are making a huge misstep because (a) they don’t read or (b) they can’t read or (c) they don’t care what the laws and the Constitution say. For those keeping score at home (c) is the correct answer.

Clearly Trump and his minions haven’t read, can’t read and don’t care about the National Emergencies Act of 1976. If they did they would know that it was enacted for the specific purpose of limiting the use of emergency powers by the President of the United States. If they were willing to peruse modern history, they would see that national emergencies have been declared by presidents as the result of hurricanes, tornadoes, 9/11, earthquakes and the like.

The National Emergencies Act in its language and in its application was never meant to give the President an option if he/she could not reach an agreement with Congress. As they roast slowly in Hell, true fascist dictators like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin must watch Trump with some admiration as he tries to be a dictator in a government with a Constitution that was specifically designed to block dictators. Trump’s dilemma probably makes them chuckle as they are basted by Satan.

A bit of history – when the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787 there were some basic concerns that needed to be addressed. First, since the Articles of Confederation had resulted in near total governmental chaos, it was important to establish a government structure that could work.

A close second however, was the almost universal belief of the delegates (Alexander Hamilton notwithstanding) that the power to govern could not and would not reside in one person or even one branch of government. And that is how three co-equal branches of government – executive, judicial and legislative – were established with a system of checks and balances so that no one person could control or direct the government. It turns out that the delegates were really serious about the concept of sovereign power resting with the people.

And now Trump threatens Congress with his supposed emergency powers somehow believing that the legislative branch (Congress) and the judicial branch (Supreme Court) will simply go along with this unprecedented grab for power. Trump will meet Nancy in Court and my money is on Nancy and the Court.

Standard