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.

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Point of View Columns

The Birth of Trumpageddon

Historians will undoubtedly look at the 2016 presidential campaign as being unique. The looming and tantalizing presence of Trumpageddon will virtually overshadow everything, much the same way as Donald Trump himself sucks up the media oxygen every day of this very bizarre year. But the most astute historians will go back a half century earlier to discover the roots of Trumpageddon, roots that have nothing to do with Donald J. Trump and have everything to do with the intentional reinvention of the Republican Party in 1964.

Prior to 1964 the national Republican party was indisputably more progressive when it came to civil rights for black Americans. After all, the Democratic Party was deeply rooted in the South, roots that went back as far as the end of Reconstruction and the federal occupation of the formerly treasonous Confederacy in 1876.

After all, the Republican Party came into being with the abolition of slavery being a principal plank in its national political platform in 1860. Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation was a Republican. And when the seething South was liberated from federal occupation in 1876, due in large part to the tricknology of Rutherford B. Hayes who swapped the freedom, civil rights and physical safety of Southern black people in exchange for the presidency, southerners embraced the Democratic Party as their own.

The Democratic Party in the South was the party of Jim Crow and lynching. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, invited the first black American to dine at the White House. Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic president, hosted the premier of “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democratic president, never supported anti-lynching legislation for fear of alienating his Southern party members. And it was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, who sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional.

Prior to his untimely death, Democratic President John F. Kennedy was nowhere near a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Act that was passed posthumously. And in 1960, Richard Nixon, his Republican opponent in that presidential election, had virtually the same amount of support in the national black community as he did.

As late as 1964, the Democratic Party was the home of  blood-soaked and hate drenched racist villains such as Thurmond and Stennis and Faubus and Wallace and Bilbo. And in 1964 every state that had been a part of the Confederate States of America was firmly on the Democratic side of the national political register.

And then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed with the urging of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And as if by magic, during the following decade, the Republican Party was ascendant in the South, vacuuming up all the disenchanted white Southerners, supposedly in the name of conservatism and state’s rights, but in reality the transition was fueled by the deep and abiding resentment that black Americans were afforded some measure of citizenship by the Damned Democrats.

Should there any be any doubt regarding the linkage of race and the Republican ascendancy, it should be remembered that Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Republican conservatism, launched his national presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, less than twenty years after three civil rights workers were lynched within miles of the podium on which he stood. And when Reagan proclaimed that “government was the enemy”, he was referring to that same federal government that was often the only source of protection for black Americans seeking asylum and vindication in their own country. That dog whistle blew loud enough for white ears in the South and throughout the nation.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that the modern Republican Party, reborn in radical response to the advancement of racial civil rights would be the home of the impending Trumpageddon. It certainly should be no surprise that the political party that turned a blind eye to the clear racist and racial efforts to delegitimize the first African American presidency would serve as the incubator for those would seek to delegitimize the entire apparatus of the federal government.

Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who refused to extinguish the dark magical thinking that claimed that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or “hates America” or is not even a citizen, cannot be surprised that a master manipulator like Donald Trump could harness this malevolent harvest and turn it into a movement. And now, for good historical reason, Trumpageddon is upon us.

The Republicans are reaping what they have sown.

Wallace Ford is the Chairman of the Department of Public Administration at Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York. He is the host of The Inclusion Show and the author of two novels, “The Pride” and “What You Sow”

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Point of View Columns

A Book to Read. A Movie to Watch.

From time to time a book will come along that shows us what we still don’t know, or acknowledge, about the history of racism in these United States. And there are times when, the plethora of movies notwithstanding, a movie will come along that helps understand how chaos and violence still lurks in the shadows of too much of Africa. “Spectacle” written by Pamela Newkirk is such a book. “Beasts of No Nation” produced by Netflix and Idris Elba is such a motion picture.
“Spectacle” (published by Amistad) is first and foremost the story of Ota Benga, an African man who was literally snatched from the Congo in the early part of the twentieth century and put on display in the United States. His first “appearance” was at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and then in the New York Zoological Gardens (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1906. He was seen by millions of visitors to the Fair and the Zoo who flocked to see human beings who were considered to be examples of the lowest level of evolution.

Viewed through the lens of the 2015 such bestial and callous treatment of other human beings would be unthinkable. But Dr. Newkirk, a professor at New York University and formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, points out in “Spectacle” that the exhibition of an African man in a zoo reflected a virtually universal mindset in white America and in Europe that people of African descent were naturally and absolutely inferior. Hence, the horrific treatment of Ota Benga was seen as no worse than putting a tiger, elephant or gorilla on display.

But “Spectacle” also includes other important historical facts that have been shrouded by the mists of time. In reading this book we learn of the unthinkable genocidal rule of Belgian King Leopold II who held the Congo as his personal property. The level of vicious and rapacious cruelty that marked his regime has scarred that region of Africa to this very day.

We also learn the deep rooted racism in the attitudes held by the most prominent Americans of the day including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (who hosted the premiere of “Birth of a Nation in the White House”). American universities, scientific institutions and general society held Americans in such low regard that any suggestion of equality or equal treatment was quite literally unthinkable and, to the point of “Spectacle”, unimaginable.

And finally, “Spectacle” reveals the awesome will and determination of so many black Americans to achieve education, progress and respect. Creating and building communities, towns, universities, churches, charitable institutions in the lingering shadow of slavery, a shadow that undeniably lingers over this country to this very day. The book reintroduces the heroic men and women who proved the racist theories to be the lies that they were (and area) as they laid the foundation for any and all accomplishment by black Americans to this very day.

“Beasts of No Nation”, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba is important for several reasons. In chronicling the tale of a young boy who becomes a part of a cruel and sadistic army of lost boys headed by a cruel, rapacious and homicidal commandant (excellently portrayed by Mr. Elba), “Beasts” exposes the underbelly of violence that plagues so much of Africa.

The bloodshed and violence is an illustration of black on black crime at its worst. And while hardly a white face is seen in the movie, one has to know that the endless supply of guns and bullets and missiles had to come from somewhere, and it Africa is not the source.
Finally, it is important to note that Netflix is part of the production group that financed “Beasts of No Nation”. Netflix released the movie on Netflix and we are seeing the future of motion picture production and distribution unfolds before our very eyes.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – February 8, 2014

It is the nature of bad taste that there are no limits to how bad it can get. So it may come as no surprise that a sin-stained child killer (George Zimmerman) and a washed up rapper (DMX) will stage an exhibition boxing match – but still…. Meanwhile, the George Washington Bridgegate scandal is turning out to be The Death of a Thousand Cuts for Chris Christie. And finally, in a monumental tribute to insensitivity, Turner Classic Movies aired “Gone with the Wind” on the first day of Black History Month. Really???

Just Say No!

It has been said that no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people. It can also be said that it is hard to lose money selling bad taste to the American people.

A case in point – George Zimmerman, the acquitted killer of Trayvon Martin, who should forever hide his face in shame and beg his God for some measure of forgiveness, is slated to appear in a celebrity boxing match. DMX, an outdated has been of a rapper, who has spent more time in prison than on stage in recent years, will be his opponent.

This is wrong on so many levels it is impossible to know where to start – the promoter, the faux pugilists? There is certainly a special place in Hell for whoever came up with this idea.

In the meantime, we should keep in mind that it is possible to ignore this obscenity and not watch it as it sinks into to the immoral slime from which it came.

Christie’s Circus

Clearly, at some point in the recent past, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decided that, instead of trying to run for president he would pursue a career in comedy. That is the only explanation behind the dumb as a bag of hammers move by someone in his office to close the George Washington Bridge followed by a cover up that makes the Nixon Administration look positively Machiavellian by comparison.

And now, the Christie administration has brought up the 11th grade record of a possible accuser (and former Christie appointee) as a means of attacking that person’s credibility. Please reread the prior sentence because it is so stupid that it has to be true.

Clearly Chris Christie believes that when you are in secondary school there really is such a thing as a Permanent Record.

Turner Classic Ignorance

For those of you who pay attention to such things, Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, began on February 1st. Either the big brain executives at Turner Classic Movies didn’t know that, or they just didn’t care.

In any event, TCM decided that February 1st was a great evening to air that racist slavery fantasy, “Gone with the Wind”. We should be glad that “Birth of a Nation” was presumably not available.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

“Twelve Years a Slave”

It is rare that a book, a song or a movie can change an entire country, but “Twelve Years a Slave” may just be that rare movie. Recounting in painstaking detail the horrors of racial slavery in America, “Twelve Years a Slave” is relevant not only for its historical narrative but also because it provides understanding as to where the United States is in terms of racial relations today – and why.

From “Birth of a Nation” to “Gone with the Wind” to “Roots” to “Mandingo” to “Django Unchained”, there have been a number of movies that have endeavored to convey elements of the American slave era, this country’s Original Sin. “Birth of a Nation” justified slavery. “Gone with the Wind” contextualized and sanitized slavery”. “Roots” recognized slavery. “Mandingo” exploited slavery”. “Django Unchained” caricaturized slavery.

“Twelve Years a Slave” demolishes the comforting myths and soothing lies regarding slavery. By telling the story of slavery absolutely and clearly through the eyes (and heart) of a slave, “Twelve Years” permits every viewer to step over a blood soaked and tear stained threshold into the horrible hell of American racial slavery.

Every viewer, regardless of race, will leave the movie theater having a very real idea of what it must have felt like to be a slave – to be property, to be the subject of indifferent cruelty and cruel indifference. Every viewer of this movie will walk to the edge of an ocean of pain, with wave after wave of assaults on one’s very humanity crashing upon the shore of their consciousness – and subconscious.

Insofar as motion pictures are concerned, it is has been said that “Schindler’s List” has provided the most vivid – and painful – understanding of what it must have been to be a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. In that same vein, “Twelve Years as a Slave” provides the most gut-wrenching, spirit-devouring rendition of what it must have been like to be a victim of American racial slavery. If only to understand the real history of these United States of America “Twelve Years” must be seen by every American who would prefer to live with the truth instead of a myth.

“Twelve Years” is also important in terms of understanding racial relations in this country today. It must be understood that the cruel and inhuman and barbaric institution of American racial slavery stained this country for over two hundred years. But the barbarism and inhumanity and cruelty did not evanesce upon the end of the Civil War or upon the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.

What followed after the Civil War was another century of institutionalized racism taking the form of legalized racial degradation (segregation), state sponsored terrorism (Ku Klux Klan and rampant lynchings) and the general, anesthetized denial of a problem by most white Americans who did not live in the South. The passage of landmark civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 made much of this horrific activity illegal. The spirit of racism cannot be outlawed and three centuries of indifference and dehumanization do not simply vanish into thin air, especially when they reside in the hearts and minds of men and women who, to this very day, embrace a culture that was built on the blood, sweat and tears of black slaves.

That is why there is nothing quaint or cute about the celebration of the Confederacy or the parading of the Confederate flag. The Confederate States of America initiated and fought the Civil War in order to protect and preserve American racial slavery. When anyone celebrates the Confederacy or parades the Confederate flag, they are clinging to a blood-soaked and sin-stained tradition that was literally a crime against humanity.

There are many reasons for the disparity that exists regarding the human condition of black Americans as opposed to their white counterparts. There can be no argument that there is so much more that black Americans must do in order to achieve and secure real progress.

But there should be no doubt that the ground upon which all Americans stand covers the bones and blood and tears and fears of millions of black men, women and children who were born, lived and died as slaves. And there should be no doubt that America’s Original Sin should not be set aside as an unfortunate episode in this country’s history.

The legacy of slavery lives with us all – to this very day.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 17, 2010

Some have said that the best part of 2010 is that it is ending. Nevertheless, we celebrate the gift of every day:

Happy Birthday BET?

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Black Entertainment Television. There is a lot to celebrate, but not everything.

As the first black-owned national television network, BET is undeniably an historical achievement. It has served as a unique and important news source as well as the launching platform for scores of black men and women in the journalism, entertainment and corporate management professions.

However, it was also BET that served as the spigot from which spewed some of the most racist, sexist, violent and misogynistic portrayals of black Americans in the history of this country. The music videos that have been the cornerstone of BET pioneered the popular and common usage of terms like “nigger”, “ho”, “bitch” into common parlance.

It is a noteworthy achievement, but certainly not a laudable one. It is fair to say that some of the music videos played on BET make “Birth of a Nation” seem like a Black History Month documentary.

There is no direct statistical connection between BET programming and the explosion of blood and gore in too many communities. But it stands to reason that if images of mindless violence are pumped into impressionable minds of adolescents, the results will be counted in numbers of body bags and shattered lives.

The disrespect for black women in these images has reached epic proportions, all in the name of “keeping it real”. The dumbing down of culture and language is undeniable and while BET cannot be held totally accountable for this tragedy, its contribution to the tsunami of ignorance, self disrespect and mindless violence that is sweeping across too many communities is a matter of fact.

The corporate achievement of Black Entertainment Television is undeniable. The damage inflicted by BET is also undeniable.

Senior executives of BET have been quoted as saying that they would never let their children watch the kind of programming that depicts violence and misogyny. Presumably it is alright to profit from letting other people’s children soak up the poison.

It is hoped that as the 30th anniversary of BET is celebrated that there may also be a new commitment by this company to instill more positive values in the community that has sustained it for three decades.

Tom Brokaw – The Aesop of the “Greatest Generation”?

Tom Brokaw has had an outstanding journalistic career including stints as a host for “The Today Show” and the anchor for “NBC Nightly News”. Then he decided to be a historian. And it’s a funny thing about history; it all depends on who is telling it.

Mr. Brokaw decided to describe the generation of Americans that came of age during the Depression and World War II as the Greatest Generation. Presumably, this was in comparison to the Baby Boomers who came of age in the Sixties and by his standards came up short.

After all, in the World According to Brokaw, it was the Greatest Generation that survived the Depression, fought World War II, conquering globally tyranny in the process. Then this mythic gathering of gods and goddesses established America as the transcendent and dominant nation on the planet providing a virtual cornucopia of goods and services and luxuries for its citizens and for all the people of the world.

A closer look tells a very different story. To be fair, we have to also recall the Greatest Generation countenanced the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, vociferously and violently supported racial segregation, gave birth to McCarthyism and participated in lynching until well into the 1960’s.

Under the benevolent hand of the Greatest Generation women were lucky to get half the pay for doing the same work as men. Environmental concerns were limited to Ansel Adams exhibitions.

There are many good things that were accomplished by this generation and all the generations before and after. But Tom Brokaw is walking on very shaky ground when he starts using the G-word.

Have a great weekend!

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Shameful and Shameless

It is pretty clear that when the discussion turns to modern political discourse and contemporary commentary in the United States there is no bottom. From blathering “birthers” to fallacious claims of “death panels” to the prospect of “terror babies” as the latest cavil to be hurled at immigrants along with calls for Koran burning sessions, nothing is too stupid, too revolting or too ridiculous to get a place in the media sun, however momentary.

With that thought in mind, no one can be too shocked at the depraved, mindless and morally impoverished disgrace perpetrated by Glenn Beck and his Tea Party cohorts this past weekend. To hold a rally at the Lincoln Monument (thankfully sans nooses and burning torches) on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for the purpose of exhorting Americans to “take back America” was obscene in its intentional desecration of the memory of a moment in time when it seemed that all things right were possible and there was no need to “take back” this country. Rather it seemed that it was time for everyone to share in this country.

I was blessed and favored to have actually attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 13-year old kid from New Jersey who would be starting high school in a few weeks. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time for a single purpose except for when I sat on my father’s shoulders to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a little guy. That the purpose was the elimination of injustice and racism and the promotion of equality and justice was uplifting and inspiring. Anger and rage were not the emotions of the day, but the demand for justice was clear and unequivocal and anyone who was on the mall that day will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

I have to wonder what will the attendees of the Glenn Beck – Sarah Palin self-love fest remember for the rest of their lives? That they came to Washington to “take back America”? Take back America from whom? Will they recall that they raised their voices in a chorus to “reclaim America”? Having already exercised his freedom of speech to mindlessly insult President Obama as a “racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people” (which presumably would include the President’s white mother), Glenn Beck now proclaims that the President does not practice the “right type” of Christianity, while we should presume that he and his followers are steadfast in adhering to the true path that Jesus trod.

As noted, there is no bottom to this pit of madness and sadness. It is madness that, in the midst of this very real and sustained economic crisis there are millions of Americans who perceive the first black President of the United States to be complicit in some plot to “take” American away from them. It is a cause for sadness that too many of our fellow citizens believe, truly believe, that Barack Obama and his purported fascist/socialist/atheist/Muslim/subversive agenda will result in the final demise of this country when in fact it is their mobocratic tendencies that are sending us careening towards the brink of something very ugly.

And, at this stage of national debate, it must be clear to even the most partisan observer that the blackness of this president is not irrelevant to the outrage and bile and vitriol that have flowed into the national bloodstream. It is more than political disagreement that has 20 per cent of the population believing that he was not born in the United States, voicing an unspoken wish that some undeniable bolt of disqualification will make Barack Obama just go away almost two years after his election.

Every President of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush has been insulted and reviled. It is a part of the political process and the limitless freedom of speech that has been a truly exceptional aspect of this country for over two centuries. And certainly freedom of speech allows Tea Party yahoos to burn Barack Obama in effigy and to Photoshop his head onto the body of a half naked bushman.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was portrayed by his opponents as a baboon and George W. Bush was certainly burned in effigy more than a few times during his term in office. But the very special hatred that is directed towards Barack Obama is coming from something more than philosophical disagreement. There is a visceral need on the party of the Becks and the Palins and the Limbaughs and the right wing of the right wing and the Tea Party yahoos to “take back America” because this country has, in their minds, been besmirched and defaced by the dark presence that now occupies the White House.

The world premiere of “Birth of a Nation” was held at the White House at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson. That racist screed on film directed by D.W. Griffith had at its core a message that it was time to “take back America”.

Now, instead of a cinematic monstrosity that upon its release inspired the lynching of black Americans throughout the country, we have Beck and Palin and the Tea Party yahoos cavorting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, proclaiming that they will “take back America” again.

Wilson and Griffith would be proud. This country should be ashamed.

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