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

Black History Month in the Year 2018

I have always committed myself to the truth, but these are times that call for more than truthful comments. 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.

It should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares about the legacy of Black History Month that its legacy has been challenged and under attack. 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. But in the final analysis this should not have been a surprise, because the legacy of Black History Month teaches us that we are long way from even approaching post-racial nationhood in these United States of America.

And as we observe and celebrate Black History Month, some perspective on history can be useful. Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926 – originally celebrated during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln – February 12th and Frederick Douglass – February 14th. Negro History Week was the result of the advocacy of noted historian G. Carter Woodson and the Association for the Study of the Negro and was intended to celebrate and highlight the accomplishments of the African diaspora in the United States. Here is a quote by Dr. Woodson regarding the reason and need for Negro History Week:

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Jewish people have keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of the worldwide persecution of the Jewish people they are a great factor in our civilization.”

And it is important to understand the historical context within which Black History Month has its origins. 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” white American mobs. In 1926 black people lived in a reign of terror throughout the United States and not only in the South.

In 1926, the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision – which declared state-based racial segregation to be constitutional – had been the law of the land for 30 years. And it would be another 28 years before the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision began to roll back the absolute racist villainy of the Plessy case.

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 circumscribed 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 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. During those 26 years too many black soldiers who served in World War I were lynched in their uniforms upon returning to America.

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. Remember that as these words were written the American shame and disgrace of Jim Crow 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 1900 and the present tense of 2018.

And we should understand, that the resilience reflected in these lyrics are accompanies 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 extinction of 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. The faith and hope and resilience also provided the strength to resist and to claim all of the rights that are due to every American citizen. 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.

It would be interesting to find out if the “faith and hope” themes of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign were part of a subliminal message drawn from “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. But what we do know is that faith and hope are not the exclusive possession of black Americans. Indeed, faith and hope are the pillars of support that all people need.

In closing, it should be clear to all of us that the challenges of today fade into a light orange hue compared to the challenges referred to in the Black National Anthem. 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, never forget that Black History Month is about so much more that 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

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

The Confederacy – The American Reich

In a singularly perverted observation of Black History Month, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour stated last week that he had no problems with a new state license plate that honors Nathan Bedford Forrest. That would be the same Nathan Bedford Forrest who was a Confederate general and one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.

The ensuing controversy was nothing short of bizarre, even for these bizarre times. Some Forrest apologists argued that he was only “one” of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan and he shouldn’t be burdened with the entire guilt of paternity involving this consortium of terrorist racists. Others claimed that regardless of his “imperfections” he was an outstanding general, perhaps a military genius, and he deserved honor for his martial accomplishments.

Rather than jump down the rabbit hole with Haley Barbour and the pitiful adherents to this concept of Southern “heritage” and “tradition” I am choosing to stand on the solid ground of history and fact. For too long the flying of Confederate flags, the celebration of the secession of southern states and the glorification of the “Southern way of life” has been the subject of debate. It is time for that debate to end.

The entire way of life in the southern states that seceded from the United States was based on slavery. Unlike the Germans at the end of World War II who claimed that they were unaware of the horror of the concentration camps, every conscious white man, woman and child in the South was absolutely aware of the forced bondage of millions of black men, women and children.

Like their moral bretheren the Nazis, the slave owners, slave masters and slave traders along with their wives, children and political supporters established an awful but efficient system because it was to their advantage. The Nazis chose the Jews, the slave owners chose black people.

Their approaches were similar. The religious and philosophical gymnastics used to justify the enslavement of black people would have sounded familiar to the Nazis as they justified the persecution and murder of Jews.

There was nothing endearing, uplifting or worthy of praise in a system that bought, sold, tortured and oppressed human beings on a daily basis. There is no honor in a “heritage” that accepted the brutalizing of the spirit of the slaves – and the slave masters. The “Southern way of life” embraced and endorsed rape, murder, torture and degradation. There is simply no escaping these facts.

I do not believe that the men and women whose family trees have their roots in the South should engage in eternal penance. I also do not believe that these men and women should blithely engage in the creation of a mythical history that absolves the sins of their mothers and fathers.

This is not only disrespectful of the memory of the men and women who suffered their entire lives as the property of a society as cruel and despicable as any in modern history. It is also dangerous, because by ignoring the facts of history we run the risk of not perceiving its recurrence.

The Confederacy was the American Reich. It was a relatively successful social and economic system that was built on the belief that the supposed inferiority of some people could be used for the benefit of the majority. There were psychic as well as economic values to this system – feeling superior to someone, anyone, anesthetizes the pain of personal insecurity and failure.

Like the Third Reich, the American Reich was worth fighting for, long after defeat was guaranteed. The “way of life” – legal and legitimized bias, prejudice and cruelty was worth dying for, and hundreds of thousands did just that.

Like the Third Reich, adherents of the American Reich continued to guard the flame of their wretched dream. The Nazis took to hiding in Argentina and Paraguay awaiting their return to glory. The Confederates went lurking in the dark woods of the South, wearing sheets, engaging in silly rituals and murdering black people in the middle of the night.

The dreams of the Third Reich have dimmed. There is no United States governor who would give cover to the Nazis. There are no statewide celebrations of the Third Reich (in the United States or Germany) replete with goose steps and brown shirts.

However, the dreams of the American Reich seem to be alive and well in too many places.

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