Point of View Columns

Three Days in the Life of America

July 26, 2020

4,178,730 –146, 463 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

 The death of Congressman John Lewis has provided an opportunity to once again fully appreciate the importance and nobility of his life, which was one of protest and advocacy for change and justice literally until the day he died. There have been the expected hypocritical and totally hollow mechanical statements from the like of Trump and Senator Marco Rubio (who couldn’t even tell the difference between Elijah Cummings and John Lewis when he tweeted his faux statement of sympathy).

 

But there have also been eloquent statements from his remaining peers like Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young to name but a few. And certainly many current leaders like Kamala Harris and Marc Morial, again to name but a few, have been delivered statements that meet both the gravity and the glory of the moment.

 

And then there have been some statements by commentators and members of the press to the effect that the leadership of the civil rights movement is dying. And that is an astounding misstatement of fact and history. It is misstatement of history because it perpetuates the absolutely false assumption that the civil rights movement began in the 1950’s until at some point in the latter part of the 1960’s after the passage of the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Fair Housing Acts.

 

The reality is that the struggle of Black Americans for civil rights and the institutional recognition the humanity of Black people began in 1619 when at least one or more of the first enslaved Africans said no. The struggle for civil rights was manifested in the Underground Railroad and the hundreds of revolts by Black slaves. Pierre Toussaint was a civil rights leader in the New York of the 1700’s as he established his humanity not only by being a successful businessman but also by being a philanthropist.

 

Nate Turner and Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey and so many other leaders of slave revolts were civil rights leaders – as was Harriet Tubman and the other conductors of the Underground Railroad. Black abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, Prince Hall, Sarah Parker Redmond, Henry Highland Garnet and William Still were all civil rights leaders.

 

And when they died the mantle of leadership in the ongoing struggle for civil rights rested on the shoulders of the like Ida B. Wells and Monroe Trotter and W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and Walter White and Marcus Garvey and Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall and Harry T. Moore.

 

And when they died this country learned the names of Malcolm X and Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver and Robert Williams as advocates for civil rights.

 

Clearly the list goes on of the men and women of this day who believe in and live for the struggle for racial justice and dignity for Black people. And the fact that many of these names And while it is right and just to mourn the passing of John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, the idea that the leadership and heroes of the Black civil rights movement sounds like the beginning of an excuse for future inaction and a defense of acceptance of the status quo because “our heroes are dying”.

Every man, woman and child is a hero – we are all heroes, if we would only take the time to realize that fact and then act.

 July 27, 2020

4,234,140 –146, 935 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

We begin the day with the breaking news that National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now quarantined at home. The White House immediately reassured America that Trump and Vice President Pence are safe.

Somehow, Americans are supposed to be assured that not only are Trump and Pence safe, but that American children will be safe to go to school next month even though the highest officials in the federal government – who are in the White House on virtually a daily basis and presumably tested regularly – fall to the disease. How many infections and how many deaths will be too many for this White House to backtrack on mandatory school openings? Clearly it is an unknowable and probably unthinkable number.

And then there is this – and if anyone who is a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement thought that white supremacy was just going to go away to the dustbin of history quietly, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton had this to say:

“We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country.

“As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.”

There is no way to argue with a stone. And there is no way to argue with this kind of stubborn embrace of white supremacy. The real question is how his colleagues in the Senate and the House and the people of this country will respond.

It is safe to say that if a United States Senator were to suggest that slave labor and prison camps were “an understandable choice by Nazi Germany” that there would be a justifiably righteous uproar and outrage. The question will now be one of how America – having embraced the concept of Black Lives Matter by kneeling at a few public events and taking Aunt Jemima off the pancake box and removing a few statues of dead Confederate thugs and offering up ritualized mea culpas regarding slavery and systemic racism and the death of George Floyd – will respond to a new blooming of the rancid flower of racism in the moment.

It’s now pretty safe to agree to take down the Confederate swastika flag. But it is always safe to condemn the past and be silent in the present. What is going to happen to Tom Cotton? Will he be censured on the floor of the Senate? Will editorials flow from media outlets from coast to coast? We know that Trump will do nothing, but what will Joe Biden do? What will the Congressional Black Caucus do? And what about the clergy and elected officials across the country – what do they have to say?

Years ago Jimmy the Greek, a glorified TV bookie spewed some rancid garbage about the inherent inferiority of Black people and he never worked on TV again. Tom Cotton is a United States Senator, one of only one hundred elected officials with awesome responsibility, awesome power and awesome stature. If a glorified bookie can be sanctioned for making racist remarks what should happen to a sitting United States Senator?

We know that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson will be silent, but there are 49 other governors. We know that Arkansas Senator John Boozman will be silent, but there are 98 other senators.

The American response to Tom Cotton’s outrageous embrace of white supremacy and justifying and legitimizing of slavery is a perfect opportunity to find out if Black Lives Really Matter.

Meanwhile Republicans in the Senate are finalizing their version of a stimulus package which includes virtually no money for states and localities – a position that will virtually guarantee the near collapse state and local governments across the country. Trump has been running ads claiming that Joe Biden supports the defunding of the police. But in reality it will be the Republicans who will literally defund the police in states across the country if the stimulus package does not address the pressing needs of states and localities.

But even the part of the Republican bill that deals with direct aid to American citizens, the proposal is to reduce the $600 per week income supplement to $200 50 million suddenly unemployed Americans have an incentive to go back to work.

This from a group of well fed and financially comfortable and self-righteous satraps who seem to have a good dose of mean flowing through their veins. They are reminiscent of the billionaires who give a quarter to a homeless man on the corner and then feel like they have done a good deed.

 July 28, 2020

4,294,770 –148, 056 (number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – the number of dead Americans at the beginning of the day)

Because constant drama seems to be a hallmark of the Time of Trump while awaiting the appearance of Attorney General (and Trump consigliore) William Barr before the House Judiciary Committee, the chair of the committee, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, was delayed when his car was in an accident. It appears that he was unhurt but the conspiracy theorists on every side of the political spectrum are already in a frenzy.

When William Barr did appear he did not disappoint his Godfather Trump or his fiercest critics who have accused him of being nothing more than Trump’s consigliore and fixer – kind of a Michael Cohen with an Ivy League pedigree. Democrats on the Committee came looking for a fight and Barr certainly accommodated him.

Fresh off his denials of being involved in the multi-year sexual scandal at Ohio State where he was an assistant wrestling coach, Congressman Jim Jordan did his best pit bull imitation in trying to turn the hearing into an Inquisition of……. the Obama administration, of course. Accusing the Obama Justice Department of spying on the Trump campaign only makes sense

if Jim Jordan simply ignores the fact that Trump campaign operatives engaged in conversations with Russian operatives who were being spied on – and that is when they became persons of interest and ultimately some of them became convicted felons as a result. But, to the likes of Jim Jordan, facts have no place in a good Inquisition.

The Republicans began their turn at the hearing by airing what looked like an updated version of the dystopic 70’s movie “Wild in the Streets”. If you believed the GOP production America is in flames and at any moment the peasants will be at the gates with torches and pitchforks. And our only hope is the gestapo tactics of Barr, who is playing Pinocchio to Trump’s Geppeto. And we kept waiting for the Republicans to trot out some Benghazi tapes while they were at it.

The Democrats attacked Barr and there was a lot of thrust and parry. It is fair to say that no one landed a knockout punch, on either side. Although Barr did make a couple of stunning statements including:

  • He was not sure if Trump could or could not change the date of the national election
  • He would not answer what he would do if Trump refused to leave the White House on January 20, 2021
  • He implied that there might be instances where the President accepting election from a power might be permissible.

Any one of those statements would be jaw dropping. But since we are living in the Age of Trump, no one’s jaw dropped even once.

And the day mercifully ended with Trump conducting another press conference where, among other things, he reiterated his support for a Nigerian-American doctor who claims that masks are useless, hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19 and that some doctors have been working on vaccines involving the DNA of aliens (simply cannot make this stuff up).

Trump went on to complain that Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx were getting higher approval ratings than him. And he mused out loud as to why people don’t like him.

At least he didn’t start sucking his thumb.

But there is always tomorrow.

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Colin Kaepernick and the Shame of Black America

Unless you have been hibernating during the Winter of Trump or hiding in a cave in the event of a Trump-induced nuclear holocaust, then you are probably aware that Colin Kaepernick is on his way to being the first player banned from the National Football League for his political views. The only thing worse than the racist right wing hegemony exhibited by the NFL owners is the indolent lap dog acceptance of this travesty by far too many black Americans.

The facts are that since he assumed his status as a free agent after the 2016-2017 season, not one of the 32 NFL teams has even offered him a tryout, even though most football experts would agree that he is a better quarterback than all 32 of the current backup quarterbacks in the league, and more than a few would argue that he is as good as, if not better, than more than a few of the starting quarterbacks in the league.

The facts are that numerous voices in the NFL Mothership have voiced “concerns” over Mr. Kaepernick’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games. Further, his expressions of concern, outrage and frustration at the macabre American conveyor belt that transports the corpses of black victims of police brutality across the national landscape have been considered inappropriate for the sport.

The facts are that the NFL has welcomed players who have killed people, raped women, beaten women, ingested all manner of recreational and performance enhancing drugs and paid them enormous sums of money. The facts are that some NFL players have expressed their support for Donald Trump despite his history of racism, misogyny, sexual assault and xenophobia without consequence.

The fact is that Colin Kaepernick is being denied re-entry into the NFL because of his political beliefs and his public support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And it is also a fact that even though 75% of the players in the NFL are black, very few players have raised a voice of concern, much less protest – Richard Sherman and Martellus Bennett are a few come to mind, but whatever happened to Odell Beckham, Jr. or Russell Wilson or Cam Newton or any number of NFL superstars who are virtually immune from sanction because of their star power?

And what happened to DeMaurice Smith and Eric Winston, the Executive Director and President of the NFL Players Association respectively? Have they been muted by the enormous sums of money that are earned by their membership or have they been neutered by the fear of the awesome power wielded by NFL owners?

And while we are at it, where is the grassroots support for Colin Kaepernick? The black fan base in the NFL is huge and has the capacity to be vocal, but except for a recent protest by Spike Lee, the sound of black silence has rolled across this country like a fuzzy cotton cloud.

The reason why the Kaepernick Affair is so important is that the NFL is such an important part of American culture. The fact is that the NFL has suckled at the breast of the American taxpayer (many of whom are black) to the tune of billions of dollars in order to build their football temple stadiums and the NFL has received many more billions of dollars of revenue from American consumers (many of whom are black).

It is sad to see so little resistance from Black America when the NFL owners are acting in such obvious concert to silence black protest. It is sad to see such silence from the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Urban League and Black Lives matter. For that matter, what has happened to the voices of Jay-Z, Oprah Winfrey, Kevin Hart, LeBron James and all the other black men and women who manage to dominate the American media for their own profit? In this age of virulent Trumpism racism and degradation must be confronted all the time.

The NFL season begins in a little less than a month. One can only hope that Colin Kaepernick finds a roster position and one can only hope that all Black Americans – indeed all Americans – find the voice to resist this blatant injustice.

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Of Course Black Lives Matter

Not enough people remember that on September 10, 2011 Rudy Giuliani was a textbook failure. His health was failing, his marriage had failed and his soon to end New York City mayoralty was marked by scandal and turmoil. Indeed, Michael Bloomberg, the Republican nominee for mayor did not even want his endorsement. And then, out of the ashes and heartbreak of 9/11, Giuliani arose as a faux hero who has been able to monetize the myth of his bravery. And now this living, breathing illustration of the upward mobility of failure chooses to attack the Black Lives Matter movement with language that would warm the heart of a Klansman.

Somehow he has gathered to himself a few random scraps of  fake credibility which presumably empower him to spew his peculiar brand of bigotry and racism at a national audience. Most recently, playing the role of The Last Angry White Man, Giuliani saw fit to brand the Black Lives Matter movement as racist because it excludes white people. Of course, this misdirection feint is believed by too many Americans and that it is too sad and too bad.

It should go without saying that all lives matter. But in these lifeless days and death filled times, it needs to be said – all lives matter. But in these United States it is not clear that the lives of black Americans are valued to the same degree as those of white Americans.
Consider that the unemployment rate for black youth was 393% higher than the national average in 2015. Imagine if the unemployment rate of white youth was 37% instead of 15.7% and then imagine the hue and cry and the calls for emergency programs that would ensue.

Consider that black infant mortality rates are more than twice as high as white infant mortality rates. Imagine what energy (and dollars) would be expended if white American infant mortality rates were at the Third World levels that are the norm in the national black community.

The fact that encounters between black citizens and white police officers seem to have a lethal haze hovering, regardless of the nature of the encounter, are not always understood through statistics. The very real fear that black parents have that their sons and daughters could die for no reason except their blackness and their interaction with the police is not calculated by data – perception cannot be accounted for that way.

But there is no doubt that black families carry satchels of fear that do not exist in a white American households. And until that fear is eliminated it will be necessary to proclaim that Black Lives Matter – also. And it is the unspoken “also” that eludes the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Rush Limbaugh. It is the unspoken “also” that should not need to be shouted because it is so obvious that the ultimate concern of the BLM movement and its supporters is to include black humanity in the perception and thinking of the national American community.

When black lives truly matter in the United States disparate death rates, race based incarceration statistics and quality of life concerns will become national issues, not “black” issues. When black lives truly matter in this country high crime rates in the black community will not be a “black” problem, it will be a national concern. And when black lives truly matter in this country it will not be necessary to state that Black Lives Matter, because then they will.

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Black Lives Don’t Matter

The recent revelation by Richard Nixon’s domestic policy advisor that primary motivation behind the so-called War on Drugs was to destabilize the national black community should have ignited a firestorm of outrage. The truth is that the outrage has been muted in the black community and the white community has been just plain mute. Given how successful the War on Drugs has been in accomplishing its mission in destabilizing black lives, the deathly silence at its revelation raises the legitimate question, do black lives really matter in these United States of America?

Since the inception of the “Black Lives Matter” movement a constant question has hovered regarding its necessity. After all, don’t “all lives matter”? And that ought to be true that “all lives matter”, but clearly that is not the case.

Imagine if the revelation of the racist origins of the War on Drugs indicated a focus on the Irish community, or the Italian community or the Jewish community. Imagine that the results of this racist policy were the destabilization, degradation and incarceration of millions of members of the targeted ethnic group. It is fair to imagine that there would be one hell of a firestorm of justifiable outrage accompanied by clarion calls to eliminate all vestiges of this “war” as a reasonable first step – followed by enormous remediation strategies including reparations for the victims.
Putting aside this bit of imaginative thinking, the revelations of the Nixon policies targeted black Americans has elicited barely a yawn. It has been a 24 hour story at best.

There have been no calls for Congressional investigation and there has be virtual silence from the Congressional Black Caucus.

CNN, MSNBC and BET have dedicated a few moments of air time to this horror of historic proportions and then gone back to the mind numbing coverage of the Republican Clown Show that is disguised as a presidential campaign. Indeed, none of the remaining five presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican have taken note of this governmental atrocity.

It seems as if all Americans have become anesthetized when it comes to tragedies in the black community. Whether it is police violence, infant mortality, mass incarceration, gang violence or truncated life expectancy there is no shock value left regarding these tragedies and so many more.

And perhaps the final and sad explanation is that black lives really do not matter in this country. And that final and sad explanation is supported by the fact that the story of the Nixon race strategy, a strategy that comes uncomfortably close to community genocide, is not surprising given past American history and current American reality. And clearly the institutional disaster visited upon the national black community is not enough to elicit protest, demonstration and demands for true justice.

Where are the black ministers thundering from the pulpits, calling out this injustice and demanding justice? When is the next NAACP march, when is the next Black Lives Matter demonstration, when is the issue even going to be raised during the seemingly infinite number of presidential debates?

The answers are nowhere, never and never. The reality of black lives really not mattering in this country is a suffocating and sad reality in the United States of America.

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In Search of a Happy New Year

It is that time of the year when the champagne glasses are chilled and the confetti is bagged and ready for release. Resolutions are being listed and the anticipation of 2016 far outweighs the most unpleasant memories of 2015. But for some, actually for too many, 2016 will not and cannot be a Happy New Year. For some, for too many, the deaths of loved ones due to inexplicable and inexcusable gunfire cloud the dawn of the New Year, and that of every New Year that may follow.

Freddie Gray may not have led the most distinguished life, but he was someone’s child and did not deserve to die in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. His family and those who loved him still await some measure of justice. Tamir Rice was a child who had yet to live his life and he was summarily executed by a member of the Cleveland Police Department who, we have learned, will not be indicted for any criminal charges. The parents of Tamir Rice will never know him as a man and, as of now, will never know even a small measure of justice after unspeakable tragedy.

Dylan Roof was not a member of any law enforcement agency, but he enforced the Law of the Gun, slaughtering nine black worshippers in South Carolina even as they prayed. Tyshawn Lee was gunned down by demented gangbangers on the meanest streets of Chicago and his small corpse was added to the endless awful body count.

The toll of death by gun in the national black community can only be displayed on a crazed kaleidoscopic scoreboard when the numbers only go up while dreams and hopes go to hell. And all the while a dollar-driven interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution keeps the industrial spigot spewing rifles and pistols and shotguns and automatic pistols and machine guns into the streets – and so the blood continues to flow in the streets.

The Black Lives Matter Movement began, not to identify the lives of black Americans as exceptional, but rather to make sure that black lives are not an exception in the national conversation about lives mattering. Certainly, a review of the history of the United States does not lead to an automatic conclusion that black lives matter.

Indeed, there are far too many actions by government and the private sector that have led to mass incarceration, limited life expectancy and limited life aspirations to automatically conclude that black lives do matter. And, there is also the dismaying and depressing reality that too often black Americans act as if black lives do not matter – a state of mind that is reflected in murder, mayhem and disrespect that is directed at other black people.

And so, as the New Year approaches, it remains to be seen whether it will be an unhappy one for even more people. For those already cloaked in sadness and despair we can hope that there are tomorrows which will reveal that the sun of expectation will again shine for them. Of course it will take more than hope….it will take a national change of mind. It will take a national change of heart. Indeed the heart and soul of this country will have to change for there to be any real chance of a Happy New Year.

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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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