Point of View Columns

Celebrating Black History Month with Truth

Black History Month began as a way to counter the awful lies, misconceptions and derogatory characterizations of Black Americans that has been part of the American tradition since 1619. There is no way that horrors of slavery, racism, discrimination, Jim Crow, Klan domestic terrorism, mass incarceration and lynching could be rationalized without America being able to characterize Black people as “less than” and “the other”.

When Carter G. Woodson wrote “The Miseducation of the Negro” in 1933 he intended to provide a basis for Black Americans to understand the true history of Black Americans as opposed to the mythic characterizations that served to justify the mistreatment and abuse suffered by so many. That knowledge, especially self-knowledge, is an essential aspect to liberation, and the study of the truth about Black history in America has always served to provide a foundation for rights movements from abolition to the ongoing struggle for civil rights to the Black Power movement to Black Lives Matter.

But there is still more educating that needs to be done. That is due to the fact that while the “miseducation” of Black people is an ongoing concern, the “miseducation” of all Americans has been, and continues to be, a matter of grave concern as well.

Too many Americans refuse to believe that absolute and unspeakable horrors of the institution of slavery and the complicity of most white Americans of that era in some aspect of this “peculiar institution”. Efforts to sanitize slavery tend to minimize the ongoing impact of two and half centuries of legal and absolute bondage followed by almost two centuries of residual oppression, racism and discrimination. The New York Time “1619” project is certainly a step in the right direction, but certainly not enough Americans have read it, and even fewer have absorbed its awful importance.

The “miseducation” of all Americans has resulted in the continued celebration of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the other famed slave masters who were part of the group known as the Founding Fathers – as eight of the first ten Presidents were. The idea that for the first decades of its existence the elected leadership of this nation were slave masters is a stain on this country’s legacy that has yet to be acknowledged.

The “miseducation” of Americans has transformed the Civil War into a conflict that “ended slavery” when in fact abolition did not prevent the continuation of abuse, oppression and inhumane treatment of Black Americans. And that “miseducation” has perpetuated the obscene myth that the Confederate military leaders and it’s soldiers were “heroes” when in fact they were traitors and defenders of an evil institution – making them unworthy of praise much less being commemorated with statues and the memorializing of their names on universities, streets, towns and cities throughout this country.

Certainly this “miseducation” has persuaded too many people that the race-based disparities in these United States – income inequality, mass incarceration, higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancy rates, higher incidents of police brutality, unequal access to education, housing and a range of professions and occupations – are not related to racism and race-based behavior in the public and private sectors.

Perhaps it is time for Black History Month to be about more than celebrating the accomplishment of Black Americans, past and present. Perhaps it is time for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to be recounted and taught – not only to Black Americans but to all Americans – so that there is a true understanding as to why we are where we are when it comes to matters of race and so that a reality-based path to a better day for all can finally be seen and understood.

That might be the best way to celebrate Black History Month this year and in the years to come.

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Point of View Columns

And Then They Came For Me

Many Americans who are opposed to Donald Trump, indeed most Americans who are appalled by Donald Trump, view him as an aberrant turn in the wheel of American history. The view persists that whatever damage he inflicts upon American citizens, no matter the seeds of turmoil that he spews all over the world, America (and the world) will recover and prosper once again.

The consequence of this thinking has been too many Americans are engaging in passive aggressive behavior – on the one hand cursing his very name and turning his every misstep, misdemeanor or felony into entrees at the progressive dinner table and then moving on with their lives – earning a living, planning their next vacation and planning for the future. And I am reminded of the poem written by the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Even though every single day, Trump reminds us that he is so intent on wreaking damage and destruction in his pursuit of Making America Great (and White) Again that the damage that he can cause to America and Americans is incalculable. Yet the protest and resistance to the Trump regime has been muted given the grave danger that he represents.

The truth is the majority of Americans cannot envision themselves as actual and direct victims of Donald Trump and his enablers. And this self-insulation did not begin on January 20, 2017 when Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States. For example, this country has the unenviable record of being Incarceration Nation with 4% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s prison population. More than two million American citizens languish in American prisons despite a declining national crime rate. Yet most Americans believe that they do not need to speak out against mass incarceration because they are not prisoners.

The truth is that most Americans are covered by some kind of health care, either through their employer or through Medicaid or Medicare. And so even though America is the only developed country without a comprehensive national health care system, too many Americans do not see a linkage between their own lives and the tragedy of millions of Americans who do not have health care coverage. They do not speak out because they are not without health care coverage.

During the sad and sordid history of race-based slavery in this country, most white Americans did not speak out against this outrage until a constitutional crisis resulted in the Civil War. And even after the Civil War and Emancipation, most white Americans did not speak out against lynching, Jim Crow and legalized segregation because they were not black and would never be slaves, would never be lynched and would never be denied their rights at birth. And so too many white Americans (and black Americans) do not speak out because they believe they will not be treated as black Americans and have to drink from the bitter cup of racism, discrimination and the denial of basis human rights.

On this very day that you are reading this column, millions of women are being denied reproductive rights, in the process being cast into an abyss of misery, degradation and hopelessness. Of course no man can understand the full impact of the denial of reproductive rights and too many women believe that their reproductive rights will always be protected. And as a result, too many Americans do not speak out because they are not at risk of losing their reproductive rights.

Most Americans are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico. So most Americans view the grim and grotesque Hell the Trump regime has created for immigrants at the Mexican border as being irrelevant to their lives because they are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico. While some Americans recoil from the horror of parents being separated from their children, most Americans will not hold their elected representatives accountable for this monstrous policy. And most Americans will not speak out until this policy is stopped, because they are not from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras or Mexico.

So while most Americans view the travesty that is the Trump regime as an unfortunate moment in American history. The media, the LGBTQI community, black and Latino Americans, advocates for gun control and supporters of environmental protection and reform are already targets of the Trump regime.

Now might be good time for all of us to remember the last lines of Reverend Niemoller’s poem before it is too late:

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

 

 

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Point of View Columns

The Congressional Black Caucus – MIA

Begun as the Democratic Select Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus was founded in February of 1971 with twelve members. At the time, it was the only voice of black elected officials with a national platform. The CBC, as it came to be known, was a voice of opposition to the Nixon presidency and supported what became the successful liberation movement in South Africa. Now that the CBC has 49 members, one should expect that it would be a strong and mighty voice in the face of the storm that is the Trump Administration. But that is clearly not the case. The CBC is MIA – Missing in Action.

Over the years, the CBC has spoken out on a number of issues that affected black America. Every American President since 1971 has met with the CBC and on many occasions, listened to the CBC. And, although most CBC members did not initially support the candidacy of the man who became the first black President of the United States, it continued to elicit the perspective that it was important, influential and relevant.

And now, when this unofficial of voice of Black America needs to stand up to President Trump and his minions, the CBC is curiously muted, and many times it seems that it has joined the ranks of the Silent Minority. And this is not a matter of opinion. Recent news proves that this is a fact.

Consider that just three weeks ago, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a CBC member from Florida along with the widow of a slain black serviceman were called a liars by not only the Liar-In-Chief, President Trump, but also by his Chief of Staff, John Kelly. And after it was absolutely proven that Trump and Kelly had lied about Representative Wilson, Mr. Kelly went on to lie about her public record and insulted her in a most base and common manner.

If the CBC took a position on this outrageous incident, if the CBC called out Donald Tinyhands and his minion Kelly, it must have been hidden on the back page of a shopping mall handout. If the CBC took to the steps of the United States Congress to denounce the President for treating Congresswoman Wilson like the field hand he thinks she is, they must have done it in the dead of night when no one was watching. Obviously, the CBC was MIA.

And it gets worse. Earlier this week, Mr. Kelly reiterated his lies about Congresswoman Wilson and virtually pledged never to apologize to her. And then………..Kelly claimed that the Civil War came about because of a failure to compromise. He stated that there were men and women of “good faith on both sides” and that Robert E. Lee, was a heroic figure even though he led a rebellion that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were fighting for the United States of America. And in the face of these horrific and demonic lies and distortion of history the CBC has been silent. Once again the CBC is MIA.

The notion that the enslavement of black Americans could be the subject of compromise is a vile notion. It is the dehumanization of black lives that permits someone like John Kelly to say something like that. To suggest that there are people of “good faith” on the side of slavery is to offer a view of the speaker’s mind that does not believe that black people are as human as white people. And to suggest that Robert E. Lee was a hero is more unpatriotic and insulting to the stated ideals of this country than all of the kneeling NFL players put together.

And yet, the CBC is MIA. And what is so ironic is that when the CBC consisted of only twelve members it was more vocal than now, when the CBC consists of forty nine members. That is more than a tenth of the entire   House of Representatives, almost a third of the Democratic members of Congress and close to double the number of the Freedom Caucus, aka Tea Party. Nevertheless, with that kind of clout, the CBC remains the Silent Minority even as black Americans suffer insults and true degradation by reason of the policies of the Trump Administration.

Why is the CBC not standing on the steps of the U.S. Congress every day denouncing the Trump Administration as it attempts to shred the social safety net? Why is the CBC not speaking out on the floor of Congress at every opportunity, reading into the Congressional Record the litany of terrible deeds that are defining the Trump Administration?

Ironically, the CBC was more vocal about criticizing what President Obama wasn’t doing for the black community than it is in attacking President Trump for what he doing to black people. A most curious double standard indeed.

To put it most simply, why is the CBC MIA silent or muted at just that moment in history when it is needed the most? Unless and until the CBC finds its voice, it will be judged very harshly by history – and that would be a shame.

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Point of View Columns

Statues and Flags and Sanity

When the Trump legacy is written, it may be that the only good thing that was done by Donald Tinyhands was to help make it clear that the notion of America being in a post-racial status has always been a myth. It is useful to recall that when Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, accompanied by post-racial anthems, the skinheads, Klansmen, Aryans and assorted white supremacist mouth breathing Neanderthals were already deeply imbedded in America – everywhere.

Clear evidence of the virulent racism in this country, accompanied by the more insidious passive aggressive dehumanization of black Americans, are the scores of statues, busts and plaques throughout the country that honor the leaders of the Confederate States of America. These celebrations of traitors should not be seen as some kind of limp effort at reconciliation.

The CSA was founded on the principles of slavery as just, white supremacy and black inferiority. Any and every Confederate honoree – Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, etc. – believed absolutely in these principles, principles that were way ahead of more esoteric notions of states’ rights and constitutional interpretations.

This is not a subjective perspective; it is a matter of fact that the first article of the constitution of the Confederate States of America upheld the eternal preservation of slavery. It is a matter of fact that the leadership of the Confederacy was wedded to an unshakeable belief in white superiority and black inferiority. And it is a matter of fact that Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest were absolutely complicit in the unconscionable wholesale slaughter of black Union troops who had the misfortune of surrendering to CSA soldiers.

All of this has been known since the end of the Civil War. Yet white Americans have stood by silently while these villains and war criminals were honored, all in the name of intimidating and bullying black America. The fact that there is even a conversation about depopulating this nation’s public spaces of such obscenities is itself obscene and it is a telling commentary as to the status of black Americans. It is more than fair to ask – do black lives really matter?

Consider that it is simply against the law to honor Adolf Hitler in Germany. Wearing a swastika or giving the Nazi salute on the streets of Berlin can land you in jail. The same is generally true in France. And consider that these proscriptions on honoring Nazis came about not because of pressure from the Jewish people. Indeed,  the banning of Nazi celebrations came from German and French men and women of good will who understood that the horror of the Nazis not only should never be repeated, it should also not be honored, celebrated or even exist in the public space.

It 152 years have passed since the end of the Civil War. It is astounding that there is even a conversation about celebrating Southern “heritage”, when that “heritage” encompasses the enslavement and degradation of human beings. It is shameful that there are public officials that refer to some beautiful past that should be celebrated when that past includes the wholesale slaughter, rape and exploitation of black Americans for the better part of two centuries.

It is well past time for conversation or debate. The Confederate statues, flags, busts and plaques are wrong – they have always been wrong – and any American who supports their existence is wrong. The descendants of slaves have endured this ongoing insult for too long and white Americans who accept the humanity of black Americans will understand this. And white Americans who do not accept the humanity of black Americans will not and should be adjudged as racist as the most vile skinhead goose stepping down the street.

When it comes to the Confederacy and its moldering and vile relics, there is simply no middle ground.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – April 19, 2013

By refusing to pass even a diluted gun control measure the U.S. Senate effectively restarted the countdown for the next gun massacre. Meanwhile, the bombing at the Boston Marathon highlights the consequences of waging a global war on terror. And finally, congratulations to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine for publishing letters from alumni who fought in the Civil War and doing it the right way.

Ground Hog Day

This week the U.S. Senate refused to pass even a diluted, watered down, milquetoast version of President Obama’s original, transformative gun control proposals. By virtue of this shameful inaction, the Senate guaranteed that even in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Massacre, and even with the blood of over 2000 gun victims since Sandy Hook still soaking the landscape, there will be more gun massacres and there will be blood.

The countdown to the next massacre has already begun. We know when – it will be soon. We just don’t know where – except that it will be somewhere in America.
Meanwhile the Senate wears its shame like a garish but tattered garment that belongs in the trash heap of history.

Boston Blowback

As you are reading this the facts surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing are still being sorted out. What we already know is that the bombs employed this week are very similar to the bombs that have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq.

You don’t need to be a devotee of Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum to make an educated guess that the people behind these bombings have some connection to the global surges of violence. What we also know is that after a dozen years the American war on terror has probably created as many enemies as it has killed and that collateral damage can have unpredictable results abroad – and at home.

We will await further word on the details of the Boston Marathon bombing but it is not too early to once again think about how the American war on terror can be managed in such a way that blowback does not become inevitable.

Go Dartmouth!

When the May/June issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine arrived in my mailbox yesterday I held my breath. The cover story featured letters from Dartmouth alumni/students who fought in the Civil War.

I readied myself for yet another glorified romanticizing of the Confederacy by placing letters from the treasonous Confederate soldiers on a par with letters from Union soldiers.

Thankfully there was not a single letter from a defender of white supremacist slavery and for that the editors of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine are to be congratulated.
The next step would be to remove or amend the plaque at Dartmouth which honors the 73 Dartmouth alumni who died in the Civil War, including 10 who fought for the Confederacy. I cannot imagine a memorial honoring Dartmouth alumni who died in World War II including a reference to alumni who fought for the Nazis.

Hopefully one day there will be an understanding that honoring the treasonous defenders of white supremacy, racism and slavery is pretty much the same thing.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

A Celebration From Hell

I do not generally engage in forecasting and prognostication, but I can safely predict that on Thursday, April 7, 2011, there will be multiple celebrations throughout the southern states of this country noting the commencement of the Civil War. That such appalling and offensive revelry will be done in full view of the American public and the world is shameful.

Yet, this Thursday fools, buffoons and adherents to a cruel, vile and false version of history will parade down streets and in “secessionist balls” reveling in some romantic notion of states’ rights and the preservation of the “southern way of life”. In no other country on this planet is treason celebrated without censure and punishment.

Yet in the United States traitors, war criminals and slave owners like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis are honored with their names on streets, boulevards and universities – indeed their portraits are still hanging in state capitols rather than being strewn on the trash heap of history where they belong.

And all the while black Americans are treated like the non-persons that the original Constitution of the Confederate States of America proclaimed them to be.

This is not simply a matter of racial sensitivity or political correctness. The mindset that celebrates treachery and treason cannot be fully committed to a truly united United States of America. The man or woman who believes that the “southern way of life” should be honored and glorified cannot also believe in racial equality or diversity in the twenty first century. There is simply no middle ground.

At the outset of the Civil War there were nine million people living in the South and four million of them were slaves. Four million black men, women and children were owned by white men, women and children and they had the same status as horses, cattle or other chattel.

Slaves were routinely beaten, tortured, killed and abused. Families were torn asunder to satisfy gambling debts, settle estates or to liquidate assets for an investment.

There was nothing good, pleasant, uplifting or ennobling about the peculiar institution of slavery in the United States. And the Confederate States of America was formed in order to protect and preserve the institution of slavery.

The Civil War had many ancillary factors that contributed to the bloodiest conflict in American history but there should be no doubt that slavery was the central cause. All sane and honest historians agree that but for slavery there would not have been a civil war.

And we should be clear that while slavery ended with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States the spirit and heart of the South barely changed for more than a century. The Ku Klux Klan and its adherents tortured maimed and massacred black people with impunity throughout the South and beyond. Jim Crow laws not only segregated just about every aspect of life in the South, it degraded and debased the dignity of black men, women and children as a matter of law.

And it has only been in the last fifty years that real progress has been made although if you scratch beneath the surface in too many corners and nooks and crannies in the South the vile stench of racial hatred and white superiority wafts into the political atmosphere barely disguised with fig leaf phrases like “states’ rights” and “taking America back”.

It is amazingly sad that men and women of good will sit by idly while this celebration from hell takes place. We do not have to be Jewish to abhor the Holocaust. We do not have to be Native Americans to decry the genocide perpetrated against the original residents of this continent. We do not have to be Tutsis to denounce the mass killings in Rwanda.

Why then is there such deafening silence in the face of this ghoulish perpetration of the myth of the Confederate States of America and the celebration of a way of life that trafficked in human flesh and blood for centuries? I would hope that people – regardless of their political persuasion, could coalesce around the basic principles of decency and justice.

It is not right for the secessionist celebrants to dance on the graves of the men, women and children who suffered and died because of the southern “way of life” Their celebration is indeed ghoulish and mawkish and all the more wrong because they know better.

Their celebration is truly a celebration from Hell.

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Point of View Columns

Rent A Slave….continued

During the past week I wrote about the reckless and pitiful sham of grown men and women dressed in antebellum costumes to commemorate and celebrate the secession of southern states and the commencement of the Civil War.

And brace yourself, for it appears that there are enough liars, obscurers of the truth and defenders of racism to sustain 4 ½ years of these celebrations.

In fact that the Civil War was the bloodiest confrontation in which this country has ever been engaged. Civil War casualties exceeded American casualties in all other wars combined. It seems heartbreaking and cruel that there would be fools so foolish as to celebrate the commencement of this carnage. Turning this country into a charnel house is not a cause for festivities.

But, of course, there is more that offends. That secession was all about the continued enslavement of black men, women and children is not subject to debate.

The writings of the Founding Fathers of the bastard Confederate States of America were very clear that the intent of secession and the ensuing war was to preserve the damnable and peculiar institution called slavery.

On March 21, 1861, Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the CSA wrote that Thomas Jefferson was “wrong in believing that the enslavement o the African was in violation of the laws of nature”. He went on to write, “Our new government is exactly founded on the opposite idea”.

This statement and so many others should be clear enough for the apologists for the Confederacy. The truth is that the southern states fought to the death to preserve slavery and their “right” to possess, own and abuse black men and women of African descent for eternity.

There is nothing noble about this heritage. And it is shameful that anyone would seek to glorify it or to put a spin on it.

The latest spin is to somehow turn the southern secession to a 19th century Tea Party rebellion against “big government” interfering with state’s rights. If I were a member of the Tea Party movement or its affiliates I would be disavowing this connection at every possible opportunity.

After all, could there ever be a time when state’s rights trumps human rights and civil rights? But the silence from the right wing of the right wing is deafening.

The problem with these “celebrations”, aside from their obscenity, is that it churns and distorts the truth. Too many Americans are already too ignorant of the history of this country. To articulate and perpetuate lies only serves to maintain and inflame the racial divide that is still very much a part of this country.

When Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour says that he doesn’t remember the civil rights era as being “all that bad”, there are some people who stop and listen and give this awful statement air time. I am sure that there were Germans who didn’t find the pre-war Hitler days as being “all that bad”.

Now, 150 years later, there are pseudo-historian buffoons across the South who plan to celebrate slavery, slaughter and residual animosities for the next 4 ½ years!

That any person of intelligence and goodwill, whatever their political persuasion, would celebrate such an awful aspect of America is a disgrace. That black Americans in particular have to bear witness to this blood libel for the next 4 ½ is a perversion.

I find it fascinating that the United States is the only country on this planet that permits the celebration of treason. I am not clear that the unsuccessful insurgents in any country would be permitted to prance around proclaiming the sanctity of their losing cause for 150 years. And yet, here in America, the offense continues.

In the most recent Point of View Weekend Edition, I suggested a proposition for these amoral secessionist revelers. Don’t stop at dressing up as slave owners. Get some black people to dress up as slaves – liveried servants, maids, butlers, chauffeurs personal attendants and concubines. Make the entire celebration authentic and, in the process provide much needed jobs for thousands of unemployed black people throughout the South.

Rent a Slave should be a big hit with these undisguised bigots. And, at the end of every assignment, the “slave” can be “emancipated” by the Rent a Slave customer. I can envision Frequent Slave Owner awards as well.

I might also suggest that O.J. Simpson be put into a work release program so that he can play the part of Nat Turner. That should add some further verisimilitude to this damnable madness.

These maniacs have no respect for history, morality, black people or these United States. They might as well wallow in it.

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