Point of View Columns

Proof that Past is Prologue

Proof that Past is Prologue

On June 14, 1970 I graduated from Dartmouth College at the age of 20. I was privileged to be one of the Commencement speakers celebrating the 200th graduating class of the College. What follows is that speech which, written 46 years ago, contains themes and emotions that resonate to this very day.

Mothers and Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Mr. President, Faculty and Guests:

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate what is supposed to be a great day, a day of significance, and a day of meaning for all those involved. But what does this day mean for us, what does this day mean for us, the Black students who have survived the Dartmouth College experience?

This day means that we recognize ourselves as being the result of years of labor and sacrifice, the labor of fathers, the sacrifice of mothers, the encouragement and help from brothers and sisters, the support of friends. What we owe for this labor, this sacrifice, this encouragement, this help, this support, we can never pay back in material terms no matter how hard we try. For what we have been given can never be measured in terms of money, the god of fools. For what we have been given was given in the spirit of love and we must return in the same that love, otherwise we have not survived the Dartmouth experience, but rather we have been crushed by it.

If we are to make the years of labor and sacrifice meaningful, then we must dedicate ourselves to our people. We must dedicate ourselves to Black freedom and Black peace of mind, no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the barriers, no matter what the side alleys that lead to dead ends of frustration and negation. We must dedicate ourselves to putting an end to the sad humor of the contradiction of a Black man in a white man’s school trying to learn how to free himself.

We were made to be free, Black men and Black women were not meant to be anybody’s hand servants or slaves, we were meant to stand tall and proud under the sky of liberation without any clouds of oppression or injustice on the horizons of our minds. And if we are to be free once more, then we must not be surprised by whatever America tries to do to us. Three hundred years of oppression, three hundred years of blood, three hundred years of brutal and inhuman treatment should have taught us that much.

But, when we were first put in chains, our ancestors were surprised; when Reconstruction was found to be a sick white joke we were surprised; when Marcus Garvey was railroaded to prison, we were surprised; when Emmett Till and Mack Parker were murdered, we were surprised; when Malcolm X, the prince of blackness was murdered in cold blood we were surprised; when Martin Luther King, the prince of peace, was killed were still surprised; when Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed by the animals that masquerade as Chicago police, were we were still surprised; and even last month, when more of our brothers and sisters were shot down in August and Jackson, we were surprised.

Well, we can’t be surprised any longer. What goes around comes around, and it’s time for the other folks to be surprised.
We have been told to believe in America, to believe that there was something deep down inside America that was good. And what has happened?
Black brothers die daily in the Indochina madness that is just another example of the sickness of America spilling out all over the world, and still be try to believe; Nixon tells Black people that he doesn’t give a damn about us, that he would rather put a white man on the moon than put food into a Black (or white) child’s stomach, and still we try to believe; the Congressional Records of the United States detail the construction and planned use of concentration camps and still we are supposed to believe.

The time has now come for us to believe in ourselves. The time has come to make ourselves free. Our stars of freedom still shine and our saints of righteousness do live. You only have to look around.

The stars are in the eyes of little Black babies and children who were born destined only for freedom, the saints of righteousness are the mothers and fathers, the brother and sisters who have provided the strength for Blackness to survive in the face of the forces of evil.
The time is coming, the time has got to come, when freedom will be seen in our smiles, and our Blackness will mean freedom. We have to believe this, because this is the only reality left to us.

That is what we are about, that is what today means for us. To best sum up our feelings though, I would like to quote a poem written by Brother Herschel Johnson, of this class, as this poem speaks for the souls and spirits of all of us:

For you mothers with dirt-rough hands
For you with backs aching from bending
And flushing and scrubbing
For all you women on transit
You with brown bags under your arms
Bringing home the leavings of white folks
Bringing it to your children
For all you Black mothers and fathers
Who had to live with humility
And yet have had the pride to survive
For you Black mothers and fathers who raised up
Your men are now with you.

Thank you and may a beautiful Black peace always be with you.

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Point of View Columns

Dan Snyder – All American Tragedy

You may not know who Dan Snyder is, and that might be just as well because in addition to being the owner of the Washington NFL team he is also a sad and tragic individual who is mired in the muck and sewage of racism, intolerance and stunning insensitivity. In this country there is a prevailing belief that if someone is rich they must also be smart and have something worthwhile to say. Dan Snyder is living proof of the absolute fallacy of that belief.

The cause for concern here is the fact that the shameful naming of the Boston (later Washington) football team as the “Redskins” in 1933 is defended in the name of tradition. The problem with that argument is that this “tradition” is based upon the horrific history of the Native American population and its interaction with white Western Europeans. Through plague and mass killings it is possible that as many as 70 million Native Americans died while America was first “discovered” and then “settled”.

It takes a special kind of insensitivity and blockheaded arrogance to decimate a group of people through genocidal practices and then to turn them into mascots and human sock puppets that populate the mythology of American history. And in this enlightened age where we have finally acknowledged using the proper terminology when addressing people who are gay or unusually short or physically challenged, how on earth can anyone seriously suggest that using a racist epithet as the name of a football team is a tradition that is worth defending?

I am a graduate of Dartmouth College and that institution changed its “tradition” over thirty years ago and renamed its sports teams to the “Big Green” relegating the former mascot name of “Indians” to its deserved place on the trash heap of misbegotten monikers.
In the past thirty years many colleges and universities, with a “tradition” a lot longer than the Washington NFL team, have also jettisoned the needless slurring, trivializing and humiliation of Native Americans and have moved on.

The logic employed by billionaire Dan Snyder is so impoverished that if he had been applying it to his business affairs he would have been lining up for food stamps a long time ago. Mr. Snyder is arguing that a wrongful act should be perpetrated because it has been around for a long time and that tradition shouldn’t be changed.

Clearly Mr. Snyder conveniently forgets that there used to be a “tradition” in this country that black people could be owned as slaves. There also used to be a “tradition” that women could not vote. There was a “tradition” that Jews could not attend certain schools or join certain country clubs. There also used to be a tradition that gay men and women could not marry.

But the “tradition” that Dan Snyder also forgets is that these United States, with all of its flaws and faults also has a “tradition” of trying to correct those flaws and faults. And it is because of that tradition, the tradition of change and the tradition of embracing transition that resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, the virtual elimination of religious discriminatory practices at universities and country clubs and the growing legalization of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League has been notably silent on this issue. The NFL is a multibillion dollar image conscious enterprise. For Roger Goodell to sit on his well-manicured hands while one of the owners of the NFL franchise is taking a page out of the George Wallace/Lester Maddox playbook. (George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to bar black students from attending and Lester Maddox stood in the doorway of his Atlanta store armed with an axe handle to block attempts at integration.)

It doesn’t matter that 79% of the American public do not think that the Washington NFL team should change its name. Morality and justice cannot be subject to a vote. And the NFL, which extols courage and bravery, should strap on the helmet of courage and the shoulder pads of bravery and do the right thing.

There is no doubt that Mr. Goodell would respond immediately and stop an NFL owner who wanted to change the name of his team to the San Diego Wetbacks or the New York Niggers or the Philadelphia Faggots. Those incredibly insulting terms are as insulting as the term “Redskins” is to Native Americans.

It is time for the Roger Goodell to demonstrate some leadership and time for all of us to embrace the stated American tradition of change for justice.

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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

Weekend Edition – March 23, 2012

Ever since Africans were brought to the shores of North America, African Americans have been murder victims. The killers have been slave owners, Klansmen, Confederate soldiers, police officers, prison guards and other African Americans. But the murder of Trayvon Martin is also another sign of the gun madness in this country that threatens to kill us all. Meanwhile Saint Santorum reminds us that a stopped clock is right twice a day as he comments on the Romney campaign. And finally, Dartmouth College is in the news for all the right reasons.

Gun Crazy

The sad and tragic story of the murder of Trayvon Martin is national news. It is right to focus on the clear signs of racial profiling that led to the death of an innocent seventeen year old young man who deserved a better future than what was delivered to him at the hands of a wannabe cop with a gun. It is certainly right to focus on the inexcusable conduct of the local police who did not arrest or even question Trayvon Martin’s killer.

It is also right to question how long the howling pro-gun lobby is going to be allowed to ransack every aspect of public safety in the name of the sanctity of the Second Amendment as they interpret it? Because the killer of Trayvon Martin is free today, and may never suffer any state penalties, because the Florida State Legislature in a moment of mob madness passed the “Stand Your Ground” which promotes the concept of self defense to include preemptive aggression.

There are certainly rational approaches to the concept of gun ownership. Banning guns from this country is impossible. Empowering untrained civilians to legally track down anyone they deem to be “suspicious” is insane and an invitation to mass mayhem. Legalizing the purchase of military weapons and armor piercing ammunition has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with killing.

As long as this country worships at the altar of the gun, Trayvon Martin will not be the last sacrifice on that altar.

All Hail the Stopped Clock

Saint Rick Santorum or Saint Santorum for short, in commenting on the Romney campaign proved that a stopped clock can be right twice a day. He urged Republicans to consider that, if Mitt Romney was the nominee, they might as well vote for Barack Obama.

I never thought that I would agree but one can only hope that the remaining sane members of the G.O.Tea Party listen to Saint Santorum and do indeed vote for President Obama.

A Great Day for Dartmouth College

As an alumnus of Dartmouth College I am going to take a point of personal privilege to note that today President Obama nominated Dr. Jim Yong Kim to be the new president of the World Bank. Dr. Kim, by the way, is the president of Dartmouth College.

A winner of a MacArthur Foundation grant and the one of the founders of the internationally acclaimed Partners in Health, Dr. Kim is a brilliant choice for this challenging position. I have had the opportunity to meet and listen to Dr. Kim and he is not only brilliant, he is a modern polymath who is brilliant in so many different iterations.

Congratulations to Dr. Kim and congratulations to President Obama on his brilliant selection.

Have a great weekend

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Point of View Columns

President Obama Did Not “Surrender”

As this column is being written the Danse macabre called the debt ceiling negotiations continue like some bizarre video loop of the 1990’s movie “Groundhog Day”. Every day it is the same intransigence. Every day brings hopelessness dimming the light of future days. Every day witnesses the triumph of greed over compassion. Every day witnesses the triumph of hate over common sense.

Please reread that last sentence………anyone who thinks that the G.O.Tea Party frothing intransigence and obstinate frenzy is about the debt ceiling and the budget deficit isn’t paying attention or is just fooling themselves. The Republican playbook calls for eviscerating and amputating every vestige of power and discretion that Barack Obama might exercise as President of the United States. The reelection of Barack Obama is viewed by the right wing of the right wing as being unthinkable and against the very laws of nature. It is something to be avoided at all costs.

We have now seen that those “costs” include the debasement and possible unhinging of the American economy. The fact that the unthinkable fiscal default of the United States government has almost occurred is due to the kamikaze-like belief of the G.O.Tea Party that it would be better to let this country crash, burn and die rather than let Barack Obama lead it.

Amidst the smoking embers of near catastrophe we can smell a whiff of brimstone from racist fires. The brutal invective and color-tinged vitriol directed at President Obama during the first two and a half years of his presidency have not been seen since the administration of Abraham Lincoln and that was in the midst of the Civil War.

There is old saying that goes like this, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” The G.O.Tea Party has taken a spin on this bit of bamboozelry to tell the American people that the debt ceiling crisis has been caused by a lack of leadership on the part of President Obama.

The fact is that the Republicans have refused to negotiate on any aspect of the debt ceiling /budget debate and remain welded to the anchor of their no new tax pledge that threatens to us all. The fact is that the right wing of the right wing has abandoned any pretense of seeking to work with Barack Obama and is prepared to place the collateral damage of their fanaticism on his doorstep.

Mean statements and harsh words are part of the political process. But the racial radar begins beeping when Senator Mitch McConnell talks about “breaking” Barack Obama. And then there is Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado stating that negotiating with President Obama is like “touching a tar baby”. On the Planet America, if these aren’t fighting words they are cause to start searching the crowd for nooses and pitchforks.

Critics from the left wing of the left wing contend that President Obama has “surrendered” to the G.O.Tea Party. My Dartmouth College classmate Robert Reich contends that Barack Obama should have “done more” to articulate the crass and brazen greed of the Republicans as they protect the greedy and continue to fleece the needy. I assume that Dr. Reich means that President Obama should spend even more time trying to convince the American people who vote for “American Idol” in greater numbers than they vote in presidential elections.

During the past few weeks President Obama was like the guy in a chair fight where everybody had a chair but him. The sounds of silence emanating from Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee and the Congressional Black Caucus and organized labor have been deafening. There have been some murmurs from AARP and Rachel Maddow and Bill Maher and John Stewart have weighed in on occasion.

But any support for the president has been drowned out by the 24/7 drumbeat from the right wing of the right wing and its personal television network, Fox News. The television commercials funded by the Koch brothers and organizations affiliated with Karl Rove have skewed and corkscrewed the mentality of the American public until no sense and nonsense make sense.

Too many people who stand to be victimized by the G.O.Tea Party agenda do not vote. Too many people who disbelieve the idiotic notion that “shared sacrifice” means that sacrifice is shared between the middle class and the poor do not vote. Too many people who instinctively understand that President Obama is being played like a cheap banjo stay silent – public officials and private citizens alike.

To suggest that Barack Obama has “surrendered” is to ignore the facts. Under the circumstances he will be fortunate to get out of the debt ceiling debacle with a decent portion of his epidermis intact. And we can see already that November 6, 2012 will be a real bad day for the progressive community if it doesn’t wake up from the hypnotic spell cast by the G.O.Tea Party.

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