Point of View Columns

When a Sham Becomes a Shame

The only thing surprising about the Trump presidency is how consistently awful he is and how there seem to be no redeeming factors with which he can be associated. At times the only redemptive feature of President Trump is that, no matter what, he cannot be president after January of 2025. And that is a poverty stricken gossamer thread of hope for anyone who cares about this country and its people.

One would think that insulting the entire NATO alliance, tossing candy at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, endorsing British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political nemesis and walking in front of Queen Elizabeth would have been enough chaos for Hurricane Donald. But there was more, much more. Virtually fawning over his bromantic partner Vladimir Putin, Trump actually denigrated the American justice and intelligence communities while stating that America was at fault for the differences between Russia and the United States, managing to also turn the evidence-laden proof of Russian meddling in the 2016 election into just more “fake news”.

It will be up to historians in the future to fully comprehend the amount of damage that this man has caused in just 18 months of being president. Trade wars around the world, engaging in a futile pas de deux with North Korea, inhuman treatment of immigrants at the American border with Mexico and the demonization of the American news media (or were the recent shootings in the Annapolis newsroom too long ago for anyone to remember) – these are actions which have current repercussions. But it is the turmoil that is still incubating which is even more worrisome.

While Americans wake up every morning literally wondering what outrageous statement will spew from the White House, so much more is going on right below the surface. It is hard to keep pace with the termite-like attacks that the Trump Administration is pursuing, attacks that are just below the surface and will not become apparent until the edifice starts to splinter, crack and crash.

As you are reading this, the Trump Department of Education and the Trump Department of Justice are looking to virtually outlaw affirmative action in higher education. If his minions are successful, and with the likely installment of Brett Kavanaugh insuring an iron conservative majority on the Supreme Court for the next 10-15 years they almost certainly will succeed, diversity will no longer be a reality on many college campuses – it will only be a word found in a dictionary in a library, if anyone can find a library.

Meanwhile departure of Scott Pruitt as Executive Director of the EPA was a cause for only momentary celebration for those of us who think that clear air and clean water are like………important. That is because his replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is a coal industry executive and destroying the environment is a key element of his professional resume.

The Trump/Sessions Department of Justice tries to make people think that reopening the Emmett Till case is an example of the shell game also known as benevolent ivory justice. One can only assume that we should forget Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and all of the other black men and women who have been “lawfully” lynched by the system that has reneged on a promise of “justice for all”.

The point of course, is that while we continue to be focused on the Trump Clown Show, Trump and his minions are engaged in the serious and serial and systematic dismantling of so much of the infrastructure of hope and promise (as imperfect as it has been) that has made many of us believe that this country worth saving. And every day that Donald Trump is president is another day that hope and promise fade just a little bit more.

And that may be The True Tragedy That is Trump.

Standard
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.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Bill Cosby is not Emmett Till

The end of 2015 presented the sad and pathetic spectacle of Bill Cosby doing the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania version of the “perp walk” as the first criminal charges for sexual misconduct were formally filed against him. This comes after half a hundred women have publicly alleged all manner of sexual transgressions have been committed by this formerly iconic public figure. And now the real controversy begins.

Given the legal reality that Mr. Cosby is innocent until proven guilty – beyond a reasonable doubt – there is certainly no direct path to prison being paved especially for him. And given the very real and deep psychological factors at work in female and male victims of sexual assault, it should be understood that the timelines for such victims to come forward to confront their attackers can be fundamentally different from that of a victim of say, robbery or assault.

Of course this is the United States of America, a country founded on the institution of race-based slavery. We live in a country that is still shackled to its racist past and there is no post-racist present. And, because Bill Cosby is an American of African descent, there is no way that racial factors will not be a part of the narrative that is now being played out in real time.

And as this narrative plays out questions are being asked and assertions are being made in various precincts in the national black community to the effect that Mr. Cosby is being treated unfairly because he is black. Here are a few of these/questions assertions with some suggested responses/observations:

1. Bill Cosby is a victim – he is only being prosecuted because the “system” is choosing to bring down yet another prominent black man. While the American system of justice is undoubtedly unfair to black Americans far too often –witness the crime within a crime of mass incarceration and racially disproportionate sentencing – that is not the problem here. Before the issue of race, the issue of class should be examined. Bill Cosby is a very wealthy and very prominent man. These kinds of charges are rarely brought against members of this class. But a brief survey of America’s prisons will reveal more than a few members of this class charged with all manner of criminal conduct, most of them white, who are wearing orange jumpsuits for long periods of time.

2. If he were white these charges never would have been brought. As noted, there are white millionaires in prison who would strenuously disagree. Since Bill Cosby is black there is a reflex response in the national black community that something unfair must be going on – but the virtual blizzard of accusations certainly warrant examination by the criminal justice system – then very subjective discretion comes into play – as it does in all criminal cases.

3. The charges against Bill Cosby are so old they are calcified, therefore it is unfair to prosecute him. There are entire libraries full of books and articles describing the various responses of victims of sexual crimes. There are no standards in the world of these victims. Their allegations may never be proven – but to diminish them because of time factors is simply ignorant.

What is important about this l’affaire Cosby is that because it is viewed through the lens of the reality of race and law in America, defenders of Bill Cosby may be erroneously putting him in the category of the many thousands of black Americans who are unjustly accused, overcharged and over sentenced virtually every day of every year.

Simply put, unlike Emmett Till or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or Geronimo Pratt, Bill Cosby should not be the symbol of racial injustice. To do so tarnishes the painful legacies of Till, Garner, Rice, Pratt and so many others – so many others who deserve better than Bill Cosby as their avatar.

Standard
Point of View Columns

A Eulogy for Julian Bond and a Generation

The recent death of Julian Bond caused a righteous outpouring of honor and respect for a man who dedicated his life to human dignity and liberation. History provides some context for the courage and passion that he brought to a struggle that benefitted not only black Americans, but all Americans.

Julian Bond was born in 1940 and during the first ten years of his life over thirty black Americans would be lynched in this country. In the year that he was born Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and during his entire thirteen year term in office he never supported a single anti-lynching bill that was proposed in Congress. And no anti-lynching bill has ever been passed.

The America into which Julian Bond was born was covered with the slime and ooze of sixty four years of legalized and institutionalized racism, segregation and bigotry, the horrid aftermath of Reconstruction. Julian Bond did not read about black and white water fountains, he drank from the black fountains. He did not hear stories about segregated schools, pools, universities and hotels – he attended those schools, swam in those pools only on “Negro days”, could not aspire to attend the public universities in the South and, if the opportunity had arisen, he could only stay in “Negro hotels”.

In 1951 when Julian Bond was eleven years old, Harry T. Moore, the head of the Brevard County (Florida) NAACP and leader of a black voter registration drive, was assassinated by the local sheriff. Harry T. Moore is a footnote to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement and that sheriff never served a day in prison.

When Julian Bond was fourteen the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court declared that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. In 1955 when Julian Bond was fifteen Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi, ostensibly for the unforgivable crime of whistling at a white woman.

Two years later, in 1957 when he was seventeen, Julian Bond watched with the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, when the National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army were needed to guarantee the safety of nine black children whose parents had the temerity to want their children to go to a quality school in Little Rock, Arkansas that had been all white.

This was the America in which Julian Bond and all black Americans lived when he enrolled at Morehouse College soon thereafter. And it was in this cauldron of bubbling racist toil and trouble that he became one of the founding members of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Looking through the cloudy lens of the past it is difficult to comprehend the courage that Julian Bond, James Lewis, Stokely Carmichael possessed to even try to organize resistance to a brutal and malevolent regime that valued racism and racists practices over the lives of all black men, women and children.

Julian Bond is well remembered for his role as a member of the Georgia State Legislature, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And well should he be remembered for these and his many other good deeds.

And, as we remember Julian Bond, we should take a moment to understand and comprehend the force and power and beauty and courage of his generation who confronted White Power when it was the law – and in a very real way prevailed.

Standard
Point of View Columns

A Voice from the Past

It seems like yesterday, but 44 years ago this month I had the privilege of both graduating from Dartmouth College and speaking at the commencement exercises. I was reading that speech recently and I was amazed at how much has changed and how little has changed. I hope that you will appreciate this “Voice from the Past”.

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 Augusta 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 brothers 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 of 1970, 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 us

Your men are now with you.

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

 

This was written 44 years ago – it could have been written today.

 

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

Standard
Point of View Columns

Not a Lonely Hero

The annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. creates annual mixed reactions and concerns. On the one hand it is great and wonderful that there is a national holiday that recognizes a great and courageous and brilliant African American who is an indelibly important part of the history of this country. And yet this holiday can also distort history and distract from the true significance of Dr. King.

Ever since the King national holiday has been a part of this country’s calendar, there has been a continuous effort to sanitize the life and legacy of Dr. King. There are any number of leading political figures who damned the living Dr. King and supported institutionalized racism and then became adherents of Dr. King’s “dream”. To this day, many people conveniently forget the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke truth to power and the abuse and misuse of that power.

Dr. King spoke out against social and income inequality. Dr. King spoke out against the war in Vietnam and other imperialist incursions by the United States. Dr. King did not seek to accommodate injustice and while he advocated nonviolence, he did not advocate acceptance of what was wrong. His choice of nonviolence as a strategy was as calculated and as sincere as the strategies of opponents of injustice throughout world history including Gandhi, Castro and Mandela.

But it is not a surprise that there would also be some discomfort in placing the entire civil rights movement on the shoulders of Dr. King to the exclusion of all of the famed (and unnamed) millions of Americans who changed America. It can be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without W.E.B. Dubois and Walter White and Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

It can also be imagined that Dr. King would be the very first person to point out that without Harry T. Moore and Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo and Emmett Till there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement. And certainly, without the millions of parishioners of black (and white churches) who supported the Movement, along with the maids and cab drivers and train porters and students – all anonymous in current historical accounts – there would have been no record of success by the national civil rights movement.

The problem with the narrative that accompanies the King Holiday is that by promoting the “great man” theory, it gives everyone else a free pass. By presenting Dr. King as a demi-godlike apparition on the stage of history, it means that the rest of us cannot have the hope or capacity to create and sustain the kind of change attributed to him.

And I believe that Dr. King would be the first to say that that would be wrong. King was not a solo act. He was a virtuoso in one of the greatest human orchestras ever, and we would do well to remember that.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – March 15, 2013

This past week saw the presidential elections in Kenya conclude with Uhuru Kenyatta being declared the winner. The United States commended the Kenyan people on having orderly elections – one can only hope that some people noted the irony. Meanwhile recent news articles have detailed numerous black and Latino advocacy groups allying themselves with soda manufacturers. This is more than ironic, it is shameful. And finally, in some random reading I came across the Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes Act of 2007. That there is a need for such a law speaks volumes.

The Land of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King

The Kenyan presidential elections concluded with Uhuru Kenyatta being declared the winner and the new president. Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the legendary liberator, Jomo Kenyatta, and he was elected by a narrow margin. So narrow that his opponent is challenging the election results in court as you are reading this.

The United States State Department issued a statement commended the Kenyan people on holding free, fair and peaceful elections. And at first glance it would seem a gracious commendation from the bastion of democracy to an emerging democracy in a key African country.

But we cannot escape the irony. The United States is where over 25 state legislatures have proposed legislation specifically limiting the right to vote in order to suppress voting by minorities and the poor. The United States is where the Voting Rights Act of 1964 is under attack and on the Supreme Court chopping block.

And then there is this scenario – a presidential candidate loses the popular vote but is able to contest the election through irregularities in a state where his brother is the governor. The election is decided by a Supreme Court where two of the nine judges were appointed by that candidate’s father. One of the judges refuses to recuse himself when it is discovered that his son is a partner in the firm arguing in favor of the candidate. And the candidate wins by stealing the election.

Did this happen in Kenya? Nope.

Try the United States of America in 2000. George W. Bush was the candidate. Jeb Bush was his brother governor. George H.W. Bush was the father president who appointed the judges. Antonin Scalia was the Supreme Court justice who refused to recuse himself.

It would seem that the good old USA needs to do some serious housecleaning before pronouncing judgment on other democracies, emerging or otherwise.

Sugar Shame

News reports last week detailed a (perhaps not) so strange relationship between numerous black and Latino advocacy groups and the soda industry. That would be the same soda industry that is vigorously fighting any attempt to limit their ability to persuade Americans to guzzle more and more cheap empty calories in the name of refreshment and…………get this…………..freedom.

Unfortunately it is common knowledge that diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease are plagues in the black and Latino communities. Guzzling huge amounts of soda and eating gargantuan portions of fatty, salty fast food only exacerbate this crisis.
So why would black and Latino advocacy groups partner with the purveyors of slow death in their communities. As the saying goes, “follow the dollar”.
And that is a sugar shame.

The American Nightmare

There is something called the Emmitt Till Unsolved Crimes Act of 2007 that was passed with bipartisan support by the Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush. The purpose of the law was to reopen investigations into 112 unsolved murders in the South that were almost certainly perpetrated by white supremacist terrorists. Imagine such a bill being passed today!

The fact that such a law was necessary is truly a sad commentary on the history of the civil rights movement in this country. The fact that six years later 90 of those 112 cases are still unsolved is shameful.

But in this age of right wing partisanship, Teapublican assaults on government and the faux “post-racial” wonder dust that is being sprinkled around, it is unlikely that the resources necessary to bring about justice will be allocated anytime soon.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and have a great weekend!

Standard