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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On the Last Day of Black History Month – What Happened to Reparations?

Due to the observance of Leap Year, Black History Month got an extra day in 2020. As has been noted, Black History Month should serve as a foundation to educate all Americans, not just Black Americans, with respect to the history of Black people in this country. And certainly, any true history of Black America must begin with slavery and continue to this day with the very impact of slavery on this entire country in every aspect of these United States.

We live in a country which has such a bifurcated perspective on slavery and Black Americans that there are thousands of monuments commemorating the leaders of the traitorous rebellion to protect slavery and promote the eternal squalor of white supremacy. Somehow Black Americans are supposed to feel respected while these Confederate statutes and memorials stain the landscape of this nation, with this statuary sewage even seeping into the Arlington National Cemetery.

We live in a country where racial disparity has been abundantly clear – in health, in housing, in education, in life expectancy, in economic status and in incarceration rates – and none of these disparities are viewed as a national shame, and more importantly a national emergency. And that is where the Democratic presidential primary comes in – as a living, breathing illustration of the rank hypocrisy that pervades all sectors of the American socio-political universe when it comes to Black Americans.

If you go back in ancient history to early 2019, virtually every Democratic presidential candidate spoke out in favor of reparations for Black Americans. This was noteworthy in that this simply had never happened before, even though reparations was a key point of advocacy in the abolitionist movement and urged upon this nation by Frederick Douglass and grudgingly endorsed by Abraham Lincoln before his death.

Reparations for the formerly enslaved Black Americans would have meant so much in terms of providing a foundation for economic as well as civic freedom. Reparations would have extirpated slavery by the roots and torn the branches of white racism asunder. And, of course, that is why reparations was blocked by the self-proclaimed “president of white men”, Andrew Johnson – and by1876, reparations has withered away as a serious talking point in any consideration of the conditions and future of Black Americans.

And the late Congressman John Conyers kept the flickering flame of Black reparations alive with multiple resolutions calling for an exploration of a realistic implementation of the concept. And those resolutions were politely but firmly dropped – notably without the unified and non-negotiable support of the Congressional Black Caucus – until 2019.

That is when virtually every one of the candidates for the Democratic Party Circular firing squad clearly stated their support for reparations for Black Americans. This historic, game changing set of pronouncements was noted by political commentators and then…….

….and then things got serious and reparations for Black Americans went to the back of the American political bus. So much so that, as the South Carolina primary, taking place on the last day of Black History Month, in South Carolina where 60% of the voting Democrats are Black, there has not been anything resembling the whisper of a mention of reparations.

And once again, we see the divergence of stated American ideals and the reality of where Black Americans are placed in terms of relevance and respect in the American political spectrum.

And perhaps that is the most important lesson to be learned during Black History Month 2020.

 

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Devil in The White Dress

Trump’s State of the Union speech received mixed reviews, to be kind. They ranged from “psychotically incoherent” (Van Jones) to “his worst speech ever” (Rick Santorum) to “the most inspiring State of the Union speech in history” (guess……………you are correct, Sean Hannity). The fact that for many the most memorable moment was Speaker Nancy Pelosi clap-shaming Trump kind of says it all. But there was more going on that night, and there are some women in Congress, all dressed in white, who have some explaining to do.

It was certainly noteworthy and historic and far too long in coming for the largest number of women in Congress be seated as members. Many of these women dressed in white to commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This amendment was ratified and became a part of the Constitution in 1920. The 19th Amendment was seen as the signal and most important victory of the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement.

One has to wonder if all of those women dressed in white knew what they were celebrating. The history of the (white) women’s suffrage movement existed hand in hand with domestic terrorists like the Knights of the White Magnolia and the Ku Klux Klan and the rhetoric of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton rang with words like “sambo”, “baboons” and “black rapists” as they advocated for (only) white women to have the right to vote.

But even in the age of Trump facts matter. The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote – it prohibited states from preventing women from voting. The 19th Amendment did absolutely nothing to protect or assert the rights of black women when it came to voting. And the almost 100 year old women’s suffrage movement was a virtually whites-only organization that grudgingly permitted black women a seat on the back of the suffragette bus, alternatively ignoring and insulting them.

And it is because of this skewed whitewashing of women’s history that little white girls and white boys and little black girls and black boys do not know the names of Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Coralie Franklin Cook, but they do know the names of unreconstructed racists and bigots like Anthony and Stanton.

While there was a linkage between the abolitionist and suffrage movements prior to the Civil War, ironically due in no small part to advocacy by the African American hero Frederick Douglass. After the Civil War the cause of the rights of black people diverged from the agenda of advocates for women’s suffrage.

That is because the female leadership of the women’s suffrage movement were as racist as their American male counterparts. Leaders like Anthony and Stanton opposed the 15th Amendment because they felt that white women should have the right to vote before black men. The leaders of this movement barred black women from their marches and many of their public events and the historic Women’s March on Washington 1913, black women were forced to march – you guessed it – at the rear of the parade.

And when the 19th Amendment was ratified, the leaders of these (white) women’s movement did nothing to support their black sisters in their effort to vote. Black women were arrested, beaten, sexually assaulted and killed in their efforts to claim the benefits that the Women in White celebrated at the State of the Union.

Of course there should be no surprise that white women in the North and South stood by while their white brothers, sons, fathers and husbands rained all kinds of holy hell on black people in America.

The book Without Sanctuary is a photographic history of lynching in America. In almost every one of these horrific pictures there are crowds of white people in attendance, looking on with undisguised pleasure and even glee. And at least half of those in attendance were — you guessed it – white women.

The facts are that the 19th Amendment did little or nothing for black women, and the rights asserted by white women as a result of this amendment meant nothing for black women until the passage of the Voting Rights Act — 45 years later. One wonders why these female members of Congress, black, white, Latina and Asian would think it important to celebrate this historic moment of white female supremacy – and not even notice the irony of wearing white for such a celebration.

The fact is that there are many times in this country’s history and in the present when women of all colors and backgrounds have come together to advocate justice for all. The fact is that the 19th Amendment is not one of them, and just like Robert E. Lee’s birthday and the Confederate flag, it does not deserve celebration or observation.

For more information and more facts please see Brent Staples NY Times article on this subject

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/opinion/sunday/women-voting-19th-amendment-white-supremacy.html

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Black History Month in the Year 2018

I have always committed myself to the truth, but these are times that call for more than truthful comments. It should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares at all about the legacy of Black History Month that since January 20, 2017, that legacy has been challenged, insulted and degraded.

It should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares about the legacy of Black History Month that its legacy has been challenged and under attack. And it should be clear to anyone and everyone who cares about the legacy of Black History Month that the challenge and attack emanates not only from the current occupant of the White House – the challenge and attack emanates from America itself.

How else do we explain how over 62.9 million American voters – overwhelmingly white – chose a man to be President of the United States who openly and blatantly challenged the citizenship and legitimacy of the first black President of the United States for the sole reason that he is black. Donald Trump employed the dog-whistle of race politics like the racist virtuoso that he is – and over 60 million white Americans came running. But in the final analysis this should not have been a surprise, because the legacy of Black History Month teaches us that we are long way from even approaching post-racial nationhood in these United States of America.

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

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

And it is important to understand the historical context within which Black History Month has its origins. From 1882 to 1964 at least 3,446 black Americans were lynched in the United States. Men, women, children, returning war veterans in uniform, the aged, crippled and blind were killed by “civilized” white American mobs. In 1926 black people lived in a reign of terror throughout the United States and not only in the South.

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

In 1926 voting rights were simply unknown for many black Americans. And in 1926 the great migration of black Americans from the South to the North, Midwest and West Coast was moving at a rapid pace. Of course “migration” is not the correct word, because many of the men, women and children leaving the South were refugees from the organized and casual terrorism that circumscribed the lives of so many and too many.

In 1926, the Black National Anthem, words by James Weldon Johnson and music by John Rosamond Johnson, had been introduced and sung since 1900. And during those 26 years Jim Crow segregation was cemented into the American way of life. During those 26 years President Woodrow Wilson reinstituted segregation in the Federal Civil Service and allowed the racial obscenity of a movie, “Birth of a Nation” to premier in the White House. During those 26 years too many black soldiers who served in World War I were lynched in their uniforms upon returning to America.

And so, as we observe Black History Month I would like to refer to “Lift and Every Voice and Sing”, the Black National Anthem, to provide some frame of reference and an historical perspective.

Consider the first verse:

“Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty,
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Remember that these words were written in 1900. Remember again that the horrors of human bondage were a recent memory and that the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and lynching were very much in the present tense. Remember that as these words were written the American shame and disgrace of Jim Crow were very much in the present tense.

Yet, listen to the power of hope and the absolutely magnificent belief in the promise of freedom and dignity – despite the fact that the fulfillment of this promise of the American dream had been so cruelly denied. Listen to these words and you begin to understand the strength and resilience that has sustained a people through the unimaginably worst of times.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us

Listen to these words and you hear that recurring theme of faith. The “dark past” is not a euphemism in this song. The “dark past” refers to the slave ships, and the centuries of bondage and human trafficking and rape and torture and degradation. And yet, despite and through these horrors, there is faith. And through faith resilience rises and through resilience comes the hope that sustains even during the present tense of 1900 and the present tense of 2018.

And we should understand, that the resilience reflected in these lyrics are accompanies by the theme of resistance. This is not a passive anthem. This is not a hymn in praise of eternal suffering. This is a call to action.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Consider the words – “new day” is such a clear reference to the dawning of a new era occasioned by Emancipation. We sit comfortably in the 21st century and find it difficult if not impossible to understand what it could have been like to have no living relative who had ever lived in freedom. We find it difficult to imagine the profound effect that the extinction of the vile virus of slavery must have had on an entire people – both slave and free.

But if we try, we can imagine that the glorious day of Emancipation must have provided not only faith and hope, not only resilience, but also the will to resist encroachments on that new found freedom. The faith and hope and resilience also provided the strength to resist and to claim all of the rights that are due to every American citizen. And so, we begin to understand the strength and determination that underlies the words “till victory is won”.

Victory was never about just a seat on a bus or a seat in a public school. Victory was not about the first ballplayer or the first black president. Victory has always been about claiming dignity and humanity and finally being acknowledged as a full partner in the enterprise known as the United States of America.

And in a very real way, the struggle for humanity, dignity and full citizenship is a struggle that has been undertaken on behalf of all the participants in the gorgeous mosaic known as America. And we have seen that the civil rights struggle has empowered women – white and black, Latinos, Asians, the differently abled and men and women across the spectrum of gender choice. And what we know is that this country, imperfect as it is, is a better place because of the resistance and resilience of black Americans.

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

In closing, it should be clear to all of us that the challenges of today fade into a light orange hue compared to the challenges referred to in the Black National Anthem. We should be clear that if there was ever a time to renew the call for resistance and resilience it is now.

And we should never, never forget that Black History Month is about so much more that a litany of achievements. Black History Month is a solemn occasion to reflect on the unfulfilled promise of greatness to which this country has aspired and will hopefully achieve on some great and wonderful day.

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There is Such a Thing as Asking Too Much – The Negro Problem Revisited

The study of history is so important in understanding the present and the possibilities of the future, that it is amazing how often it is ignored or misrepresented. Exhibit A in real time is the current controversy regarding mostly black athletes protesting discrimination and bias against black Americans at sporting events. The ensuing hue and cry reminds us that the Negro Problem is still a problem for too much of white America.

Frederick Douglass once wrote:

“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….”

And although those words were written over a century and a half ago, too much of America perceives that there is a Negro Problem, when the real problem has nothing to do with black Americans, and everything to do with the denial of promise of true freedom and the opportunity to freely prosper in these United States. And when President Trump or NFL Commissioner Goodell or NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or any number of white elected officials discourage and disparage black Americans for exercising their Constitutional rights, they totally miss the point in making these athletes the problem when this country is the real problem.

It is of no surprise that many Americans want to whitewash American history or simply crawl into there own personal shell of denial. But the reality is that the United States was founded with the enslavement of black men, women and children as a central aspect of its existence. The reality is that throughout the South it was legal to kill a black person and some would argue that this has not changed appreciably as we settle into the 21st century.

The flag that flies during the national anthem is the flag of a country that countenanced slavery, genocide, legalized segregation, discrimination, lynching and race-based institutional inequities that have lasted to this very moment. It is the flag of a country that is uncomfortably comfortable with over 1000 Confederate monuments scattered across this land like so many dragons’ teeth, even though each and every one of these hellish icons memorialize a war fought to maintain the enslavement of the forebears of the athletes who have the temerity and colossal nerve to kneel in protest of this sordid history and still too sordid present.

The question should not be about why black athletes – and black Americans generally – are protesting. The question should only be about why black Americans are not protesting more – and all the time. And it is sad and illustrative of the problem that there are white Americans who wear the American flag as underwear, head wraps and bathing suits, are offended that black Americans choose to protest in front of this flag. It is sad because these same white Americans are not offended by police brutality inflicted on innocent black civilians. They are not offended by high incarceration rates in the black community. And they are not offended by the overwhelming data that shows that race-based discrimination is the root cause of so many of the disparities in the national black community.

Indeed the controversy over these protests at sporting events shows how far this country still has to come in the long journey to achieve equity and racial equality. In the meantime, for white America to ask black Americans to stop protesting during the national anthem of this imperfect country is simply asking too much.

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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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The Negro Problem – Whites Behaving Badly

It is a surprise when commentators, white and black, express shock, dismay and surprise at the vile ditties sung by the white and privileged SAE frat boys on the bus at the University of Oklahoma. And then the collective American media are shocked that the Miami police department used images of black men for target practice. And then we hear more howls from the shock echo chamber when the Majority Whip of the United States House of Representatives admits to having addressed a meeting of Ku Klux Klan members.

When discussions regarding race relations in America begin, there is a tendency of some commentators to suggest that “all sides” of this contentious issue be taken into consideration. Once again, this quote provides a useful guide:

“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.” – Frederick Douglass

The point, of course, is that any consideration of the various factors affecting the relationship(s) between the national black community and the national white community must, of necessity, begin with the recognition that from its literal inception, this nation embraced the theology of racism and the legalization of racist practices. This is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact based on actual American history.

Over the centuries this theology has morphed into schools of thought and political philosophies that link the pathological effects of racism to “cultural” differences instead of anthropological differences. The legalization of racist practices have evolved from outright slavery, to Jim Crow practices, and now to the employment of the law enforcement and correctional systems to continue to subjugate and marginalize huge segments of the national black community.

But the reality is that America is addicted to racism. The reality is that as a nation America is a raceaholic. And like the drug addict or the alcoholic, this country cannot begin to walk down the road of recovery until it stops its denial and accepts the problem that is literally part of its DNA.

It does no good to treat racist remarks by public figures as “misstatements”. It does no good to term the racially-based brutalization and murder of black Americans for centuries as “isolated incidents”. And it does no good to hide behind the fig leaf of “the inherent goodness of the American people”.

Because while all of humanity is inherently good, good people all over the world have stood silently through pogroms, massacres, holocausts and the ritual of the lynch mob. For centuries, good people in this country lived comfortably while black Americans were enslaved, raped, murdered and sold like cattle. For over a century good people in this country lived quite comfortably while black Americans sat in the back of the national bus.

And now, in the 21st century, good people are deaf, dumb and blind to the pathologies in the national black community, becoming conscious only to point out that the people who are damaged did it to themselves – ostensibly in some sort of cultural vacuum chamber that totally absolves the “good people” of blame or responsibility.

If anyone reading this column truly believes that the University of Oklahoma is the only university where the word “nigger” is spoken freely, then they are invited to visit any college or university in America. If anyone truly believes that Ferguson, Missouri is the only town in America where police officers racially mock President Obama and jail black Americans disproportionately, then they are invited to visit any town in America.

It is too bad that there isn’t a Betty Ford Clinic for nations. Perhaps this country could go, admit its addiction and begin a twelve step program that will heal this country and allow all the “good people” in this country to become truly good people.

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Point of View Columns

The Negro Problem and the Letter

Ever since Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, there has been a split screen perspective on his administration. On the one hand the livid, steel-boned opposition of the Teapublicans has been described as normal politics – perhaps a tad more strident, but nothing worse than what Lincoln or both Roosevelts or Clinton faced during their presidencies. But there is another perspective which is a reflex that reflects the vile virus of racism that still afflicts this country.

“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.” – Frederick Douglass

The eloquence of Frederick Douglass in damning slavery and its racist foundation reverberated in real time and has echoed through the ages to this very day. His challenge to the American people to “live up to their own constitution” could have been spoken this week.

One of the interesting aspects of the United States Constitution is that even though it was written over 200 years ago, it continues as the governance document for this country because of its initial clarity and its continued capacity for adapting to modern times. On the issue of the role of the President and Congress with respect to foreign policy, Article II of the Constitution states:

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur

This week that 47 members of the United States simply defied the Constitution that they are sworn to uphold by sending a letter to the leadership of Iran that was clearly intended to interfere and subvert the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Iran regarding limiting its nuclear energy usages. Even the most serious student of American history would be hard pressed to locate a similar instance of absolute insult and disrespect by Congress for any President of the United States.

It is reasonable to ask whether these 47 senators and their supporters are so firm in their fear of Iran or so steadfast in their unequivocal and unquestioning support of Israel that they felt it necessary to shatter the centuries old divide between the Presidency and Congress on matters of foreign policy. Was there some imminent danger to which the Obama Administration had turned a blind eye which warranted this shameless conduct?

The answer to all three questions is simply “no”. So why would these senators take such an outrageous action that embarrassed the entire nation in the eyes of the world. Could it be the “negro problem” to which Frederick Douglass referred?

Could it be that the fact that President Obama is black suddenly changes the Constitution, rules of decorum and traditions of probity and respect? How the unprecedented pledge of the Republican opposition in January 2009 to ensure that President Obama would “fail” as president be explained? What other reason can there be for no sanctions being imposed on South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson when he called President Obama a liar during his State of the Union speech to Congress?

Could there be any other explanation other than the “negro problem” for Congress shutting down the federal government and precipitating the lowering of the nation’s credit rating by doing the default death dance with the national budget. And for what other reason would Congress unilaterally invite a foreign head of state to speak for the sole purpose of criticizing the policies of a sitting president?

It would be a waste of time to search for other explanations. The “negro problem” has unhinged the Obama Administration’s opponents to the point that they cannot even feign respect. The “negro problem” has stripped the Teapublicans of their ability to respect the Constitution and it is proper to wonder if this “negro problem” has impaired their ability to think clearly, if at all.

When will the Teapublicans have “loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own Constitution”?

Inquiring minds need to know.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – December 6, 2013

It appears that there is a new crime in Rochester, New York – Living While Black. Meanwhile there is a hope among comedy fans that Donald Trump will actually run for the office of governor of the State of New York. And finally, in a dramatic intersection of stupidity and power, a Teapublican congressman has seriously advocated the nuclear bombing of Iran.

Living While Black

In Rochester, New York you can find the grave of Frederick Douglass. It is also the birthplace of the Eastman Kodak Company. Now it turns out is also the place where racism and law enforcement have engaged in a noxious embrace.

Just before Thanksgiving three African American teenagers were waiting for a bus in Rochester, a bus that would take them to basketball practice. As far as anyone knows, there is nothing else remarkable about three high school youngsters going to practice. They weren’t stealing, assaulting, menacing, threatening or harassing anyone.

Nevertheless an enterprising representative of the Rochester Police Department seems to have set aside his white hood long enough to arrest these three young men on the charges of disturbing the peace. And this would have been just another classic illustration of the jailification of young black men if singer/actress Audra McDonald and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t bring this miscarriage of justice to the attention of this nation.

Finally the charges were dropped although the young men and their parents are still waiting for an apology. Meanwhile, we can be sure that they are not the only, or last, young black men to be stopped and arrested on the charge of Living While Black.

Send in the Real Clowns

The leaders of the New York State Republican Party are reported to have journeyed to the lofty perch of Donald Trump to persuade him to run for governor of the State of New York in 2014. Presumably, these scions of the Republican Party actually believe that Donald Trump gives them the best chance of unseating the current incumbent, Andrew Cuomo.

We can also assume that they are not aware that the New York State Attorney General is bringing a multimillion dollar lawsuit against Donald Trump for running a fake school that was called “Trump University” – a university that was not accredited anywhere on this planet and conferred no degrees.

We can also assume that these leaders of the Republican Party missed Donald Trump making a total fool of himself as the temporary leader of America’s Birthers during the 2012 presidential campaign. And they probably missed the fact that his multiple corporate bankruptcies have left bondholders and contractors holding the bag – a bag worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, in some dark secluded place Governor Andrew Cuomo is praying that Donald Trump will be his opponent.

Power + Stupidity = Danger

Earlier this week, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R.CA), a senior Teapublican member of the House Armed Services Committee actually advocated a presumptive nuclear attack on Iran. Aside from the sheer, blunt headed stupidity of such a proposal, Congressman Hunter’s statement is also dangerous.

Imagine what would be going on in the United States if a senior mullah in Iran started speaking publicly about attacking this country. There would be more than a few chicken hawks who would feel they had all the justification for a preemptive strike – right now!

But somehow the Iranian government is supposed to be persuaded than an elected senior member of a key congressional committee “didn’t really mean it” and was just speculating out loud.

When power meets ignorance the result is always very dangerous.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

Who Let These Dogs Out?

It has been observed that the exact moment that America began to lose its mind was at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2009 when Barack Obama became President Barack Obama. Since then madness has become the new normal as hordes of white Americans have donned their Tea Party Hats and wrapped themselves in Confederate flags seeking to “take back America”. Black Americans have not been immune from this crazy contagion and Dr. Ben Carson is Exhibit A in the American Mad House.

Clearly Dr. Carson was seeking to claim the Most Obnoxious Black Critic of President Obama, a prize that Professor Cornel West has been trying to turn into a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Carson has overtaken Cornel West by claiming that the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing to happen to America since slavery”.

Considering the indelible stain that racial slavery has left on this country’s moral, political and social fabric, it is beyond obscene for anyone to make that claim. Nevertheless any number of white Teapublicans and now the eminent Dr. Carson and others have made this baseless and morally indefensible claim.

But frankly, it is even worse when a black American will pick up the whip and the noose – lashing the truth and lynching the legacy of pain and perseverance of his own forebears. That Ben Carson should know better is not even the point. As a high school and college graduate and a medical doctor it is a good bet that he has a passing familiarity with the history of black and white people in America and knows that racial slavery was an abomination that can only be described as a crime against humanity.

Ben Carson is entitled to employ hyperbole and exaggeration but not at the expense of the history and legacy of his own people. To smear his muddy boots of extreme rhetoric on the graves and memories of generations of slaves and their descendants is simply unacceptable and he should be called to account for his misdeed.

Consider that you will never hear a member of the Jewish community, no matter how outraged at whatever political event, compare that event to the Holocaust, and with good reason. An American of French descent would never bring up the Nazi occupation of France in political discourse. That Ben Carson would not give the same level of respect to the victims of racial slavery in America and just leave them out of his howling screeds against Obamacare is offensive and shameful.

What makes Ben Carson’s comments all the more galling is that they come just as the Teapublicans in Congress and in the street have decided to show their true colors once and for all. On Sunday, October 13, 2013, there was a Tea Party demonstration in Washington and Confederate flags were unfurled along with racist taunts and slurs being hurled against President Obama.

All the while, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and all the rest of the unhooded New Knights of the White Magnolia stood silent, never uttering a syllable of restraint or decency. Dog whistle politics is not new in this country – but now it seems that one will hear “nigger” more times than is heard on a Jay-Z album and that is saying something.

One hundred and thirty years ago, Frederick Douglass spoke truth to power and his words are worth repeating:

 “…Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course, he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress.

If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness… he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence.

In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.

Frederick Douglass September 25, 1883

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