Point of View Columns

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 were seated in attendance. Many of these women dressed in white to commemorate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This amendment, which 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 boys and little black girls and boys do not know the names of Mary Church Terrell, Ida Wells, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, 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 the advocacy of the African American hero Frederick Douglass. After the Civil War the cause of the rights of black people diverged from the 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.

Without Sanctuary is a photographic history of lynching in America. In almost everyone 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 the 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, 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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Point of View Columns

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 – which 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 s 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” 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 described 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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Point of View Columns

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 a shell of denial, but the reality is that the United States was founded with the slavery 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 and 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 from 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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Point of View Columns

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 – has 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” is as 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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Point of View Columns

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 during his 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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