Point of View Columns

My Last Black History Month Speech of 2022

Greetings and thanks to the introduction and to all of you for attending today’s program. It is always a pleasure to join you brothers and sisters during Black History Month.

On this wet and rainy Friday, I am glad to begin this presentation with some truly good news. Today some more Black history has been made. Today, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

It should be noted that in the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, she will be only the third Black American to serve on the Supreme Court – and that we are still talking and rightfully celebrating Black “firsts” in the third century of this country’s existence is yet another illustration of the racist and supremacist virus that still courses through the veins of this nation.

Of course, during Black History Month we celebrate what has been – but we also have to take to time to observe, assess and consider the present and the future because if we ignore the present and fail to consider the future, then we do so at our own peril.

It should be noted that the origins of Black History Month began with the work of the great Black Historian G. Carter Woodson. The celebration began in February because the birthday of the great Frederick Douglass was in February. And I would like to begin with a quote by Brother Douglass:

There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their constitution.

Over the last six years it would seem that nothing could be worse for Black America than the presidency of one Donald J. Trump. And then came the torrent of sanctioned murders of Black Americans including George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many more (and of course we should remember that Eric Garner was strangled to death by NYPD Officer Pantaleo and there has never been justice for him and his family even though the President and the Attorney General of the United States were Black at the time.

We have seen the birth and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and white corporate America has paid lip service to the concept – but institutional change has been elusive at best for Black America.

By every indicia – family income, infant mortality, life expectancy, incarceration rates, poverty levels, education and income deficits – the narrative of this country is that no matter where we live, no matter how much money we make, no matter where we went to school – if you are a Black woman, man or child – we live in a different country than that of our white sisters and brothers.

It would seem that since I first had the honor of joining you 4 years ago – so much has happened. And now so much is about to happen. Since the November 2020 election we have seen the deconstruction of American democracy moving from slow motion to warp speed. And even though American democracy has never been the saving grace of Black America that it should be, its demise simply cannot be a good thing. That is because the successor to American democracy could be very well be an authoritarian America that will certainly not be the friend of any Black woman, man or child.

Since January 1, 2021 19 states have passed 34 laws that make it more difficult to vote and in particular making it more difficult for Black Americans to vote. As you might guess, this is no accident.

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 – and I realize that many of you gathered today were not even born then and therefore have enjoyed a level of franchise entitlement that never existed for Black people before that year and…. may soon evaporate within the next 36 months.

We have seen the deconstruction of the Republican Party, at one point the party of Reconstruction- seemingly a million years ago, and is now the vehicle for a proto-conservative, authoritarian, neo-fascist, jackbooted and tattooed cadre of shock troops hell-bent on a reconstruction of America that will not resemble anything that has been seen in this country’s history.

We must understand that instead of worrying about how many times Joe Rogan says “nigger” we should be worrying about how many members of Congress and the Senate will no longer consider Black Americans as a legitimate part of their constituency. And once that becomes the case, the remaining guard rails are coming down.

Due to our collective inattention and lack of focus, the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 proto-conservative majority. My sad prediction is that the following rights are on the chopping block and will be eviscerated or eliminated within the next 36 months – abortion rights, universal healthcare, universal voting rights, affirmative action, rights to public accommodations, gender equity, rights of the differently abled, same sex marriage and anything resembling for undocumented immigrants.

And keep in mind that this Court will have this right wing of the right wing majority for at least the next two decades – and that’s why elections do matter.

The American house is on fire. Like many house fires it may not be that noticeable at first – there might be some oily rags in the garage waiting for a moment of ignition or some old and moldy magazines smoldering in the attic and then – conflagration.

In the future we should never look back and say that we had no idea that it could get this bad. We have been warned and we have a choice. As Frederick Douglass said:

Power concedes nothing without demand

The question now is what do you demand? What do we demand?

We can regroup and reorient our focus towards resistance and resilience. We have to realize that our forebears didn’t even have shoes, but they marched to freedom – spiritually and literally.

Anything that we might consider to be freedom today is in jeopardy.

And if we just hope for better times, if we just go about our daily business with the assumption that things really cannot get that much worse, if we cross our fingers and refuse to imagine a more negative scenario than that in which we live, then we dishonor and disrespect everything that Black History Month is supposed to stand for:

-We will dishonor the enslaved mothers and fathers of our people who endured unspeakable horror, somehow holding on to the hope that if not their lives, the lives of their descendants would be better

-We will disregard the historic and epic achievements of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner and Frederick Douglass on through to Fannie Lou Hamer, Harry T. Moore, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X and so many others whose names we will never know

-and we will disrespect the rich legacy of hope and expectation that has been our inheritance

What can we do? We can invest strategically in that aspect of the political process to which we still have access and demand of our elected officials that every moment of every hour of every day should witness their working with the realization that we are at an existential point in American history and our continued existence is not a given – we don’t have time for political labels or petty partisanship or anything else that does not aim for resistance and resilience

What can we do? We can focus on education, healthcare and community development as if our lives depend on it – because they do.

What can we do? We can immediately stop acting like business as usual is going to yield useful results.

What can we do?

Everything!

We can get more serious about voter registration and, as importantly, voter education and, most importantly voter engagement – in your neighborhood and in your community.

We can learn from the opposition to play the long game – focus on the community boards, the school boards, the state legislators.

We can develop a real agenda that needs to be supported by candidates at every level – local, state and federal– healthcare, housing education, police/criminal justice reform, voting rights, abortion rights – what exactly do you want? You cannot complain that the system isn’t serving your needs if you don’t know what you want, and you don’t know what you need.

What can we do?

Everything!

Now!

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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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Point of View Columns

Are Women Missing in Action?

It is time to stop thinking that the spectacle of the Teapublican Party lurching ever farther to the right is a momentary phase that will soon be corrected by more moderate factions within that party and within this country. And while the cold blue flame of hatred for the very existence of Barack Obama in the White House may have fueled the initial conflagration, the fire has spread through a forest of policy issues, incinerating everything in sight. For an example we need look no further than the undeclared war on women that is now in full view.

During the past year we have witnessed the right wing of the right wing make the eradication of Planned Parenthood an article of faith during the Teapublican presidential campaign. That would be the same Planned Parenthood that provides millions of women with affordable health care that would otherwise simply not receive. While less than 5% of Planned Parenthood’s services have anything to do with the termination of pregnancies, the holy warriors of the right are demanding the death of this provider of vital services for women and girls – without any thought of accommodation or compromise.

Numerous local and state legislatures have engaged in the hideous charade of protecting the rights of the accused while redefining and restructuring the definition of rape. The results of this gerrymandering of the borders of sexual conduct will only make it more difficult for female victims of sexual abuse and rape to obtain justice. And the clear result (and the intent of the proponents of these changes) is that even more women will remain in the silent shadows of shame and fear knowing that Teapublican justice for women in just a hologram and not really there.

We have seen Saint Santorum and his fake apostles rail against contraception because it enables people to “engage in sexual behavior that they shouldn’t be doing”. It would be bad enough if this latter day Savonarola was content with controlling the sex lives of men and women. What is clear from his comments and those of his believers is that women should accept pregnancy that is the result of rape as a “gift from God” and that abolishing contraception will return women to their rightful childbearing, obedient and disenfranchised status.

As you are reading this the Teapublican majority in the United State House of Representatives blocked the attempt to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. This Act has been deemed responsible for reducing domestic violence rates by 58% since it was initially passed (with almost unanimous bipartisan support) in 1994 (how times have changed). That there could be any political philosophy that argues against preventing rape and violence against women is obscene. That the sewage-filled mainstream of American politics can seriously discuss denying health care to women and referring to pregnancies that are the result of rape as “gifts from God” is blasphemous and monstrous.

There is one thing missing from this sad and dismal landscape. Where are the female warriors who are leading the hand to hand battle to wrest the self-righteous standard from the clutches of the self-appointed wardens of women?

Where is the Queen Boudicca or Golda Meir or Harriet Tubman or Benazir Bhutto?
It is difficult for me to imagine Margaret Thatcher or Carrie Nation or Mary McLeod Bethune standing by in muted protest while the rights of women were being sacked and pillaged in broad daylight. Perhaps the successful struggles for the rights of women have left the movement tired and satisfied. Perhaps there has been a feeling that rights, once obtained, could never be taken back.

Frederick Douglass correctly stated that power concedes nothing without demand. The companion thought is that rights are never retained without power. And certainly, the history of humanity shows that the rights of women have never been freely accepted or granted. And so, the Teapublican assault on women should not have been a surprise.

Nevertheless, the “muted protest” of women is puzzling in the extreme. The Teapublican agenda regarding women is clear in its steel-toed strategy, kicking women back into line and into the 19th century. Misogynist and sexist thoughts that could not be openly spoken in the public arena a few years ago are now part of the public policy debate.

On this Planet Earth nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed and nothing is forever. Women and men who believe that the rights of women are firmly embedded in the rights of all humanity need to wake up as the Teapublican fires threaten to burn down the forest of rights that it has taken so long to establish and preserve.

Remember November 6th!

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