Point of View Columns

Rebirth of a Nation

It is rare that we recognize history being made as it happens. Times of great stress and tragedy – Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and 9/11 were all moments that were etched in history in real time. And then there are days like November 6, 2018. While there is the very real hope that some cataclysmic event will not occur, it is also quite clear that there is a very real opportunity for the citizens of this country to begin to divert the United States from what has seemed to be an inexorable slide into permanent division and hopeless conflict inflamed by racism, hate and lies.

When Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, there was a feeling that seeped into the national consciousness that the circus act that resulted in his improbable election was not going to end. And it became clear that the word “circus” was not going to be the benign cavalcade of clown shows, trapeze artists and somnolent lions. The Trump “circus” has turned out to be an affair of which Caligula would have been proud with damage and destruction and mindless outrage being the main events. The Trump Circus has provided very little bread for any but the very rich, but the circus act has entertained and inflamed his base to the point where a Trump-led victory in the midterm elections would certainly send this nation careening into something that would look very much like chaos.

And that is where the opportunity for historic action comes in. There is no way that Donald Trump will not be president on November 7th. But if enough Americans vote, and are allowed to vote, and are able to overcome vile Republican efforts at voter suppression – then Donald Trump will not be able to use the United States Congress as his personal sock puppet. If enough Americans see November 6th as an opportunity to bring some sanity and clarity and minimal decency into the political and governmental processes in Washington, then he will be rudely disabused of his very clear belief that his real title is “king”, and that as “president” he will have to contend with constitutional checks and balances that will occasion the rebirth of this nation.

It is not an exaggeration to state that the current condition of this country, anesthetized by lies, terrorized by presidentially-inspired hate without even a fig leaf of an attempt to be decent could have lasting effects long after Donald Trump is lost on the trash heap of history as a failed president and a miserable human being. However, the rebirth of the nation begins with voting – not necessarily for the perfect candidate, but certainly for the possibility of rebirth and renewal.

This country has always been a nation of second chances. Voters will determine if this is also a country capable of rebirth.

 

Standard
Point of View Columns

The American Fountain of Youth

When we take a closer look at American history, we realize that the youth of America may have been, and may be in the future, this country’s remaining saving grace. Despite their multiple, virtually countless faults, the so-called Founding Fathers devised a form of governance that, when practiced according to principle, is a virtual work of art. And those “Founding Fathers” were primarily men in their twenties and thirties. Similarly, the epic civil rights movement and episodically heroic Vietnam War protest were led by young men and women (Martin Luther King was 34 when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech). And now, this past weekend, we witnessed the youth of America seize the mantle of leadership and take up battle against gun insanity in the United States.

There is no need, and this is not an attempt, to romanticize or rationalize American history or the American present. But it is a truth that in the history of this planet younger generations of any era have translated the change into their lives into the changes of society and the world in which we live. In the current era there has been such an emphasis on self-comfort, self-aggrandizement and just plain self, that there should be no surprise in learning that it has taken the current generation of youth more than a minute to climb out of their digitized rabbit holes and confront the world with their vision of today and tomorrow.

The awful and bloody reality of living in the United States of Gun has been with us for the better part of this country’s existence. But it has been during the past half century that the glorification of the God of Gun has been commercialized to the point that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is seen by too many as an advertisement for gun ownership and more importantly, gun sales.

But the generation of young people with the most potent voices last weekend are the first generation to literally grow up from the cradle to skateboard with regular visitations of mass gun violence in schools. These boys and girls and young women and young men have not known a time when a year could go by without death by automatic weapons fire in some school somewhere in these United States. Theirs is a generation that lives in an America where bullets know no boundaries – from the suburbs to the inner cities to the farmland – and where bullets cannot distinguish between black and white, male or female, rich or poor. Bullets in their world kill without discrimination and seemingly without pause.

This past Saturday we may have witnessed a generation of young people realizing that the world is theirs to change and that they have the power to cast off the painful yoke of endurance and pain and quite simply change the world. With their capacity to communicate globally and instantaneously and their discovery that they have (or will have) the right to vote, this young generation of new warriors may be able to do something that past generations have been unable to do – stop the worship of the gun and revisit the notion of reverence for life and peace.

We should be glad that they are not listening when they are told that they are too young to express their opinion, much less seek to change the world. Of course, that is what was said to Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and the generation of war protesters whose voices drove a President from office and started this country on the path of peace and away from useless and bloody war.

Last week we may have watched the dawning of a new day in America and in the world.

Time will tell. As it always does – because actions will always speak louder than words, no matter how noble and eloquent those words might be.

Standard
Point of View Columns

The Shame of it All

The New Year has begun as last year ended. Shameful, disgraceful, embarrassing, horrific and pitiful are just some of the words that come to mind when the words “Donald Tinyhands” are written or spoken. Indeed, it really should come as no surprise that, on the exact anniversary of the inauguration of Donald Trump, the entire government of the United States shut down. The poetic symbolism is inescapable.

If the Russians, the Chinese or the Martians wanted to come up with a way to destabilize the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the planet, they could not have come up with a better Trojan horse that Donald J. Trump. While some commentators will point to continued improvement in the economy – rising stock market, plunging unemployment rates – these same commentators seem to willfully ignore the fact that Trump is riding the crest of an economic wave that began eight years ago during the administration of President Barack Obama. Indeed, Trump reminds us of the rooster that takes credit for the sun coming up, when all he really does is making joyful noises over something which is totally irrelevant to his efforts, policies, programs and rhetoric.

But, while too many of us are transfixed by the numbers, this draft-dodging, megalomaniac misogynist is doing everything within his very limited power to take a wrecking ball to this country. He has legitimized racism, sexism and basic bad behavior. While his legal team pays off porn stars and his press team pretends that he doesn’t say the words that he says that he says, huge portions of this country have not only lost any respect that they might have for Trump, they are also losing respect for the men and women in the governmental institutions who are either mute or muted in the presence of this awful man who somehow has become President of the United States.

Here is a president who refers to African “shithole” countries the day before reading a proclamation commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King and three days before he goes golfing on national day of observing Dr. King’s birthday. And while there are voices of outrage, they seem muted in the face of the Trump sound machine – or perhaps there is simply too many people who are too afraid of the Wrath of Trump.

Here is a president who after firing the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, now casts doubt on the integrity of the FBI, the Department of Justice and any other law enforcement institution that might dare to think that Donald Trump, he of the thousands of settled lawsuits, might have engaged in wrongful conduct. And yet the voices in the Senate and the House are muted.

One wonders what would have happened if all the Trump stories of his first year in office had the name “Obama” instead. Actually we don’t need to wonder as it is sure as the gravity that binds us to this earth that impeachment would have been the least of Barack Obama’s worries and that a moving van would have been leaving the White House with everything Obama a long time ago. But, of course, the first African American President of the United States was held to a much higher standard than the standard that is applied to Donald Tinyhands.

And so, in this New Year, with a shutdown government, and a President who can’t shut up, we know now that the standard for presidential behavior has been lowered – we can only hope that this is not a permanent condition.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Proof that Past is Prologue

Proof that Past is Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard
Point of View Columns

The Rise (And Fall) of the Black Obama Bashers

The phenomenon of the BOBs, a.k.a. Black Obama Bashers, began to appear as soon as then Senator Obama announced his candidacy in February of 2007. Unlike those who have serious policy or political differences with Barack Obama, the BOBs have always attacked him because of their own inner motivations – motivations which are so reflexive that they simply can’t help themselves. And we find that these Black Obama Bashers fall into three distinct categories.

Obligatory BOBs – These men and women attack President Obama as if their lives depend on them doing so. And in fact, their livelihoods do depend on it. We find these BOBs presenting themselves as black Republicans or even Teapublicans. These BOBs hold positions such as the in house expert on All Things Black or “urban policy” in right wing think tanks and foundations.

The job description for these BOBs is quite clear – engage in high profile attacks against President Obama thereby giving cover for the white organizations with which they are affiliated. After all, no one can reasonably accuse these institutions, foundations and political parties as racist when the ones throwing stones are black. Right?

Mercenary BOBs – These Black Obama Bashers are distinguished from the Obligatory BOBs because they are a bit more creative and are definitely more entrepreneurial. The Mercenary BOBs may or may not have deep philosophical differences with Barack Obama.
However, the Mercenary BOBs have ascertained the virtual gold mine of opportunity available to semi-articulate and passably educated black intellectual poseurs who mount attacks against the first black President of the United States. These BOBs are virtually agnostic on the question of President Obama’s accomplishments but they are passionate in their belief in the monetary value of their attacks.

And so they continue to launch their fact-challenged, historically deficient and logically impaired salvos at the White House, secure in the knowledge that they can write, rhyme, rap and cakewalk their way to fame and fortune, eternally grateful that there is a black man in the White House. For the Mercenary BOBs are nothing if not acutely aware of the fact that when Barack Obama leaves the White House in 2017 they are going to have to come up with a brand new routine. After all, playing the college level version of the dozens with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Rafael (just call me “Ted”) Cruz won’t be anywhere as entertaining for the black audiences that they play to.

Pathological BOBs – These BOBs are actually in need of some kind of intervention. They cannot really help themselves when they see black people achieve more than they are capable of achieving. For the Pathological BOBs, Barack Obama is just another target to be placed alongside Oprah and Ken Chenault and Michelle Obama and Martin Luther King.

These Black Obama Bashers are simply reflexive and would be deserving of pity and sympathy were it not for the corrosive damage that they inflict upon the black community by trying to diminish the achievement of members of that community.

What we do know is that all of these BOBs are destined to fall and over time fade from memory. What we do know is that a library of books will be written about the presidency of Barack Obama. And what we also know is that the sad gaggle of BOBs that has proliferated over the past eight years will only deserve a footnote, if that, in any of the books in that library.

In the final analysis their contribution to serious deliberation, debate and discussion can be summed up in one word – zero.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Remembering Watts – the Day that All Hell Broke Loose

It was fifty years ago, August 11, 1965, that all hell broke loose in Los Angeles. What began as a simple traffic stop, turned into a rebellion/riot that result in 34 people dead, 1000 people injured, over 4000 citizens arrested. The Watts Riots, as the event came to be known, also ripped the veil of complacency and hypocrisy from America’s self-image, as the immortal specter of racism and racial oppression made itself known.

In the last fifty years there have been scores of similar conflagrations – in Washington, Harlem, Los Angeles (again), Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Philadelphia. In the last fifty years, there has been a sense of a “Groundhog Day” pattern – there is a police incident/miscarriage of justice/no justice – then frustration turns to rage that turns to burning and looting – there is a paramilitary response to “restore order” – “order is restored” – a commission/panel/forum is convened to identify the root causes of the disorder – recommendations/proposals/commitments to change are made – change takes place, but not fundamental/institutional/cultural change – Reset.

Even with the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Reset button has never been far away. Black mayors, Congressional Representatives, Senators, Governors and a black president have been elected, again and again and yet, the Reset button has never been far away. The failure to indict the officers who tried to beat Rodney King to death caused the Reset button to be pressed again –as was the case after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, as was the case after the police execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The philosopher George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And it seems that as a society, as a nation, although we claim to remember the past, we seem to ignore it or not give it the credence and importance that it deserves. As so we repeat the past over and over. The Reset button remains, simply waiting for the next tragedy or the next egregious demonstration of injustice.

A library could be filled with the books, reports, articles and commission findings that followed the aftermath of Watts, Harlem, Newark, Detroit, etc. Some of the greatest minds have labored to propose strategies and solutions that would remove the need to resort that damned Reset button. And yet, there is an unstated recognition that no time will be the last time because when it comes to fire born of frustration with racism, inequality, injustice and racial oppression, the fire has never gone out, and there will always be a next time.

And as we watch the all too familiar made for television drama play out in Ferguson, the embers of death and destruction have only just now cooled down in Baltimore and we can only wonder when and where the Reset button will be pressed.

The sad symbols of sorrow, the inevitable eulogies, the pledges of reconstruction and reconciliation – they are part of the ritual of this country. They are part of the ritual because the necessary predicate of recognizing the humanity of all people, including black Americans has not taken place. The statistics of unemployment and mortality and incarceration tend to deodorize the stench of racism.

The entire country watches the demented kabuki choreography of public officials refusing to recognize the fact that the facts don’t lie – the disparity, inequality, unfairness and injustice that are the unwanted birthright of the national black community leaves too many with no option other than to press the Reset button that leads to rebellion that leads to repression that leads to resentment that leads to soon to be forgotten promises of reconciliation and renewal.

As we remember the Watts Rebellion of fifty years ago, we would all do well to remember the words of George Santayana.

Standard
Point of View Columns

Not a Lonely Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard