Point of View Columns

Reflections on Black History Month 2019

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. 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.

I hope that you will bear with me while I reference a book that was published in 1852, 167 years ago, a book that literally changed life for black Americans as it changed America itself. That book was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was one of the first international bestselling books in history, and it served to provide the platform for the abolitionist movement to make a virtually complete transition from advocating something called “moral suasion” to a call for immediate and complete action. And that action finally manifested itself in a civil war which opened the path to freedom for black Americans while almost destroying these United States in the process.

When you read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, you will be struck by how Harriet Beecher Stowe described slavery in human terms, in the process humanizing black slaves which, for most white Americans, was a revelation. One cannot read this book without being struck by the author’s very clear effort to present black Americans as human beings, no different from the white readers who were holding that book in their hands.

It is important to note that abolitionists, located primarily in the North, advocated the end of slavery, but for the most part they did not consider black Americans to be equal to white Americans. White supremacy did not reside only on Southern plantations, it could also be found in New York City, Boston and in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. where the Capitol and the White House were built by black slave labor.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” galvanized the abolitionist movement into an action movement that ultimately morphed into the Civil War. The book horrified readers as it revealed that the black victims of slavery were indeed human beings. And certainly Harriet Beecher Stowe succeeded in convincing many white Americans that black Americans were human, even if they weren’t equal.

There seems to be little doubt that America has accepted the fact that black Americans are human. But equal? That is another story.

While America has taken steps to recognize that black Americans are human beings, we have yet to see institutional or cultural recognition that black people are equal to human beings in terms of our humanity and in terms of equality or equity. Give this some thought:

Black people comprise 13.2% of this country’s population. Black players comprise 70% of all NFL players. In the NBA, 69.8% of all players are black. Unless you want to buy into the ancient slavery-based notion that black people are just superior athletes, you should be troubled by these numbers.

Because what they represent is a lack of educational and vocational opportunity for black Americans, many of whom turn to these sports as a path to success. Why not medicine, law, business, public service, the military or education, one might ask? It is clear that the opportunities to those goals are much more difficult for black Americans to access. This is what happens when white America sees black America as The Other, and not as equal.

Consider that sociologists and criminal justice experts estimate that one out of every five black boys born today will end up in the criminal justice system – arrest/parole/incarceration. I trust that we agree that if those statistics applied to young white boys born today a true national emergency would have been declared. White America still sees black America as The Other.

We have a current illustration of what it means to be The Other in America. During the 1980’s and 1990’s the crack epidemic was totally criminalized. New crime bills were passed in Congress, prisons were built, more police were hired and police departments were weaponized as never before.

It should be pointed out that crack was seen as an epidemic in the black community and a criminal justice response was the only strategy that was seriously considered. And mass incarceration and consequent devastation was visited upon black communities across this country.

Now we have an opioid epidemic. Now we have an epidemic that disproportionately impacts upon white America. And this epidemic is deemed a health problem, not a criminal problem. The tools being employed for this emergency involve medical treatment, counseling and decriminalization. This is a clear illustration of how White America still sees black America as The Other.

I am clear that the parents of our grandparents faced greater challenges. I am certain that our parents would not be deterred by the racism and discrimination and dehumanization that we face today. And I know, and you know, that we would dishonor the history that we celebrate if we allowed ourselves to be dismayed and defeated.

Nobody is going to turn us around. Not the miserable human being in the White House. Not the avowed racists and white nationalists who march by the light of tiki torches. And certainly not the closet racists who claim to support equality while watching the reality of inequality without taking any action.

Maybe it is time for a sequel to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Maybe it is time to remind white America that black America is here, black Americans aren’t going anywhere, and that black Americans are humans. Equality is not just a word – it is a culture. And is finally time for the American culture that treats black Americans as The Other to change – forever.

In closing I want to reference that it is important to understand the historical context within which Black History Month has its origins in 1926, inspired by Carter G. Woodson, the great black American historian. 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 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, (the most racist U.S. President in modern history until the current resident of the White House assumed that title) 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.

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.

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 2019.

And we should understand, that the resilience reflected in these lyrics are accompanied 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 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. 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.

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 forget that Black History Month is about so much more than 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

The Birth of Trumpageddon

Historians will undoubtedly look at the 2016 presidential campaign as being unique. The looming and tantalizing presence of Trumpageddon will virtually overshadow everything, much the same way as Donald Trump himself sucks up the media oxygen every day of this very bizarre year. But the most astute historians will go back a half century earlier to discover the roots of Trumpageddon, roots that have nothing to do with Donald J. Trump and have everything to do with the intentional reinvention of the Republican Party in 1964.

Prior to 1964 the national Republican party was indisputably more progressive when it came to civil rights for black Americans. After all, the Democratic Party was deeply rooted in the South, roots that went back as far as the end of Reconstruction and the federal occupation of the formerly treasonous Confederacy in 1876.

After all, the Republican Party came into being with the abolition of slavery being a principal plank in its national political platform in 1860. Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation was a Republican. And when the seething South was liberated from federal occupation in 1876, due in large part to the tricknology of Rutherford B. Hayes who swapped the freedom, civil rights and physical safety of Southern black people in exchange for the presidency, southerners embraced the Democratic Party as their own.

The Democratic Party in the South was the party of Jim Crow and lynching. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, invited the first black American to dine at the White House. Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic president, hosted the premier of “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democratic president, never supported anti-lynching legislation for fear of alienating his Southern party members. And it was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, who sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional.

Prior to his untimely death, Democratic President John F. Kennedy was nowhere near a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Act that was passed posthumously. And in 1960, Richard Nixon, his Republican opponent in that presidential election, had virtually the same amount of support in the national black community as he did.

As late as 1964, the Democratic Party was the home of  blood-soaked and hate drenched racist villains such as Thurmond and Stennis and Faubus and Wallace and Bilbo. And in 1964 every state that had been a part of the Confederate States of America was firmly on the Democratic side of the national political register.

And then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed with the urging of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And as if by magic, during the following decade, the Republican Party was ascendant in the South, vacuuming up all the disenchanted white Southerners, supposedly in the name of conservatism and state’s rights, but in reality the transition was fueled by the deep and abiding resentment that black Americans were afforded some measure of citizenship by the Damned Democrats.

Should there any be any doubt regarding the linkage of race and the Republican ascendancy, it should be remembered that Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Republican conservatism, launched his national presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, less than twenty years after three civil rights workers were lynched within miles of the podium on which he stood. And when Reagan proclaimed that “government was the enemy”, he was referring to that same federal government that was often the only source of protection for black Americans seeking asylum and vindication in their own country. That dog whistle blew loud enough for white ears in the South and throughout the nation.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that the modern Republican Party, reborn in radical response to the advancement of racial civil rights would be the home of the impending Trumpageddon. It certainly should be no surprise that the political party that turned a blind eye to the clear racist and racial efforts to delegitimize the first African American presidency would serve as the incubator for those would seek to delegitimize the entire apparatus of the federal government.

Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell who refused to extinguish the dark magical thinking that claimed that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or “hates America” or is not even a citizen, cannot be surprised that a master manipulator like Donald Trump could harness this malevolent harvest and turn it into a movement. And now, for good historical reason, Trumpageddon is upon us.

The Republicans are reaping what they have sown.

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

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Point of View Columns

A Book to Read. A Movie to Watch.

From time to time a book will come along that shows us what we still don’t know, or acknowledge, about the history of racism in these United States. And there are times when, the plethora of movies notwithstanding, a movie will come along that helps understand how chaos and violence still lurks in the shadows of too much of Africa. “Spectacle” written by Pamela Newkirk is such a book. “Beasts of No Nation” produced by Netflix and Idris Elba is such a motion picture.
“Spectacle” (published by Amistad) is first and foremost the story of Ota Benga, an African man who was literally snatched from the Congo in the early part of the twentieth century and put on display in the United States. His first “appearance” was at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and then in the New York Zoological Gardens (now the Bronx Zoo) in 1906. He was seen by millions of visitors to the Fair and the Zoo who flocked to see human beings who were considered to be examples of the lowest level of evolution.

Viewed through the lens of the 2015 such bestial and callous treatment of other human beings would be unthinkable. But Dr. Newkirk, a professor at New York University and formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, points out in “Spectacle” that the exhibition of an African man in a zoo reflected a virtually universal mindset in white America and in Europe that people of African descent were naturally and absolutely inferior. Hence, the horrific treatment of Ota Benga was seen as no worse than putting a tiger, elephant or gorilla on display.

But “Spectacle” also includes other important historical facts that have been shrouded by the mists of time. In reading this book we learn of the unthinkable genocidal rule of Belgian King Leopold II who held the Congo as his personal property. The level of vicious and rapacious cruelty that marked his regime has scarred that region of Africa to this very day.

We also learn the deep rooted racism in the attitudes held by the most prominent Americans of the day including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (who hosted the premiere of “Birth of a Nation in the White House”). American universities, scientific institutions and general society held Americans in such low regard that any suggestion of equality or equal treatment was quite literally unthinkable and, to the point of “Spectacle”, unimaginable.

And finally, “Spectacle” reveals the awesome will and determination of so many black Americans to achieve education, progress and respect. Creating and building communities, towns, universities, churches, charitable institutions in the lingering shadow of slavery, a shadow that undeniably lingers over this country to this very day. The book reintroduces the heroic men and women who proved the racist theories to be the lies that they were (and area) as they laid the foundation for any and all accomplishment by black Americans to this very day.

“Beasts of No Nation”, written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba is important for several reasons. In chronicling the tale of a young boy who becomes a part of a cruel and sadistic army of lost boys headed by a cruel, rapacious and homicidal commandant (excellently portrayed by Mr. Elba), “Beasts” exposes the underbelly of violence that plagues so much of Africa.

The bloodshed and violence is an illustration of black on black crime at its worst. And while hardly a white face is seen in the movie, one has to know that the endless supply of guns and bullets and missiles had to come from somewhere, and it Africa is not the source.
Finally, it is important to note that Netflix is part of the production group that financed “Beasts of No Nation”. Netflix released the movie on Netflix and we are seeing the future of motion picture production and distribution unfolds before our very eyes.

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Point of View Columns

Land of the Rising South

Like a bad smell that just won’t go away, the myth of the glorious South refuses to die. Incredibly and unfortunately, that myth has enjoyed a recurring renaissance since the founding of this country. And now that myth has morphed into a nihilistic political philosophy that is far from quaint and very close to dangerous.

While racism and slavery were very much a part of the way of life in all thirteen of the original colonies, as much as gravity and oxygen in the air, slavery drove down its deepest sociopolitical roots in the primarily agrarian Southern colonies. The incredible wealth fueled by cheap human labor satisfied the monetary needs of a few and slaked the thirst for superiority of the many. This combination of monetary and psychic satisfaction was so potent that the Southern colonies, once they became states, were willing to fight to the death to preserve this peculiarly horrific institution called white supremacist slavery.

History tells us that the division between North and South played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution which shamefully labeled black slaves 3/5 of a human being and established a bicameral legislature which insured that states with smaller populations (the Southern states at the time) would be on a par with states with larger populations. The structure of this new government also locked in provisions which allowed a minority to obstruct, delay and sometimes destroy initiatives that represented the will of the majority.

A brief stroll down the memory lane of American history reveals that two of the first three presidents were Southern slave owners (Washington and Jefferson). However the last Southern slave owning president was Andrew Jackson and since then very few Southerners have become president.

Woodrow Wilson was the first Southern elected in the modern era and he brought his racist roots with him into the White House with the infamous premiere viewing of “Birth of a Nation”. The next Southerner elected president was Lyndon Johnson and since then only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were born Southerners elected to the White House (the two Bushes were born in Connecticut).

Despite being denied the presidency, the South has wielded inordinate power, first in foiling the civil rights movement for the first half of the twentieth century and now in seeking to dismantle the federal government in the first two decades of the twenty first century. Utilizing the leverage built into the legislative process by Washington, Jefferson and the other slave owning Founding Fathers, the Southern way has impacted this country, particularly on matters of race, all out of proportion to the moral, economic or demographic weight of the region.

Now the Southern strategy has morphed into a political philosophy that, if adopted by the country as a whole, is virtually suicidal. The federal governmental infrastructure is a key reason why this country, even with all of its flaws, has been successful in establishing a standard of living and a way of life that is historically remarkable. The idea that “government is the enemy”, a Southern lie promulgated by Ronald Reagan in a faux Southern moment, comes from the fact that in the South the federal government has indeed been the enemy of the Southern way of life.

It was the federal government that outlawed slavery and essentially burned the South to ground in the process. It has been less than two centuries since this bit of business was concluded and that is a blink of the eye in historical – and cultural – terms.

It was the federal government that dismantled the apparatus of Jim Crow and legalized segregation, using federal soldiers, federal judges and federal prosecutors to enforce this process. That took place less than fifty years ago, a mere heartbeat in historical terms.

In the Southern narrative, government as “the enemy” fits very nicely with those who would wish to dismantle government so as to reduce taxes to an afterthought as they amass untold wealth. Government as “the enemy” also fits in nicely with neoconservative thought that would reduce government regulations in industry and financing letting the market forces prevail (another term would be letting market forces run wild).

It would seem that this would be a good time to connect the dots before this country follows the stars and bars over the cliff.

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – August 19, 2011

One of the important things about history is that it reminds us that there isn’t much that is really new. In that vein, President Obama (and all of us) should check out a speech given by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 – it could have been written tomorrow. Meanwhile Rodeo Rick Perry, the erstwhile governor of Texas and now a contender for the presidential nomination of the G.O.Tea Party has been running around the country with his mouth ‘a blazing. I don’t think that it will be too long before he shoots himself in the foot while trying to put it in his mouth. Finally, I am assuming that the Barnum & Bailey Circus has imposed a hiring freeze. That is the only explanation for Dr. West and Mr. Smiley running around America like a bunch of clowns on their “Speaking Truth to Empower” sham of a tour. Where’s the delete button when you really need it?

Wise Words to the Wise

The deluge of hate, calumny and rage that has poured upon Barack Obama since he became President of the United States is not without precedent. Historians refer to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln for an analogy but 74 years ago Franklin Roosevelt was the object of furious opposition to the change that he advocated and articulated. President Obama would do well to consider the following:

“For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent………………..For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up…………….We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace‹business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering…………………They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been as united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.”

It’s pretty amazing that these words, spoken 74 years ago, could be spoken by President Obama tomorrow with incredible accuracy and relevance. Perhaps it is time for an encore.

Rodeo Rick!

You have to hand it to Rick Perry – the man certainly knows how to make an entrance. In his first week as an official presidential candidate he managed to question whether President Obama “loves America”. Presumably Governor Perry’s love for America is a fact of nature.

He also contended that the monetary policies of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke were “treasonous”. He went even further, darkly muttering that Chairman Bernanke would get treated “pretty ugly” if he ever came to Texas. Many will recall that the last prominent federal official to be treated “pretty ugly” in Texas was John F. Kennedy, making Perry’s remarks all the more awful.

Just getting warmed up, Rodeo Rick said at a New Hampshire campaign stop that evolution was a theory “with a lot of gaps”. You probably did not know that, in addition to being governor of Texas, Rodeo Rick Perry was a noted geologist, paleontologist, archaeologist and anthropologist with all the credentials necessary to question the validity of the theory of evolution. By the way, he also thinks that Adam and Eve walked with the dinosaurs.

Rodeo Rick also said that the American military did not respect President Obama since he never served in the military. It may come as some surprise to Governor Perry that Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were all wartime presidents and that respect from the military was never a problem for them. The right wing of the right wing icon Ronald Reagan never served in the military and what little military record that George W. Bush had is best forgotten.

In trying to outdo….himself (????) Rodeo Rick also contended that “America needs a president who loves America”. When asked whether he believed that President Obama loves America he replied, “You have to ask him”. And so Rodeo Rick has staked out the neo-birther position of no longer questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth, questioning instead the location of his heart and the coordinates of his allegiance.

I think it is just a question of time before the presidential campaign of Rodeo Rick Perry explodes from bombast and idiocy or implodes from the weight of hypocrisy and illogic.

A Damned Shame

It has been said that there are lies and then there are damned lies. I would amend that statement by adding, some things are a shame while other are a damned shame.
Into this latter category I would place the Tavis Smiley-Cornel West “Speaking Truth to Empower” speaking tour, appearing in a hole in the wall near you soon.
During the past few months Dr. West and Mr. Smiley (reminds one of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde???) have gained more attention than they could ever deserve by attacking and sliming Barack Obama.

While President Obama should never be immune to criticism but calling him a “lap dog of Wall Street” and implying that he has somehow betrayed black America presumably because he did not become a civil rights leader on January 20, 2009 is just plain wrong – and in the current political climate, dangerous.

The fact that Dr. West and Mr. Smiley are the arbiters of blackness would be laughable if it were not so pitiful. Their irrational, barbershop quality rhetoric directed at President Obama would fit in well at a Tea Party rally. They are getting the same attention as a “Man Bites Dog” story and seem to be satisfied with the attention as long as their names are spelled correctly.

Cornel West, while he may have missed a haircut or two, hasn’t missed a meal in a long time. He is a comfortably tenured professor at an Ivy League university that has never been mentioned in the same breath with Howard University, Morehouse College or Medgar Evers College when it comes to be centers of higher education for black Americans. Tavis Smiley has a list of multinational corporate sponsors whose predatory tactics have caused more suffering in the black community than all of the lies and half-truths he has broadcast over the years.

It is, however, a shame that some people will listen to this daffy duo. It is a damned shame that some people will not vote for Barack Obama in the 2012 election having mistakenly placed their faith and trust in these poseurs. And it is truly a damned shame that West and Smiley might in some way contribute to the election of Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney or Rick Perry as president of the United States.

Unlike Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. West and Mr. Smiley will be just fine. But many of us may suffer from their prideful misdeeds.

Have a great weekend!

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Point of View Columns

Shameful and Shameless

It is pretty clear that when the discussion turns to modern political discourse and contemporary commentary in the United States there is no bottom. From blathering “birthers” to fallacious claims of “death panels” to the prospect of “terror babies” as the latest cavil to be hurled at immigrants along with calls for Koran burning sessions, nothing is too stupid, too revolting or too ridiculous to get a place in the media sun, however momentary.

With that thought in mind, no one can be too shocked at the depraved, mindless and morally impoverished disgrace perpetrated by Glenn Beck and his Tea Party cohorts this past weekend. To hold a rally at the Lincoln Monument (thankfully sans nooses and burning torches) on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington for the purpose of exhorting Americans to “take back America” was obscene in its intentional desecration of the memory of a moment in time when it seemed that all things right were possible and there was no need to “take back” this country. Rather it seemed that it was time for everyone to share in this country.

I was blessed and favored to have actually attended the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 as a 13-year old kid from New Jersey who would be starting high school in a few weeks. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time for a single purpose except for when I sat on my father’s shoulders to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a little guy. That the purpose was the elimination of injustice and racism and the promotion of equality and justice was uplifting and inspiring. Anger and rage were not the emotions of the day, but the demand for justice was clear and unequivocal and anyone who was on the mall that day will remember that moment for the rest of their lives.

I have to wonder what will the attendees of the Glenn Beck – Sarah Palin self-love fest remember for the rest of their lives? That they came to Washington to “take back America”? Take back America from whom? Will they recall that they raised their voices in a chorus to “reclaim America”? Having already exercised his freedom of speech to mindlessly insult President Obama as a “racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people” (which presumably would include the President’s white mother), Glenn Beck now proclaims that the President does not practice the “right type” of Christianity, while we should presume that he and his followers are steadfast in adhering to the true path that Jesus trod.

As noted, there is no bottom to this pit of madness and sadness. It is madness that, in the midst of this very real and sustained economic crisis there are millions of Americans who perceive the first black President of the United States to be complicit in some plot to “take” American away from them. It is a cause for sadness that too many of our fellow citizens believe, truly believe, that Barack Obama and his purported fascist/socialist/atheist/Muslim/subversive agenda will result in the final demise of this country when in fact it is their mobocratic tendencies that are sending us careening towards the brink of something very ugly.

And, at this stage of national debate, it must be clear to even the most partisan observer that the blackness of this president is not irrelevant to the outrage and bile and vitriol that have flowed into the national bloodstream. It is more than political disagreement that has 20 per cent of the population believing that he was not born in the United States, voicing an unspoken wish that some undeniable bolt of disqualification will make Barack Obama just go away almost two years after his election.

Every President of the United States, from George Washington to George W. Bush has been insulted and reviled. It is a part of the political process and the limitless freedom of speech that has been a truly exceptional aspect of this country for over two centuries. And certainly freedom of speech allows Tea Party yahoos to burn Barack Obama in effigy and to Photoshop his head onto the body of a half naked bushman.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was portrayed by his opponents as a baboon and George W. Bush was certainly burned in effigy more than a few times during his term in office. But the very special hatred that is directed towards Barack Obama is coming from something more than philosophical disagreement. There is a visceral need on the party of the Becks and the Palins and the Limbaughs and the right wing of the right wing and the Tea Party yahoos to “take back America” because this country has, in their minds, been besmirched and defaced by the dark presence that now occupies the White House.

The world premiere of “Birth of a Nation” was held at the White House at the invitation of President Woodrow Wilson. That racist screed on film directed by D.W. Griffith had at its core a message that it was time to “take back America”.

Now, instead of a cinematic monstrosity that upon its release inspired the lynching of black Americans throughout the country, we have Beck and Palin and the Tea Party yahoos cavorting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, proclaiming that they will “take back America” again.

Wilson and Griffith would be proud. This country should be ashamed.

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