|Oct. 16, 2017
America Being Forced to Face Conflict Between its Founding Principles and its Racist Reality
This Charlottesville statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee remains covered in a black cloth since deadly violence by White supremacists last summer. After the defeat of the Confederacy, Lee actually called for unity.
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – “Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.” – James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
America, the international global hegemon, the empire – finds itself conflicted. At the crux of this conflict is the fact that for as noble as its founding pretexts are, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” the “grand experiment” of American or Jeffersonian democracy was actually founded on the myth of racism/White Supremacy. Americans, both White and Black have been indoctrinated to believe in the false social construct of race and the false narratives that Whites – Europeans and European Americans are superior to all others in the world, Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.
So, what we are seeing today play itself out with the Columbus myth, Trump, Charlottesville, DACA and the Dreamers, the Muslim ban and the NFL fiasco, etc. is America being forced to face up to the conflict between its founding principles and its racist reality. Time is catching up to these doctrines and proving them to be untrue.
The late great Dr. Francis Cress Welsing defined racism/White Supremacy as, “The local and global power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as White, whether consciously or subconsciously determined. This system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of activity [economics, education, law, etc]).”
The following are two examples to support the position that the grand experiment of American or Jeffersonian democracy was founded on the myth of racism/White Supremacy.
1) The Virginia Slave Code Act I 1669, “Be it enacted…if any slave resist his master…and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be acompted felony, but the master…be acquit from molestation, since it cannot be presumed that prepense malice…should induce any man to destroy his own estate.” This is the first example that I found where we were relegated to property or what Amiri Baraka called “thingness”.
2) 13th Amendment to the Constitution – Section 1. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This led to the implementation of the convict leasing system as a replacement for slavery. This is brilliantly documented by Douglas Blackmon in his book Slavery By Another Name.
On October 9th, Americans celebrated the traditional “Columbus Day”. According to Steve Kurtz, from Fox News.com, “Columbus Day… is a nationally recognized holiday…It is true that the conquest of the Americas by Europeans, which starts with Columbus, was very ugly, and involved a lot of violence. But that, for better or worse, is how history worked pretty much everywhere for thousands of years. (Though it should be noted a large portion of the deaths of Native Americans was due to disease, not violence–an inevitable consequence of Old World illness in New World soil…) …The point is not to excuse the worst that happened, but to understand it. And to see that it is not the essence of Columbus, but rather part of the times. With all that, there are reasons to celebrate Columbus Day.”
Now, if that’s not Eurocentric nonsense I don’t know what is. According to the LA Times, “Columbus’ landfall ushered in one of the greatest injustices in human history: the wholesale transfer of wealth and lands from native peoples to Europeans; the unprecedented depopulation of vast swaths of the Americas as European diseases reduced native populations by 90%…” From the Eurocentric perspective violent history is celebrated, the death, destruction, rape, slavery and other atrocities committed by Columbus are ignored and he is deified because history is written from the perspective of the victor. That’s why it’s called “his-story”.
This racist logic, this White Supremacist narrative that is clearly articulated in Kurtz’s rationale for honoring Columbus is the same narrative used by Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, neo-Confederates and neo-Nazi’s supporting the terrorist statutes from the Civil War as paragons of virtue. In this instance it is not that the South won the Civil War. Their racism compels them to protect their whiteness, history and heritage. Their narrative tells us that the statues are supposed to help us understand context and the dynamics of what was happening at the time from their perspective. But, like the Columbus lie, the story is told from the perspective of the oppressor, not the oppressed. They simply want to maintain some semblance of the myth of White Supremacy.
One very simple question, how could Columbus “discover” something when the Arawak people were already there? They are some of the indigenous peoples of the West Indies that Columbus first encountered not “discovered”. That “discovery” lie is the blindness that attends arrogance. That’s the ignorance born out of the false narrative of White-Eurocentric supremacy. I discovered you! Columbus was late, real late, centuries late to the party.
Now to support this ignorance, Kurtz writes, “While there is only limited knowledge of what pre-Columbus America was like…” Really? Try telling Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, author of They Came Before Columbus that his lifetime of work on Olmec civilization in the Americas is limited knowledge. Try telling Dr. Ben, John Henrick Clark, Chancellor Williams and the host of other Black scholars on this history that their life’s work and research is limited knowledge. Kurtz is like Columbus – just because he refuses to recognize it, it must be “limited knowledge” and research.
Kurtz wrote, “While there is plenty to criticize about Columbus…I think this movement (Indigenous People’s Day) is missing the point…History, in fact, is the story of conquest. We may not like it, but it’s our shared heritage.” No sir, that’s the Eurocentric historical perspective…not all historical perspectives begin and end with, we came, we saw, we kicked your butt. That’s the basis of the same lie being told by those who want to fly the Stars and Bars and commemorate the Confederate generals. They continuously tell us “it’s our shared heritage… The point is not to excuse the worst that happened, but to understand it.” Here’s the reality, those neo-Confederates who want to “celebrate their heritage” and “commemorate their ancestors” are celebrating treason and commemorating racists and traitors. Where’s the honor in that?
Most of the post-Civil War statues that were erected in Virginia and Louisiana and other Southern States were not erected to commemorate Confederate Generals. Most of the statues in question were erected as acts of intimidation to terrorize African-Americans and show unified opposition to the movement towards civil rights; not to honor dead “heroes”. In fact, Robert E. Lee opposed Confederate memorials. He wrote in 1869, “I think it wiser…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.” Lee eventually swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic. These neo-confederates want to honor a man who did not want to be honored.
So, what we see with the narrative of the Charlottesville race riot and Trump saying that there were good people on both sides is as Dr. Welsing clearly articulated. It is a narrative developed through and supported by patterns of perception, logic (The Lost Cause for example), symbol formation (The flying of the Stars and Bars and these statutes), thought, speech, action (glorifying Columbus w/ a holiday) and emotional response (the Charlottesville riot). It is a White Supremacist narrative that goes all the way back to the Columbus myth and a last-ditch effort by those in 2017 like Steve Kurtz who desperately try to defend the indefensible.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to http://www.wilmerleon.com or email: email@example.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com © 2017 InfoWave Communications, LLC
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If Barack Obama doesn’t represent the end of respectability politics, nothing does.
If the way that man dropped his middle name and lost all accent and did limbo—drinking in Irish pubs and eating sloppy joes and casseroles and killing Muslims and keeping the military industrial complex’s wars and not taking Billy John’s guns; toning down his own swag and terrorist fist bumps, no longer brushing off his shoulder—did nothing to make whyte America feel safe, there’s no argument to be made for appeasing the boogey men in the minds of whyte folks. There’s no PhD that can match the degree of servitude Our Shining Black Hope expressed over eight years in the face of the fears of ignorant, pre-logical, post-factual whyte folks.
The only thing that matches his kowtowing at their runaway imaginations is the utter contempt they showed by coming out of their Middle American caves to the polls two months ago. The only thing that matches the amount of way he gave them is the amount of power rich whyte men wielded to make sure that his crowning achievement would be passing the baton to the least worthy of them as if to say, “A monkey could do this job; an abject failure—more of a failure than the buffon who came before Obama can do this job.”
No, America: This replacement is not of equal or greater value. Maybe the Russian prostitutes are not a fact, but the way you’ve urinated on the legacy of Hope is all too true.
Barack Obama—President 44 of the United States of America Barack Obama—was a Good Negro. So good that some of us in the field saw him go into the House every night while the slave patrols murdered us in the streets for snuff films and left our bodies out in the street like Willie Lynch letters and we still meme’d him and loved him and wanted him to win and are praying to this day and every other of his life that he dies the natural death of a man, not that of a King on a balcony.
President Barack Obama pulled his pants up so high we couldn’t see his eyes; just his smile. He crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s and spoke the Queen’s English so well that his words smelled like tea and crumpets and tasted like Marmite. Love it or hate it, he spread his obsequiousness all over their daily bread, knowing where his was buttered.
Barack Hussein Obama II, 44th President of the United States spoke the Lie of Progress in the only way a whyte folks will hear it; in the way that says, “We will be patient and submerge our desire—our right—to be treated as men and women and human children to your comfort. We will not ask anything of you that disturbs your predilection for treating our cultures and religions like fashion accessories and glurges.”
He spoke the Lie of Progress in living rooms and in schools, at farms and on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts, wearing bullet-proof suits that covered the whipping scars on his back, his pants up to his eyes so that no one would see him cry.
He spoke the Great Lie to those who asked for his birth certificate, to those who asked what he did for a living and how he earned that car he was riding in and marveled at how articulate he was while telling his wife to go back to Africa to dance with simians because they were her family.
Through it all, 44—the Man, the Legend, the living history and culmination of so much Hope—smiled, rarely giving glimpse to the enervation borne of submission. In that way, he was like us, and we saw ourselves in him.
So, now what do we see? What do we see as he walks into the pages of history, retreating to the relative protection of his legacy and status and opportunity while the worst of our lifetimes is about to happen? How well-dressed and smart must we be? Is it possible to be well-dressed and smart and articulate enough to assuage the fears of whyte folk who think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is prediction while thinking that 1984 is not?
We’re not that good.
In spite of his flaws, and because of the way he carried them, Barack Obama was twice as good as at the best of us and he got half the respect of the worst of us. He got half the respect and is being replaced by a guy who would not be the smartest man in the room were he the only man in the room.
When they believe that the top pick of the Talented Tenth is equal to a man who is one-tenth of his predecessor; that a man who sits on a gold throne in a gold tower at the bottom percentile of emotional intelligence can occupy the same seat as Barack Hussein Obama II, 44th President of the United States—how good must we be to gain their respect?
Why would we even want to?
About Christian Fabien
*On This date in 1862 the first Watch Night Services were celebrated in Back communities in America.
The Watch Night service can be traced back to gatherings also known as “Freedom’s Eve.” On that night, Black slaves and free blacks came together in churches and private homes all across the nation awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation actually had become law. At the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863; all slaves in the Confederate States were declared legally free. When the news was received, there were prayers, shouts and songs of joy as many people fell to their knees and thanked God.
Blacks have gathered in churches annually on New Year’s Eve ever since, praising God for bringing us safely through another year. It’s been over a century since the first Freedom’s Eve and tradition still brings us together at this time every year to celebrate “how we got over.” This celebration takes many African American decendants of slaves into a new year with praise and worship. The service usually begins anywhere from 7 p.m. To 10 p.m. And ends at midnight with the entrance of the New Year. Some people come to church first, before going out to celebrate, for others, church is the only New Year’s Eve event.
There have been instances where clergy in mainline denominations questioned the propriety of linking religious services with a secular holiday like New Year’s Eve. However, there is a reason for the importance of New Year’s Eve services in the Black experience in America.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.
How Barack Obama Failed Black Americans
The country’s first black president never pursued policies bold enough to close the racial wealth gap.
Dr. Darity is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice
Over the next few weeks, The Atlantic will be publishing a series of responses to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s story “My President Was Black.” Readers are invited to send their own responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will post a sample of your feedback. You can read other responses to the story from Atlantic readers and contributors here.
Born in 1953, I am a child of the waning years of legal segregation in the United States. My parents, on the other hand, spent about 40 years of their lives under Jim Crow, and all of my grandparents lived most of their lives under official American apartheid. At the time of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008, my mother and all four of my grandparents were deceased. But my father was alive and well—and absolutely thrilled to have lived to see the election of a black man as president of the United States. Usually deeply cynical about American politics and politicians, my dad could not comprehend my deep reservations about Barack Obama’s leadership. Indeed, he viewed any criticism of Obama as bringing aid and comfort to white supremacists.
My father hardly was alone among black Americans, across all generations. The near complete unanimity of passionate black American admiration for Obama carried with it an absolute resistance to hearing any complaints about the black president. And, indeed, there was much to admire: an exceptional resume, an attractive family with a black wife who is his professional and intellectual equal, handsome and greying toward distinguished maturity, a strategically wise moderate progressive political position, and a place as the—sometimes self-professed—messianic fulfillment of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. For many black Americans, the ascent of Barack Obama to the presidency was equivalent to the moment of jubilee.
An extraordinarily disciplined individual, Barack Obama preempted the smallest hint of scandal by admitting that he had smoked pot during his youth. He even crafted a narrative of a rise from adversity—growing up successfully by the efforts of a single parent despite a missing father—albeit a white single mother with a Ph.D. whose own parents were affluent residents of Hawaii. With every drop of respectability in place, his somewhat icy intellect coupled with his enthusiasm for basketball and for black music across a half century of styles, he was an inordinately appealing candidate, with an ideal combination of the cool and the rational.
Nevertheless, some of those white voters who did not vote for him took his eight years as president as license to assert that the country is post-racial, even while attacking him with both veiled and overt racial slurs. But racism is organic to American life, and it sits at the core of persistence of racial economic inequality. In his fascinating profile of Obama, Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to the “mark of a system engineered to place one on top of the other”—to place white over black. He offers some examples: the facts that blacks with a college degree have an unemployment rate almost as high as white high school graduates, that completion of a college education leads blacks to carry twice the level of student loan debt than whites four years after the degree, that blacks experience a significantly higher default rate on their loans, that black households have one-seventh of the wealth of white households, and that black families with $100,000 or more in income reside “in more disadvantaged neighborhoods than white families making less than $30,000.”
Estimates generated from the 2013 round of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances indicate that black households have one-thirteenth of the wealth of white households at the median. We have concluded that the average black household would have to save 100 percent of its income for three consecutive years to close the wealth gap. The key source of the black-white wealth gap is the intergenerational effects of transfers of resources. White parents have far greater resources to give to their children via gifts and inheritances, so that the typical white young adult starts their working lives with a much greater initial net worth than the typical black young adult. These intergenerational effects are blatantly non-meritocratic.
Blacks working full time have lower levels of wealth than whites who are unemployed. Blacks in the third quintile of the income distribution have less wealth (or a lower net worth) than whites in the lowest quintile. Even more damning for any presumption that America is free of racism is our finding that black households whose heads have college degrees have $10,000 less in net worth than white households whose heads who never finished high school. As we point out in our report, “Umbrellas Don’t Make It Rain”, studying hard and working hard does not enable blacks to eliminate the racial wealth gap. Doing the right thing is far from enough.
I had a queasy feeling about Barack Obama’s candidacy from the moment I heard his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that lifted him into national prominence, a speech that Coates summarizes in the profile. Toward the end of the speech Obama observed that black families in urban centers realized “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” “The acting white” libel—a myth that will not die—argues that low school performance for black students is a product of a culturally based black opposition to high academic achievement.
The “acting white” libel is symptomatic of a more general perspective—a perspective that argues that an important factor explaining racial economic disparities is self-defeating or dysfunctional behavior on the part of blacks themselves. And Barack Obama continuously has trafficked in this perspective. Of course, there are some black folk who engage in habits that undermine their potential accomplishments, but there are some white folk who engage in habits that undermine their potential accomplishments as well. And there is no evidence to demonstrate that are proportionately more blacks who behave in ways that undercut achievement, especially since it is clear that blacks do more with less. Nevertheless, Obama consistently has trafficked heavily in the tropes of black dysfunction. Either he is unfamiliar with or uninterested in the evidence that undercuts the black behavioral deficiency narrative. These tropes, in my view, do malicious work.
Apart from black dysfunction, Obama does acknowledge that ongoing discrimination is a partial factor explaining racial inequality and says that anti-discrimination enforcement is the type of black-specific measure that he can endorse. Of course, anti-discrimination laws do not operate exclusively on behalf of black folk. They really are universal measures intended to contain all forms of discrimination, and, while effective enforcement can improve black employment opportunities, it will do little to address massive, inherited racial wealth differences.
Obama’s general position is racial equality can be achieved—or at least approached—via policies that uplift all Americans experiencing poverty and deprivation. Obama has said that “as a general matter, my view would [be] that if you want to get at African American poverty, income gap, wealth gap, achievement gap, that the most important thing is to make sure that the society as a whole does right by people who are poor, are working class, are aspiring to a better life for their kids: higher minimum wages, full employment programs, early childhood education, those kinds of programs are by design universal but by definition, because they are helping folks who are in the worst economic situations, are most likely to disproportionately impact and benefit black Americans.”
But these particular programs—all, even in their diluted forms likely to be under assault under the new regime—are incremental and display no boldness of spirit. Obama’s evocation of the notion that “better is good” and his own acknowledgment that “maybe I’m not just being sufficiently optimistic or imaginative” is testament to his inveterate cautiousness. The timid nature of these policy changes dooms their disproportionate benefit for blacks to be marginal at best.
Admittedly, there is one major initiative that the Obama administration has inaugurated that is black-specific, but it is the exception that proves the rule. It exposes all the issues at play. My Brother’s Keeper is a program premised on the view that young black men constitute a social problem and need interventions that will alter their outlook and actions. The focus is on reforming young men rather than directly increasing the resources possessed by and the constraints faced by their families and themselves. Again, the underlying ideological motivation is the belief in black cultural deficiency, and, again, this type of initiative is another expression of failure to pursue bold policies that confront the fundamental causes of racial disparity in American society.
And the emphasis on exclusively universal programs yields the spectacle of a black president who opposes the most dramatic black-specific program of all—reparations for African Americans. This opposition ultimately seems to amount to a matter of political expediency. In his conversation with Coates, the president appears to acknowledge that there is a sound moral and philosophical case for reparations, particularly if—as Coates presses him to concede—incremental changes in existing social programs will not close the gaps, especially the racial wealth gap. The president ultimately takes the position that it is politically untenable to enact a reparations program. If so—or if nothing comparable can be realized—then I contend that it is impossible to close the racial wealth gap.
But why does the president believe it is impossible? He says “it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence [of] historic wrongs we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time, to make that right.” The United States has taken a small chunk of the nation’s resources over a short period of time to try to make right on the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy has taken a large chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to correct the inferior position of the native Malays. However, the native Malays are a numerical majority in their country who also are the recipients of the wealth redistribution program conducted there.
After all, it may be the case that the president simply is wrong about the impossibility of making reparations happen. His deference to achieving “the better” over the determination to achieve “the best” may be a mistake. There are times when the effort to get to “the better”—the marginal change that appears to be an improvement—is so exhausting that its accomplishment becomes a barrier to getting to the best. Mark Gomez at the Haas Institute at Berkeley has said time and again in municipal struggles for minimum-wage increases that the “fight for 15” is easier than a “fight for 10.”
And sometimes Obama’s careful assessments of the political landscape are wrong. For example, he has said repeatedly that you do not win elections by telling the American people that things are going wrong. But that is precisely what Donald Trump did in winning the most recent presidential campaign. Black reparations can become a legitimate policy claim if and when a majority of Americans are convinced that it is an idea with merit. As Obama’s two elections demonstrate it does not necessarily require a majority of white Americans to support such a program. The political challenge is to forge that national majority, presumably with approximately 40 percent of white Americans on board.
Having a black president oppose reparations does not help the cause, particularly when that black president makes the case that an important source of black disadvantage is black folk’s own behavior. But black America should have paid attention to the experience of post-colonial black Africa and the Caribbean; leaders who look like you do not necessarily act in ways that benefit you. So be it. The struggle for reparations—and for black lives and justice—must and will continue, with or without Barack Obama in the fold.
OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
“A Black Political Future”
December 3, 2016 :: LIVE ::10 pm EST
Guest: Pascal Robert The Thought Merchant Blog, Contributor, The Black Agenda Report
Black Wealth in the Age of Trump
The president-elect has pledged tax reform and job creation—policies that should theoretically help poor and minority Americans. Will they?
Lucas Jackson / ReutersWhite Americans have about 13 times the wealth of black Americans, a Pew Research report found in 2014, the widest the gap has been since the 1980s.
(OUR COMMON GROUND Voice) William Darity, Jr., an economist and professor at Duke University, studies the intersection of inequality, wealth, and race in the U.S. I spoke with him about the recent presidential election and whether or not Donald Trump’s proposals for helping poor and middle-class Americans would extend to poor and middle-class black Americans.
The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.