This page presents views which are outstanding perspectives on the TRUTH on RACE in America. We are grateful for the courage, insight and passionate understanding of the contributors.
May 1o, 2013
Ishmael Reed: “All the Demons Of American Racism Are Rising From the Sewer”
Ishmael Reed is a prolific poet, novelist, playwright, songwriter, cartoonist, and cultural critic. His work spans nearly 50 years and has been recognized with numerous distinctions and awards. Reed argues that Americans misinterpret the election of Barack Obama as evidence that the nation has finally moved beyond racism. PolicyMic’s Sagar Jethani spoke with Ishmael Reed to discuss the role that race continues to play in the national discourse.
Before Barack Obama began his first term in 2009, you said that a lot of people were going to be disillusioned because of his centrist and conservative views. Five years later, how does your prediction stand up?
I think it stands up pretty well. Obama comes from the Democratic Leadership Council, which was organized to stop Jesse Jackson and to distance the party from African-American issues. That’s his background.
Is it possible to assess Barack Obama’s presidency in purely political terms, or is race always a factor?
It’s always a factor. The president is like that Catholic priest in The Exorcist: as a result of his presidency, all the demons of American racism are rising from the sewer. I was born in the South. My grandfather was stabbed to death by a white restaurant owner in 1934, and the doctor treating my grandfather said: “Let that nigger die.” When I hear people like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell talk, I think of night riders, nooses, and bloodhounds. They will never cooperate with a black man in that office. If you look at blogs where people can make comments about the president anonymously, you can see the sickness in the American soul. White racism may one day prove to be the country’s downfall.
Candidate Barack Obama said in 2008 that “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.” Yet an analysis of the president’s speeches by Daniel Gillion at the University of Pennsylvania found that he has spoken less about racism in America than any president in the past 50 years. Why is that?
He’s the leader of the post-race generation, the privileged members of the African-American elite. Racism hasn’t affected them as much as it has affected other people. Obama goes along with this Democratic Leadership Council attitude toward black people that says that part of the problem so-called underclass blacks have is a result of their personal behavior, not structural racism.
He’s had some Sister Souljah moments.
He scolded one black group about out-of-wedlock births, even though such births have plummeted since 1976. He then went before a Hispanic group and told them that they’re what America is all about— when there are more out-of-wedlock births among Hispanics per thousand than among blacks. So for him to give these tough-love speeches to black people is just not fair. Harold Cruse, in his classic The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, has a whole chapter about how non-traditional black Americans view traditional African-Americans with this kind of disdain.
Does Obama’s non-traditional experience of being black affect how he sees African Americans?
I can understand why someone who has grown up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and then the Midwest would have a different outlook on race than we have. You see this with Michelle Bernard on MSNBC, who has Jamaican ancestry. She says that personal responsibility is especially a problem in the black community. Really! I’ve lived in an inner city ghetto for thirty years, and I can assure you that there are no lazy people here. In fact, if American corporations behaved the way some of these underground economies carry on, there’d be no trade deficit.
Do liberals automatically defend the president because they feel that only their full support can help counter the viciousness of the attacks made against him?
I praise the president when he does something that benefits the common good, and I defend him against the media, which is behaving as a sort of white power government-in-exile. But I don’t go along with his singling-out of the black community.
Why doesn’t the media draw more attention to the racial dynamics surrounding the nation’s first African-American president?
The media knows there are racial angles, but they don’t want to alienate their white subscribers. They view their audience as the so-called majority, and to bring up racism as a factor would be seen as a turn-off. They couldn’t sell their products.
They coddle their white subscribers by ignoring white pathology and blaming all of the social ills on blacks in order to get ratings. For example, the typical substance abuser in California is a white woman, and once in a while you’ll read about heroin epidemics in the suburbs of Philadelphia or Dallas. But you won’t get a “White in America” show from CNN. They show crime as black for the entertainment of their white subscribers.
Black men can’t get their books mentioned but they take up all of the time on “Lockup” and “Caught on Camera” which emphasize these pathetic street crimes of the underclass while the real thieves in Big Pharma and Wall Street have their huge, billion-dollar crimes hidden in the business pages.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan implied that minorities disproportionately benefit from federal entitlement programs, and that’s why Obama won in November. Do you buy this explanation?
Paul Ryan’s family has benefited from social programs. While he criticized the stimulus and Obamacare, it turns out that he was trying to get hold of some of both for his district. This guy is Nixon without the smarts.
Look, it will take 100 years for blacks and Hispanics to obtain anything close to the kind of benefits others have received. Black people didn’t get Social Security until the 1950s because of racism. President Franklin Roosevelt was so worried about support from Dixiecrats that he ensured that black people wouldn’t be included in the original New Deal programs. Democrats later denied blacks the G.I. Bill, which allowed whites to enter the middle class after World War II. A million black people served in World War II, and only 40 percent of them got to participate in the entitlements which followed. So they stuck this myth on us about how we unfairly benefit from entitlements, and today they’re saying the same thing.
The most vocal group calling for entitlement reform today is the Tea Party.
Rick Santelli and others have convinced these people that the government is taking their money and giving it to black people when it’s the other way around. Banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America have gotten in trouble for systematically steering toxic loans to blacks and Hispanics, then using their savings to finance white businesses. Most of what are inaccurately calledentitlements go to the red states.
The Tea Party is a bunch of over-50 pathetic white males who resent the fact that you’ve got a black man in the White House—people who believe that if Stonewall Jackson had been at Gettysburg instead of Lee, ours would be a different social order today. According to a NAACP report, Tea Party Nationalism, members of the far right have infiltrated the Tea Party and play a prominent role—Holocaust deniers and racists. And the media has given the Tea Party a pass, even though some of its leaders have called for the president’s assassination and have advocated sedition.
Since November, the president has been criticized by the left for not being more aggressive in promoting a liberal agenda. Maureen Dowd just wrote an op-edslamming Obama for not being more forceful in dealing with the opposition. Is this criticism fair?
Maureen Dowd criticizes the president because she doesn’t know how much people like McConnell resent having a black man in the White House and how they want to break him. She said that racism is no longer an issue because we have a black president, while all around her in New York hundreds of thousands of blacks and Hispanics are being “stopped and frisked” every day in the same manner that the mayor’s own ancestors were once “stopped and frisked” in the streets of Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Warsaw. She’s still the Catholic school girl, showing-off before the nuns.
White progressives and African-Americans have a strained relationship, don’t they?
Don’t get me started on white progressives. They consider themselves the president’s base, but they are so far out of the mainstream that their goals are impossible to attain. They want Che Guevara or Malcolm X as president, and that will never happen. They may have a lot of media-savvy, but they’re a fringe movement. A few weeks ago, when Rand Paul did that filibuster stunt over an issue that they embraced, they began to swoon before him. This is a guy who has problems with civil rights bills. They just dismiss African-American concerns.
One of the reasons I feel that I should go as independent is that I don’t want to be in a party with white progressives, because historically they try to use us.
You wrote an Op-Ed for The New York Times earlier this year in which you argued that Republicans may have a rare opportunity to regain the black vote. How?
Today the Republican party is in chaos, and some people are saying they might go the way of the Whigs. It’s time for a movement from the left for the Republican party. The John Birch Society included just a few cranks in the 1950s, but today they’ve taken over the entire party. So a movement now which may only include half a dozen people might, in twenty years, restore the Republican party to its true origins.
What are its true origins?
The Republican party we see today is filled with moderates and the right, but the far left was there at the beginning as the abolition movement. It started off as a progressive party — pro-immigration, pro-women’s rights, pro-suffrage. I looked at the 1856 and 1860 Republican platforms, and they were radical next to those proposed by today’s corporate hirelings. The early Republican party fought for blacks to have the vote; the contemporary Republican party tries to suppress the vote. Republicans today are a heretical party compared to the way they started out.
What kind of response did your op-ed receive?
You know, when some people think of the Republican party, they think of Satan. So they’re upset by the article. But the reason I wrote it is because Republicans should go back to their roots and see how they began.
Do you see any figures today in the GOP who you think may represent the way forward?
What about the traditional beneficiary of black votes, the Democratic party?
My problem with the Democratic party is that it takes blacks for granted. The black vote should be up-for-grabs. We should only vote for those people who have our interests in mind instead of just blindly going along with the Democratic party.
Bill Clinton remains popular with African Americans.
President Clinton was one of the worst presidents in history for black people. There are more people in jail because of these drug laws passed during his regime – drug laws aimed at blacks and Hispanics, but not at whites, who consume more dope than any other group in the hemisphere. More people in poverty because of welfare reform, even though black people are not the ones who are primarily dependent on welfare. More neighborhoods wiped out through foreclosures because the banks were allowed to speculate after the repeal of Glass-Steagall. My whole district has been ethnically-cleansed because of foreclosures. All thanks to the Democratic Party.
Any black person who votes for the Clintons in 2016 should have their head examined.
Has the DLC’s post-racial agenda now shifted Democratic attention to the civil rights of non-black communities?
Obama speaks more about the LGBT community than he does about black people, and while LGBT today is a white, middle-class movement, the 1969 Stonewall riots were actually fought by blacks and Puerto Ricans. The white middle-class co-opted that movement, just as they co-opted the feminist movement, and a lot of us feel sold-out.
When a millionaire like Gloria Steinem says that gender is the most restrictive factor in American life, she’s putting herself in the same category as millions of poor women– black, white, yellow, brown and red. I just find that to be decadent. Poor people feel that their issues should be first and all these other white middle-class issues should be second.
The gay rights movement today consciously emulates the civil rights movement of the 1960s in its struggle for equality. Is the relationship between them overstated?
While I support gay marriage, I just don’t believe that the history of black people and white gays is interchangeable. White gays have advantages in major areas of American life that blacks lack. When LGBTs had their march on Washington, all of the luxury hotels were sold-out. When black lesbians tried to join them, the white leadership told them to get lost. That they weren’t interested in civil rights. That they wanted to “mainstream.”
The Senate voted this month against universal background checks for gun purchases, a move the president described as “shameful.” What dynamics come in to play when the nation’s first African-American president calls for new restrictions on guns?
Go read The Turner Diaries, which is about how a white nationalist regime takes over the country. Timothy McVeigh read it. The guy who shot those police officers in Pittsburgh read it. The guy who attacked residents of a Jewish nursing home in Los Angeles read it. That’s their Bible. It says that blacks and Jews will take their guns, and that this would open up their homes to invasion by the underclass black male. I mean, they put it up there plain! Go take a look at Robert Crumb’sWhen the Niggers Take Over America.
That’s their vision.
The media reported the significant increase in gun sales immediately following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last November, but they forgot to mention that nationwide gun sales jumped by 30% the month Barack Obama was first elected — back in November 2008.
And do you think that everybody suddenly decided to arm themselves when Barack Obama became president because of an excessive deer population? No — those guns are to deal with black brothers.
Picture Credit: Mark Costantini
May 10, 2013
Sister Assata: This Is What American History Looks Like
Sister Assata: This Is What American History Looks Like
Copyright©2013 by Alice Walker
I don’t know why, given where we are with dronefare, but I didn’t expect the man making the announcement about Assata Shakur being the first woman “terrorist” to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list to be black. That was a blow. I was reminded of the world of “trackers” we sometimes get glimpses of in history books and old movies on TV. In Australia the tracker who hunts down other aboriginals who have, for whatever reason: rape and murder, genocide and enslavement of the indigenous people, run away into the outback. He shows up again in cowboy and Indian films: jogging along in the hot sun, way ahead of the white men on horseback, bending on his knees to get a better look at a bruised leaf or a bent twig, while they curse and spit and complain about how long he’s taking to come up with a clue. And then there were the “trackers” who helped the pattyrollers during our four hundred years of enslavement. When pattyrollers (or patrols) caught run-away slaves in those days they frequently beat them to death. I’ve often thought of the black men whose expertise at tracking fugitives helped bring these terrors, humiliations and deaths about. When I was younger I would have been in a rage against them; not understanding the reality of invisible coercion, and mind and spirit control, that I do now. Today, only a few years older than Assata Shakur, and marveling at the unenviable state of humanity’s character worldwide, I find I can only pray for all of us. That we should be sinking even below the abysmal standard early “trackers” have set for us: that we can now offer two million dollars for the capture of a very small, not young, black woman who was brutally abused, even shot, over three decades ago, as if we don’t need that money to buy people food, clothes, medicine, and decent places to live.
What is most distressing about the times we live in, in my view, is our ever accelerating tolerance for cruelty. Prisoners held indefinitely in orange suits, chained and on their knees. Like the hunger strikers of Guantanamo, I would certainly prefer death to this. People shot and bombed from planes they never see until it is too late to get up from the table or place the baby under the bed. Poor people terrorized daily, driven insane really, from fear. People on the streets with no food and no place to sleep. People under bridges everywhere you go, holding out their desperate signs: a recent one held by a very young man, perhaps a veteran, under my local bridge: I Want To Live. But nothing seems as cruel to me as this: that our big, muscular, macho country would go after so tiny a woman as Assata who is given sanctuary in a country smaller than many of our states.
The first time I met Assata Shakur we talked for a long time. We were in Havana,where I had gone with a delegation to offer humanitarian aid during Cuba’s “special period” of hunger and despair, and I’d wanted to hear her side of the story from her. She described the incident with the New Jersey Highway Patrol, and assured me she was shot up so badly that even if she’d wanted to, she would not have been able to fire a gun. Though shot in the back, and elsewhere, she managed to live through two years of solitary confinement, in a men’s prison, chained to her bed. Then, in what must surely have been a miraculous coming together of people of great compassion, she was helped to escape and to find refuge in Cuba. One of the women who helped Assata escape, a white woman named Marilyn Buck, was kept in prison for thirty years and released only one month before her death from uterine cancer. She was a poet, and I have been reading her last book, Inside/Out, Selected Poems. There is also a remarkable video of her, shot in prison, that I highly recommend.
This is what solidarity can look like.
The second time I saw Assata, years later, I was in Havana for the Havana Book Fair. Cuba has a very high literacy rate, thanks to the Cuban revolution, and my novel, Meridian, had recently been translated and published there. However, this time we did not talk about the past. We talked about meditation. Seeing her interest, and that of Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, and others, I decided to offer a class. There under a large tree off a quiet street in Havana, I demonstrated my own practice of meditation to some of the most attentive students I have ever encountered. The mantra: Breathing in, “In,” breathing out, “Peace.”
I believe Assata Shakur to be a good and decent, a kind and compassionate person. Physically she is beautiful, and her spirit is also. She appears to hold the respect, love and friendship of all the people who surround her. Like Marilyn Buck they have risked much for her freedom, and appear to believe her version of the story as I do.
That she did not wish to live as an imprisoned creature and a slave is understood.
What to do? Since we are not, in fact, helpless.
I call on the Ancestors
by whose blood
to accompany us
through this lengthening
From Alice Walker’s Garden, the official website of author, Alice Walker LINK