This year, as LDF entered its 80th year of commitment to racial justice and civil and human rights, we faced one of the most unpredictable and challenging years in our nation’s history. A year that began with LDF challenging the Trump Administration over its Muslim Ban and Law Enforcement Commission ended with suing President Trump and his campaign over attempts to disenfranchise Black voters. In between, LDF was forced to add a new category of policy and litigation work focused on the impact of COVID-19, championed the rights of protesters during a historic summer full of demands for change and accountability, and fought to protect Black voters and their ballots, while also helping recruit over 40,000 poll workers. LDF was able to do so by building off its 80-year legacy — the lessons learned, the victories earned, and the lives changed.
Young black people have exploded in rebellion over the grotesque killing of George Floyd. We are now witnessing the broadest protest movement in American history. And yet the response of black elected officials has been cautious and uninspired.
The Congressional Black Caucus offered a familiar list of the kind of police reforms that have failed for decades to end police violence. After protesters vandalized CNN’s headquarters and set a police car on fire in Atlanta, the mayor, Keisha Bottoms, told them to “go home” because registering to vote “is the change we need.” President Barack Obama also argued in an essay that “real change” comes from both protest and voting.
Instead, organizers on the ground have provided leadership. Women like Mary Hooks from Southerners on New Ground in Atlanta and Miski Noor and Kandace Montgomery of the Black Vision Collective in Minneapolis have been at the center of articulating new demands for redistributing resources away from policing, prisons and billionaires, and back into public programs. We can also find this leadership among the ranks of black low-wage “essential workers” who have challenged Amazon and other big corporations since the beginning of the pandemic. These organizers and workers are channeling the confrontational black politics of a previous period.
Because of them, we are at the end of one era of black politics and the start of a new one.
The revolt in American cities, amid a deadly pandemic that is disproportionately killing African-Americans, suggests that people feel the political system cannot solve their problems. Many have been looking back at the urban uprisings of the 1960s to make sense of our situation. Those protests exposed a shocking degree of racism in the supposedly liberal North. A main demand from protesters then was more black political control of cities.
Our own intelligence about the oppressiveness of the kind of society which would like to forget us along with other historical ‘mistakes’ should give black people a unique force in effecting change in America. An infusion of blacks into the political arena might provide the moral force of ‘soul’ which America either lost or never had. …
Some see the black American’s choice as between withdrawing from this ‘hopeless’ government or overthrowing the entire system. I see our choices as between political involvement or political apathy. America is the black man’s battleground. It is here where it will be decided whether or not we will make America what it says it is.
The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in that era. Its members called themselves the “conscience of the Congress” and saw themselves as representing the political interests of all of black America. They were “unbought and unbossed” as a founding member, Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York, said.
This independence led to confrontations, not only with Republicans, but also within the Democratic Party. In the summer of 1972, just weeks before Democrats would formally nominate Senator George McGovern for president, the caucus wrote a “Black Declaration of Independence” and “Black Bill of Rights.” These were inspired by a more militant document called “A National Black Agenda” that had emerged from the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., where thousands of African-Americans had convened earlier that year.
To be fair, no elected official is ever wholly “unbought” or “unbossed.” It is the nature of politics to negotiate and compromise. Many black politicians represented urban areas, and governing became harder as whites and their tax dollars fled to the suburbs. The 1970s also saw the end of the postwar economic boom and the acceleration of deindustrialization. The changing economic fortunes of cities, which had been the engine of the American economy, made it harder for the ascendant black political class to carry out reforms.
Increasingly, black elected officials were seen as managing the crises in black working class communities, instead of leading efforts to root them out.
In 1994, the Congressional Black Caucus played a key role in the passage of the notorious crime bill, which is widely viewed as pivotal in the turn toward mass incarceration. Although the caucus pushed for a provision that would have allowed defendants on death row to appeal their sentences by citing statistics to try to show that such sentences have been racially biased, Bill Clinton weeded this out of the legislation. Nonetheless, a vast majority of caucus members still voted for the bill. In doing so, they had the support of African-American mayors in Denver, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta and other major cities.
This was not just a case of selling out. As more blacks entered the middle class, political demands shifted. Black elected officials were more in tune with the needs of their middle-class constituencies, black and white, than they were with the needs of the black working class. And their middle-class constituencies were more often concerned about a rise in property taxes than in ensuring access to a local Head Start.
Perhaps the uprising in Baltimore in April 2015 marked a symbolic end to this phase of black politics. Black people held many of the city’s top leadership roles, and the nation’s first black president and attorney general were a mere 40 miles away. And yet that concentration of black political power was not enough to stop the death of Freddie Gray, who died after being detained by the Baltimore police.
Of course, the problems ran much deeper than police violence. Thousands of African-Americans lived in neighborhoods where there was no pretense of investment. Black leaders didn’t stop the chronic joblessness or the underfunding of the public schools. Instead, many of them dug into the strategy of trying to attract higher salaried workers while making poverty so uncomfortable that the poor would simply leave.
This style of governance can be seen in cities across the country, and it may be motivating the “reverse migration” of African Americans to the South in search of better housing and jobs. Thousands of blacks are leaving Chicago each year as the city has become increasingly hostile to their presence. The greatest public policy expenditures in Chicago are for the police, even as black residents have grown desperate for affordable housing and more investment in public schools. The city, which is now led by a black mayor, Lori Lightfoot, still prioritizes boondoggle development ventures like the $6 billion Lincoln Yards project.
Black electoral success has not translated into qualitative improvements in black life. This too, erodes black participation in the political process. If voting simply reproduces variations on the same overall condition of deprivation, then black people are less likely to participate.
Mr. Bloomberg was mostly known for his full-throated support of stop-and-frisk, which resulted in millions of needless police stops. As Mr. Bloomberg erroneously celebrated that tactic as the reason behind New York’s drop in crime, other cities sought to replicate it. That’s why stop-and-frisk and the racial profiling at its core were among the catalysts for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Young black voters supported Bernie Sanders, but he was unable to translate that support into actual votes. His policies would have been most beneficial to African-Americans; in fact, they were more enthusiastic about his signature issue, Medicare for All, than any other demographic. But black voters in South Carolina, after the endorsement of Representative James Clyburn, cast cautious and predictable votes for Mr. Biden and turned the tide of the primary.
While older black voters are paralyzed by pragmatism when faced with the potential for a second term of Donald Trump, they have also been conditioned to accept the absolute least from political representatives. At the same time, young black people are rebelling against the strangulation of the status quo. This includes a stale black leadership that regularly fails to rise to challenges confronting this generation, which refuses to accept the symbolism of black leadership without its professed rewards. Black elected officials have become adept at mobilizing the tropes of black identity without any of its political content. Case in point: Muriel Bowser, the mayor of Washington, painting the words “Black Lives Matter” on a street headed in the direction of the White House. But she also proposed a $45 million increase in the local police budget.
In 2018, three black women sued the city, claiming that the policies pursued by its administrators served to “attract younger, more affluent professionals” and “discriminated against poor and working class African-Americans” who had lived in the city for generations. These plaintiffs, like the mayor, are black women, but their differing class positions and access to power have fundamentally impeded the possibilities of solidarity.
Mr. Trump’s smearing of Ms. Bowser as “incompetent” put black voters in a tough spot. They want to defend African-American officials from racist and sexist charges, while at the same time challenging these officials’ policies. For poor black women in Washington, the issue isn’t incompetence; it’s Ms. Bowser’s conception of development, which has left working-class blacks behind.
This doesn’t mean that representation no longer matters. It does. But we can no longer assume that shared identity means a shared commitment to the strategies necessary to improve the lives of a vast majority of black people. Class tensions among African-Americans have produced new fault lines that the romance of racial solidarity simply cannot overcome.
Representation in the halls of power has clearly worked for some, but we must talk about those it hasn’t worked for. We have not seen, in decades, protests with the scale or scope of those that were unleashed by the killing of George Floyd. New, young, black leaders with the Movement for Black Lives are now emerging, leaders unencumbered by past failures and buoyed by their connection to the ruckus in the streets.
How the news covers activism matters profoundly to a democracy because the media can influence public support or rejection of policies that might solve social ills such as racism and police brutality. Following the dozens of uprisings that swept U.S. cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Commission, reported on the cause and possible future prevention of such unrest. The commission asserted that, in addition to generational poverty, housing and employment discrimination, and over-policing, the media was partially responsible for the neglect felt by black communities.
Guest: Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, Ph.D.
Professor and Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln;
Author, “Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology”
May 16, 2020 ↔ 10 pm EDT LIVE
Tune In Here: http://bit.ly/OCGTruthTalk
Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Linda and Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer and has won a number of prestigious honors that range from the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies to serving as an American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellow in Washington, D.C.
Cooper Owens earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in History and wrote an award-winning dissertation while there. A popular public speaker, she has published articles, essays, book chapters, and think pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences. Recently, Cooper Owens finished working with Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center on a podcast series about how to teach U.S. slavery and Time Magazine listed her as an “acclaimed expert” on U.S. history in its annual “The 25 Moments From American History That Matter Right Now.”
Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history.
Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. She is working on a second book project that examines mental illness during the era of United States slavery and is writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability.
We will be talking with her about Black America in the pandemic, historical underbelly of health history and its impact on us today. How we find comfort, how we face our fears and our deaths.
Blackness is being born under a mountain of racial debt.
“As Saidiya Hartman writes, “Debt ensured submission; it insinuated that servitude was not yet over and that the travails of freedom were the price to be paid by emancipation.” Hence enslaved black people were forced to “self-purchase” their own freedom, for they could not even claim a property right in themselves. Is it any wonder that, as Hartmann describes, the enslaved used “stealing away” to describe not only the act of running away, but also in reference to a wide range of everyday activities:
Stealing away involved unlicensed movement, collective assembly, and an abrogation of the terms of subjection in acts as simple as sneaking off to laugh and talk with friends or making nocturnal visits to visit loved ones . . . These nighttime visits to lovers and family were a way of redressing the natal alienation or enforced “kinlessness” of the enslaved.”
OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
April 6, 2013 10 pm ET LIVE
“The State of Black America: A Tale of Two Countries”
Tonight’s Guest: Dr. Wilmer Leon
“The State of Black America: A Tale of Two Countries”
Tonight’s Guest: Dr. Wilmer Leon
Dr. Leon comes to OCG once again to weigh in on the issues which face Black America, the politics of our problems and the light of solutions available.
Wilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D. is a Political Scientist whose primary areas of expertise are Black Politics, American Government, and Public Policy. He is a Teaching Associate in the Political Science Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a nationally syndicated broadcast radio talk show host, columnist, commentator, political consultant, TV host, lecturer, and much sought after motivational speaker.
A serious void exists in the public discourse relating to the issues that directly and/or disproportionately impact the global village in which we live. Dr. Leon’s lectures and writings focus on issues such as the media’s coverage of national and international issues, the criminal industrial complex, environmental racism, school vouchers, health care, crime policy, economic globalization, American domestic and foreign policy from as much of a non- biased and academically accurate perspective as possible. Dr. Leon’s perspective and lectures are grounded in the history of the African American community and the tradition of African American scholarship.
Dr. Leon is host/producer of the nationally broadcast call in talk radio program Inside The Issues With Dr. Wilmer Leon on XM/Sirius satellite radio channel 169 “Urban View” and the host of Epilogue, a political book discussion program on Press TV. He hosts discussion on Facebook as Dr. Leon Prescriptions.
Dr. Leon was a regular guest on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight and is a contributing columnist to The Grio.com, The Black Agenda Report, The Maynard Institute.com, TruthOut.org, PoliticsInColor.com and Black Star News.
OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham
“Speaking Truth to Power and Ourselves”
BROADCASTING BRAVE BOLD BLACK
Join the discussion in our Open Chat during the broadcast.
Follow us on Twitter @JaniceOCG #TalkthatMatters
Will Globalization Destroy Black America?
Will Globalization Destroy Black America?
The lack of response to globalization by Black America is frightening and troubling. While much of the world has adapted to the new-world economy and new-world standards of existence, most of Black America is still operating much the same way it did in the 1950s and 1960s. But now, throughout Black communities in America, there is a whisper campaign by Black people who don’t know each other and Black people who live in different parts of the country, saying to each other, “We are in trouble!” We know it and the rest of the world knows it! Black America, as we know it, is in danger of not surviving globalization.
In the 21st century, there are only two kinds of people. Not Black or White, or rich or poor, or foreign or national. The two kinds of people in the world today are those who are educated and those who are not. Although education has become the new currency of exchange in the 21st century, the old American educational paradigm stopped working decades ago for Black Americans. Simply sending Black children to American schools without a clear purpose or goal has contributed to the demise of the Black community. Black America watched formerly third-world countries catapult over America to become educational super powers while America rested on its old, stale educational laurels and fell way behind much of the world in educational performance. And because Black America unthinkingly depended on the American education system to educate its children, we have fallen way behind.
The horrific educational, social, health, economic and criminal justice indicators in much of Black America predict a meltdown of gargantuan proportions in the near future for the Black community. But still, the thing that is most remarkable and unbelievable is the lack of response by Black Americans to this impending doom! Without numerous positive changes, practical well-thought-out ideas, massive mobilization and immediate action, the fate of many Black Americans is sealed. We will not be able to prosper in the cities of America or possibly in any city in the world where the new currency for existence is access to global information, higher-order critical thinking and advanced technological skills. There used to be a time when it was better to be poor in America than rich in other countries. Now it might be better to be poor in some other countries than to be poor in America.
Black people in America must immediately disengage from the diversions of mind-deadening entertainment, useless sports, hyper-sexuality, excessive social celebrations, pointless conversations and debates, meaningless media and the civil rights issue de jour approach to managing our problems. We must focus on the most important issue in our communities — making education the highest priority. We must create a culture of literacy and learning that replaces intellectual apathy and resistance to educational progress. Somehow, we must re-inspire our children to want to learn and to love to learn. But having educated children is not enough. We must have educated families and educated communities. Every Black man, woman and child must become part of this new community of learners.
Black America must take education out of the schools and universities and root it in our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our churches and even in our streets and prisons. The purpose of education as defined by the Equipped for the Future initiative, a federally sponsored effort to develop a framework for accountability in adult education, is to help people actualize their roles in society as parent/family members, citizen/community members and workers in the economy. If the education system that serves us is not meeting these objectives, it is a disservice to our children and our communities.
The ability of a people to survive in changing times is not magic, nor is it by chance. Success depends on people being able to change to survive in a new environment! And new environments demand new skills for survival. Equipped for the Future tells us that without certain basic skills, survival will be extremely difficult for Black people, or any people, in the 21st century. These essential skills are the ability to read with understanding; convey ideas in writing; speak so that others can understand; observe critically; listen actively; solve problems and make decisions appropriately; plan and put those plans into action effectively; use math to solve problems and to communicate; cooperate with others; guide others; advocate and influence; resolve conflict and negotiate; take responsibility for life-long learning; learn through research; reflect and evaluate; and use information and communication technology. These are the skills necessary to survive in the 21st century.
The solution to the issue of Black America’s poor response to globalization is to 1) Deconstruct value systems that have caused Black people to arrive at the precipice of non-existence; 2) Construct value systems that will rebuild the Black family as a purveyor of positive values, cultures, mores and education, and re-establish the Black family as the primary and most important social unit of our culture and society; 3) Embrace education as the highest value in the Black community; 4) Effectively manage the negative cultural influences that hugely impact the thinking and actions of Black boys; and 5) Understand that for the rest of existence, change is a required part of the living process. The faster Black America is able to put this plan into action, adopt these new principles and manage change, the more likely we will survive.
Today, many Black people seem to be having “cosmic flashbacks” to our time in slavery, which was the first crude effort at globalization that helped to set the stage for today’s globalization. For years, Black America was buffered from modern globalization by political boundaries and economic barriers. Now globalization has come to our country, our cities, our communities, onto our blocks and into our homes, schools and workplaces. Globalization has happened, whether Black America is ready for it or not. We still have time to make the necessary changes that will guarantee that Black people will survive into the 21st century and that we will thrive in this global economy. But there is not much time. With globalization, Black America has entered into the “Educate or Die” era. In this era, there are only two questions worth answering: “Will we change? Can we survive?” How we emerge from this era is up to us.
Phillip Jackson, Executive Director
The Black Star Project
3473 South King Drive, Box 464
Chicago, Illinois 60616
773.285.9600 or email at email@example.com
EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION