|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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Wilmer Leon is the Nationally Broadcast Talk Show Host of “Inside The Issues with Wilmer Leon” Saturday’s from 11:00 am to 2:00pm on Sirius XM (126).
Wilmer J. Leon III, Ph.D. is a Political Scientist whose primary areas of expertise are Black Politics and Public Policy. Wilmer has a BS degree in Political Science from Hampton Institute, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University.Dr. Leon is also the host of XM Satellite Radio’s, “Inside The Issues”, a three-hour, call-in, talk radio program airing live nationally on XM Satellite Radio channel 126.”
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“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Frederick Douglas – The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro – 1852
As America celebrates July Fourth, as the grills smoke, the salads are tossed, pools filled, and fireworks displayed take a moment to reflect. Reflect upon how far we have come as a nation and yet how far we have to go.
I implore African Americans to read the entire text of Frederick Douglas’ famous speech, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. Are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day?
We have become all too familiar with the data. According to Bread for the World, one in four African-Americans lives below the federal poverty line and more than a third (35.7 percent) of all African-American children live in poverty. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that for 2013, the underemployment rate for African-American workers was 13.4 percent compared 6.7 percent for white workers. That does not account for those who have lost faith in the process and dropped out of the system. The Pew Research Center reports that the Median Net Worth of Households for Whites is $113,149 and for African Americans is $5,677. The NAACP reports that African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million of the incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of Whites.
These are just a few examples of the frightening realities with which we are faced.
Douglas asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Yes, slavery ended in 1865 but that two hundred- fifty years of slavery was followed by ninety years of Jim Crow; sixty years of separate but equal and thirty-five years of racist housing policy.
Yes, legislative and judicial progress have been made. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 provided for the equality of citizens of the United States in the enjoyment of “civil rights and immunities.” That Act was undermined by the Tilden/Hayes compromise of 1877. We have recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and will soon celebrate the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. One problem is that too many have confused the legislative successes with the ultimate victory, changing the racist core and premise upon which this country was founded as memorialized in the U.S. Constitution.
I take this moment to focus on the past because as Douglas said, “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.”
Douglas continued, “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
As we enjoy the Fourth, eating ribs and hot dogs, we must ask ourselves, are we as a people able to enjoy the blessings, the justice, and the liberty that are celebrated on this day? If not, what must we do to bring about substantive and permanent change?
Our plight, our success, and our future have always been in our hands. Dr. King once said, “…nobody else can do this for us; ?no document can do this for us?; no lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us;?no kennesonian or johnsonian civil rights bill can do this for us; ?if the negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-asserted manhood his own emancipation proclamation.”
Here is one, just one very simple yet challenging thing to consider.
The former President and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous has just released a report entitled, “True South: Unleashing Democracy in the Black Belt 50 Years After Freedom Summer.” According to the report, “The first and most important lesson is that massive voter registration can overcome massive voter suppression. Our analysis shows that registering just 30 percent of eligible unregistered black voters or other voters of color could shift the political calculus in a number of Black Belt states, helping blacks elect candidates who share their concerns or alternatively, forcing all candidates to pay attention to the community’s concerns. Registering 60 percent or 90 percent would change the political calculus in an even greater number of states.”
I opened with Douglas and I will close with Douglas, “…Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.”
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio channel 110 program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice.
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
– “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967
As America commemorates the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom I am compelled to ask the following question, would Dr. King be invited to speak at upcoming events to commemorate the March?
If you get past the marketed “Dream” reference in the “I Have a Dream” speech you will understand that it was an indictment of America. If you read “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” or Dr. King’s last book Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?; you can rest assured that today Dr. King would be in opposition to America’s backing of the assignation of Muammar Gaddafi, drone attacks, indefinite detention at Guantanamo, NSA wiretapping, mass incarceration, and the Obama administration’s failure to speak forcefully about poverty in America. From that premise one can only conclude that if Dr. King were alive today, those within the African American community who are engaged in stifling honest, fact-based, critical analysis of the administration’s policies would not allow Dr. King on the dais. Reason being, Dr. King committed his life to a morally based sense of justice and humanity not actions taken from a sense of political expediency or realpolitik.
On August 28, 1963 Dr. King stated, “Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation…One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” Today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate stands at 7.6% and 15% in the African American community. Today, “in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” according to Bread For the World, “14.5 percent of U.S. households—nearly 49 million Americans, including 16.2 million children—struggle to put food on the table” and “more than one in five children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, nearly one in three children is at risk of hunger.”
President Obama has claimed to be a champion of the middle class but rarely speaks to the plight of the poor in America. Dr. King would not stand idly by and allow this to go unchallenged. As America spends billions of dollars on its drone program, children continue to go hungry. In his 1967 speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence Dr. King stated, “A few years ago…It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program…Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.” If you replace Vietnam with Afghanistan and the War on Terror I believe Dr. King would be engaged in the same analysis and saying the same things today.
Dr. King said that the people of Vietnam must see, “Americans as strange liberators…they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy…What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them…?” Today, Dr. King would be asking the same questions about America’s actions in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, and the continued US support for the Zionist government in Israel as it continues to build settlements on Palestinian land in violation of international law.
Let’s be very clear, I have used actions of the Obama administration to highlight many of the contradictions that we face and to demonstrate how the man we now revere, the icon that will be lauded at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington would not be invited to speak in today’s political context. That’s the symptom of a greater problem.
To gain great insight into the real problem you have to examine the work of Edward Bernays and the rise of the propaganda industry in the 1920’s. “[The] American business community was also very impressed with the propaganda effort (created by Bernays). They had a problem at that time. The country was becoming formally more democratic. A lot more people were able to vote and that sort of thing. The country was becoming wealthier and more people could participate and a lot of new immigrants were coming in, and so on. So what do you do? It’s going to be harder to run things as a private club. Therefore, obviously, you have to control what people think. There had been public relation specialists but there was never a public relations industry.” History as a Weapon – Noam Chomsky – 1997.
The business community as Chomsky discussed or the corptocracy in today’s parlance uses propaganda to co-opt the American political landscape and has contributed to the decline of the American political left. The politics and policies of the Obama administration are examples of that decline, not responsible for it. th
At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington pay very close attention to what is said and even closer attention to what is not (August 27, 2013 is the 50th commemoration of the passing of W.E.B. DuBois).
Understanding the moral basis of Dr. King’s analysis, he would be standing today for the very things he stood for then. He would be critical of the current administration, and as such, great efforts would be made to shut him out of the national debate since many in the African American community see honest, fact based, criticism of Obama administration policy as antithetical to the interests of the African American community. The prophet is never welcome in his own village.
Dr. King’s “Dream” was significant because of its juxtaposition against the reality of the Negros nightmare but Bernaysian propaganda keeps the focus on the “Dream”.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the Sirisu/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon” Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:firstname.lastname@example.org. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com He is an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, joining us as Guest and Co-Host.
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Dr. Wilmer Leon: Dr. Ben Carson, Great Surgeon but a Bad Icon for the Political Collective
by OUR COMMON GROUND VOICE, Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
“Nobody is starving on the streets (of America). We have always taken care of them. We have churches which actually are much better mechanisms for taking care of the poor because they are right there with them. This is one of the reasons we give tax breaks to churches…” Dr. Ben Carson – CPAC Speech 2013
In modern culture, an icon is a symbol – i.e. a name, face, picture, or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities. That face or person begins to represent something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning. With his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast and his recent CPAC speech, Carson has become the new Black conservative darling. He’s a great pediatric surgeon but a terrible icon for the political collective.
Dr. Ben Carson has an incredibly compelling and motivational story. Born into poverty in Detroit in 1951 and raised by a single mother with a third-grade education, Carson became the first surgeon to separate conjoined twins and the youngest to head a surgical department. His focus, work ethic, and commitment to excellence should be emulated by as many as possible.
One problem with Dr. Carson and others like him – i.e. Justice Thomas, Michael Steele, Wardell Connerly and Condoleezza Rice is how they have lent their voices and their personal narratives to conservatives in ways that allow them to undermine the social safety net in America. The argument is that these individuals have overachieved in spite of the odds; therefore, the inability of the poor in America to rise into the middle class or beyond is due to personal failure, lack of drive, initiative, and dependence upon the system. Carson, Rice, and Thomas made it; why can’t you?
Another problem with their “realities” is their failure to recognize and/or admit how they benefitted from “the system” at some point in their struggle. For example, Wardell Connerly grew his business in part with assistance from the 8(a) Program. Justice Thomas was a beneficiary of Affirmative Action. I don’t know if Carson’s mother ever received any public assistance during his childhood but if she did not I am certain some of his neighbors did. Is he ready to cast them all as lazy and totally dependent upon the government?
We love to hear stories about people overcoming great odds to achieve success. What is ignored when reciting the stories of the Carson’s, Thomas’, and Rice’s of the world is depth of the chasm that lied between Africans in America and later the African American community and white America. There have always been personal successes in the midst of the collective or group struggle. During the 18th century while hundreds of thousands and later millions of Africans in America where bound by the shackles of slavery, individuals such as Olaudah Equiano aka “Equiano, the African” and James Forten found success on American shores. Did the success of Equiano, Forten and others negate the suffering and systemic oppression of those enslaved? Obviously not.
Today, in spite of all of the disturbing data documenting the disparity between the African American community and Whites, such as eighteen percent unemployment, African Americans being fifty-three percent of those incarcerated and only thirteen percent of the population, the wealth disparity, high school drop-out rates, college graduation rates, home foreclosure rates, etc. the likes of a Wardell Connerly, Shelby Steele, or Clarence Thomas stand before conservatives and argue that we no longer need Affirmative Action, Head Start, and other social programs.
Individual success should never become the standard of measure of success for the collective. It is only through group success that the African American community will truly become politically and economically empowered.
Dr. Ben Carson made some very inaccurate and dangerous statements during his CPAC speech that cannot go unchallenged. He stated as referenced above, “Nobody is starving on the streets (of America)”. According to Bread for the World, “14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in these households…Among African-Americans and Latinos, nearly one in three children is at risk of hunger.” Has he forgotten that in 1951 he may have been one of those hungry children?
He also stated, “Many people don’t know this but socialism started as a reaction to America because people in Europe, they looked at us and said, “”wait a minute look at those Americans…people like Henry Ford, Kellogg, Vanderbilt…they’ve got so much money…”” it needs to be redistributed.” Actually, the term socialism is attributed to Pierre Leroux and Robert Owen around 1827. Henry Ford was not born until 1863. Socialist models and ideas espousing common or public ownership have existed since antiquity. Karl Marx, considered by many to be the founder of modern socialism first published Das Kapital in 1847. Henry Ford was 4 years old. Socialism was actually a reaction to the Industrial Revolution which started in Britain around 1760.
Carson said, “People don’t want to talk about God…let’s let everybody believe what they want to believe.” Actually, the basis of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment is the freedom to believe. It is one of the few absolute protections that the Constitution provides. There is a big difference between belief and practice. If Carson understood the Constitution he would know that.
Dr. Ben Carson has a very motivational story but his political analysis and message lack real understanding of the issues necessary to be taken seriously. It is dangerous to use the success of an individual(s) as the basis of a sociological or economic indictment of an entire class of individuals. A reporter once asked Dr. Carson why he never talked about race to which he responded, “…because I’m a neurosurgeon”. Well, Dr. Carson, I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll stay out of the operating room if you leave the political analysis and dialogue to trained professionals.
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Leon,” and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at HowardUniversity in Washington, D.C. Go to http://www.wilmerleon.com or email: email@example.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com
© 2013 InfoWave Communications, LLC
“Inside the Issues With Wilmer Leon” Political Scientist Wilmer J. Leon, lll, Ph.D. is a Political Commentator, Nationally Syndicated Columnist with the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) and the Host of the nationally broadcast three-hour call-in talk radio program Inside The Issues with Wilmer Leon” airing live nationally every Saturday at 11am est. on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio channel 128 “The Power.” The show rebroadcasts on Sundays at noon. A Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, Dr. Leon writes and delivers commentary for a variety of national media outlets including Root.com, TheGrio.com, TruthOut.org, CNN, NPR.org, MSNBC, The Maynard Institute.com,Politicsincolor.com and many others. Dr. Leon’s primary areas of expertise are Black Politics and Public Policy. He has a BS degree in Political Science from Hampton Institute, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University.
Saturday 22 March 2008
by: Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Over the past week or so, mainstream media have turned much of their attention to the fiery sermons of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Dr. Wright is pastor to Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and his family. He was also, until recently, pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago.
Most of the discussion and commentary about Dr. Wright’s sermons have come from a predominantly white media. The points of discussion have centered on what they consider to be the “vile, racist and un-American things” said by Dr. Wright. Very few, if any, of the discussions have focused on the historical basis and accuracy of what Dr. Wright actually said.
The major problem with the discussions is they have been largely one-sided. The media have used the imagery of Dr. Wright, clad in African garb, shouting in the cadence of an old-time fire and brimstone minister and playing to the camera as a scare tactic. Has this become the “Willie Hortonization” of Senator Barack Obama? The reporting and commentary on Dr. Wright’s words have been presented from the perspective of people who either have no appreciation for the African-American historical experience or a personal agenda when it comes to presenting these issues.
Dr. Wright is under attack for saying such things as “… the government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strikes law, and then wants us (African-Americans) to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no; not ‘God Bless America,’ God damn America … for killing innocent people; God damn America for treating its citizens as less than human….” These are very strong words, delivered at what many are calling a possible turning point in American history with regard to America’s willingness to elect an African-American candidate. While the mainstream media have found no merit in any of Dr. Wright’s statements, let’s examine their merit from a historical basis.
When people read the Constitution, the supreme law of the United States, they see the oldest governing constitution in the world. They see a great document that has articulated the precepts of life, liberty and happiness that all in this country try to follow. What is often overlooked are the parts of the Constitution that laid the foundation for hundreds of years of slavery and oppression for African-Americans; the constitutional framework for human beings to be treated as less than human. It’s these sections of the Constitution that America has never truly atoned for and still refuses to make right.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution stated, “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” This was known as the Three-Fifths Compromise and laid the groundwork for African slaves brought into America as forced labor to be defined as non-persons.
Article I, Section 9 allowed the importation of slaves to continue in America for twenty-one years after ratification of the Constitution by declaring: “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” This section only outlawed the importation of slaves once the domestic stock of slaves could be replenished by natural birthrates and importation would no longer be needed; again, treating its citizens as less than human.
Article IV, Section 2 stated, “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” This was enforced by Congress on September 18, 1850, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, allowing Southern states to reclaim slaves that had escaped to the North.
The Three Fifths Compromise and the Fugitive Slave provisions were superseded by constitutional amendments only after their damage to African-Americans had been done and the benefit to America had been served.
It is very easy to wrap oneself in the history and glory that is America and forget that from 1619 to 1868 (249 years) African-Americans suffered under the brutality and oppression of government-supported chattel slavery. In 1857, as Dred Scott, a slave, petitioned the US Supreme Court for his freedom, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote, “beings of an inferior order (African-Americans), and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Even after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, the 14th Amendment granted their citizenship, and the 15th Amendment grated them the right to vote, from 1876 to 1965 (89 years) African-Americans continued to suffer under state-supported Jim Crow oppression in America. This was codified in 1896 by another Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the doctrine of separate but equal. These vestiges of slavery and oppression still plague many sectors of the African-American community, and the sense of white privilege they created continues to foster a false sense of white entitlement.
This is just the historical background for Dr. Wright’s comments. During his lifetime he has dealt with segregated schools, separate and unequal education, and discrimination in housing, employment and lending. He has witnessed civil rights protesters beaten by the police, ravaged by dogs, brutalized by fire hoses and COINTELPRO. Since his birth in 1941, an estimated 40 African-Americans have been lynched in this country. He was 14 years old when Emmett Till was brutally murdered and 23 years old when James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed. Americans continue to deal with racial profiling, driving while black, the disproportionate rate of incarceration of African-Americans, the suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping and other constitutional violations.
Regarding Dr. Wright’s comments about drugs and AIDS, let’s not forget the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. From 1932 to 1972, the US Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. In his May 16, 1997, apology, President Bill Clinton said:
“The United States government did something that was wrong – deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens … clearly racist.”
With this historical understanding, it is not too far-fetched to think that the US government could be involved in similar activity as it relates to AIDS.
What has been conspicuously absent from the discussions about Dr. Wright’s comments in mainstream media is any analysis of the validity of his comments based upon his personal history and life experiences. It is very easy for white commentators such as Bill O’Reilly to dismiss his sermons as racist diatribes, since O’Reilly has no interest in trying to understand the plight of people of color in America.
Dr. Wright has also said, “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is brought right back into our own front yard; America’s chickens are coming home to roost….” Well, let’s examine the record.
The Arms Exports Control Act prohibits the president from furnishing military aid to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights. In spite of all of the evidence supporting claims of the Israeli government’s human rights abuses of the Palestinian people, for FY2005 the United States provided $2.22 billion in military aid. This aid to Israel has a dramatic effect on Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. It is the US funding that pays for the guns and ammunition, F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters that are used to carry out Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people.
According to The Boston Globe, in 1984, just after Ronald Reagan’s re-election, Bishop Desmond Tutu referred to the Reagan administration’s support for the South African government as “Immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.” Reagan ignored the rising number of Americans who were calling for American companies to stop doing business there. The president of so-called sunny optimism attempted to blind Americans with his policy of “constructive engagement” with the white minority regime in Pretoria. All constructive engagement did was give the white minority more time to mow down the black majority in the streets and keep dreamers of democracy, such as Nelson Mandela, behind bars.
History is replete with examples of the United States arranging to depose foreign leaders. In 1909, President Taft ordered the overthrow of Nicaraguan President Jose Santos Zelaya. According to Stephen Kinzer, “In Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam and Chile, diplomats and intelligence agents replaced generals as the instruments of American intervention.” More recent examples of US intervention would be the invasion of Panama and the illegal invasion of Iraq.
Some may take issue with the earlier statement, “… the government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strikes law, …” by asking, “is Rev. Wright accusing the US government of supplying drugs to the black community?” This story has been well-documented in the 1996 San Jose Mercury News expose entitled “Dark Alliance: The CIA Complicity in the Crack Epidemic.”
I can understand people being uncomfortable with the comments made by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright. White Americans have also been lied to, miseducated and desensitized about the plight of African-Americans. With the help of the social conservative agenda, many have developed a “deaf ear” when it comes to issues regarding race. The truth, especially an ugly truth that forces Americans to examine the precepts of America, “with liberty and justice for all,” and compare them with the hypocrisy of the American reality can be troubling. For far too long, Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security. Americans have believed history as told by the oppressor and failed to understand the reality of the oppressed.
Dr. Wright is not un-American. He embodies what America was founded upon, the free exchange of ideas in the public space, speaking truth to power, challenging America to be the best that it can be. The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s views might not reconcile with many Americans’ perceptions of America, but they must not be discarded as the ranting of an angry man. His statements were founded in the historical truths that African-Americans have and continue to live through.