Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The Black Lives Matter movement has taken on a life of its own. The support – and opposition to BLM has been passionate and should not be surprising. After all, in this fifteenth year of the 21st century the United States of America still has a Negro Problem.
As noted in prior columns, Frederick Douglass correctly stated America’s Negro Problem when he wrote close to two centuries ago:

“There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution”

The need for a Black Lives Matter movement is proof that there remains a need for a fair and full reconciliation of the promises of the Constitution with the existence of black Americans in this country. Perhaps if the movement were entitled “Black Lives Matter….Also” there might be fewer criticisms of the BLM movement, particular attacks that claim that it is exclusionary or, incredibly enough, an example of “racism”.

But the reality is that if black lives mattered in the same manner as most white Americans, we would not be seeing higher infant mortality rates and lower life expectancies in the black community. If black lives truly mattered in this country we would not see the obscene disparities in arrests, sentencing and incarceration of black Americans. If black lives truly mattered virtually every encounter between a black American and a white police officer – whether for a traffic violation or disobeying an order to stop smoking a cigarette – has the potential for a lethal result.

The Black Lives Matter movement exists because from the very inception of this republic, black Americans were literally and explicitly excluded from the promises of liberty and freedom written in the Constitution – black people were 3/5ths of a human being in the eyes and minds and hearts of the so-called Founding Fathers. If black lives truly mattered in American history there would have been no need for a Civil War, or a Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery or a Fourteenth Amendment to confirm that every black person in this country was indeed an American.

The BLM movement exists because without saying, writing and shouting that black lives matter, in the hearts and minds of too many Americans they don’t matter. When the response to “Black Lives Matter” is “All Lives Matter”, the hypocrisy and inbred racist mindset of American thought reveals itself. “All Lives Matter” is as in this country as “all men are created equal”. The so-called Founding Fathers did not believe it, and too many Americans do not believe it today.
There has been an historical psychic disconnect between the stated ideals of these United States and the sad and sick reality of American racism and racist traditions. And that disconnect is why it has been necessary for the Supreme Court of the United States to confirm the rights of basic citizenship for black Americans, to confirm the right of black Americans to vote and even confirm the right of black American children to go to the same school as white American children.

Just as Frederick Douglass said that there is no Negro Problem, today he would have said that the Black Lives Matter movement is not the problem. The problem is the difference between being white or black can mean the difference between sickness and health, between wealth and poverty and even between life and death in these United States.

And until that difference is erased it will continue to be important to state that Black Lives Matter.

The recent death of Julian Bond caused a righteous outpouring of honor and respect for a man who dedicated his life to human dignity and liberation. History provides some context for the courage and passion that he brought to a struggle that benefitted not only black Americans, but all Americans.

Julian Bond was born in 1940 and during the first ten years of his life over thirty black Americans would be lynched in this country. In the year that he was born Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and during his entire thirteen year term in office he never supported a single anti-lynching bill that was proposed in Congress. And no anti-lynching bill was ever passed.

The America into which Julian Bond was born was covered with the slime and ooze of sixty four years of legalized and institutionalized racism, segregation and bigotry, the horrid aftermath of Reconstruction. Julian Bond did not read about black and white water fountains, he drank from the black fountains. He did not hear stories about segregated schools, pools, universities and hotels – he attended those schools, swam in those pools only on “Negro days”, could not aspire to attend the public universities in the South and, if the opportunity had arisen, he could only stay in “Negro hotels”.

In 1951 when Julian Bond was eleven years old, Harry T. Moore, the head of the Brevard County (Florida) NAACP and leader of a black voter registration drive, was assassinated by the local sheriff. Harry T. Moore is a footnote to a footnote in the history of the civil rights movement and that sheriff never served a day in prison.

When Julian Bond was fourteen the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court declared that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. In 1955 when Julian Bond was fifteen Emmett Till was tortured and lynched in Mississippi, ostensibly for whistling at a white woman.

Two years later, in 1957 when he was seventeen, Julian Bond watched with the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the world, when the National Guard and the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army were needed to guarantee the safety of nine black children whose parents had the temerity to want their children to go to a quality school that had been all white.

This was the America in which Julian Bond and all black Americans lived when he enrolled at Morehouse College soon thereafter. And it was in this cauldron of bubbling racist toil and trouble that he became one of the founding members of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Looking through the cloudy lens of the past it is difficult to comprehend the courage that Julian Bond, James Lewis, Stokely Carmichael possessed to even try to organize resistance to a brutal and malevolent regime that valued racism and racists practices over the lives of all black men, women and children.

Julian Bond is well remembered for his role as a member of the Georgia State Legislature, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. And well should he be remembered for these and his many other good deeds.

And, as we remember Julian Bond, we should take a moment to understand and comprehend the force and power and beauty and courage of his generation who confronted White Power when it was the law – and prevailed.

It was fifty years ago, August 11, 1965, that all hell broke loose in Los Angeles. What began as a simple traffic stop, turned into a rebellion/riot that result in 34 people dead, 1000 people injured, over 4000 citizens arrested. The Watts Riots, as the event came to be known, also ripped the veil of complacency and hypocrisy from America’s self-image, as the immortal specter of racism and racial oppression made itself known.

In the last fifty years there have been scores of similar conflagrations – in Washington, Harlem, Los Angeles (again), Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Philadelphia. In the last fifty years, there has been a sense of a “Groundhog Day” pattern – there is a police incident/miscarriage of justice/no justice – then frustration turns to rage that turns to burning and looting – there is a paramilitary response to “restore order” – “order is restored” – a commission/panel/forum is convened to identify the root causes of the disorder – recommendations/proposals/commitments to change are made – change takes place, but not fundamental/institutional/cultural change – Reset.

Even with the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Reset button has never been far away. Black mayors, Congressional Representatives, Senators, Governors and a black president have been elected, again and again and yet, the Reset button has never been far away. The failure to indict the officers who tried to beat Rodney King to death caused the Reset button to be pressed again –as was the case after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King, as was the case after the police execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The philosopher George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. And it seems that as a society, as a nation, although we claim to remember the past, we seem to ignore it or not give it the credence and importance that it deserves. As so we repeat the past over and over. The Reset button remains, simply waiting for the next tragedy or the next egregious demonstration of injustice.

A library could be filled with the books, reports, articles and commission findings that followed the aftermath of Watts, Harlem, Newark, Detroit, etc. Some of the greatest minds have labored to propose strategies and solutions that would remove the need to resort that damned Reset button. And yet, there is an unstated recognition that no time will be the last time because when it comes to fire born of frustration with racism, inequality, injustice and racial oppression, the fire has never gone out, and there will always be a next time.

And as we watch the all too familiar made for television drama play out in Ferguson, the embers of death and destruction have only just now cooled down in Baltimore and we can only wonder when and where the Reset button will be pressed.

The sad symbols of sorrow, the inevitable eulogies, the pledges of reconstruction and reconciliation – they are part of the ritual of this country. They are part of the ritual because the necessary predicate of recognizing the humanity of all people, including black Americans has not taken place. The statistics of unemployment and mortality and incarceration tend to deodorize the stench of racism.

The entire country watches the demented kabuki choreography of public officials refusing to recognize the fact that the facts don’t lie – the disparity, inequality, unfairness and injustice that are the unwanted birthright of the national black community leaves too many with no option other than to press the Reset button that leads to rebellion that leads to repression that leads to resentment that leads to soon to be forgotten promises of reconciliation and renewal.

As we remember the Watts Rebellion of fifty years ago, we would all do well to remember the words of George Santayana.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Trump candidacy is how he is able to give voice to the major and minor prejudices and bias that infect the national bloodstream – doing so in a way that is supposed to be “straight talk”. His “straight talk” is appreciated by a significant part of the right wing of the right wing of the Teapublican Party. We will see how far “straight talk will take him”.

We have already heard Donald Trump attack, demean and demonize Mexican American immigrants, and by extension immigrants from just about anywhere in the world where white people are not the native population. He took a baby step backward by admitting that not all Mexican American immigrants are rapists, and that was very kind of him. But he still paints these immigrants as the lesser, as the other, as the unwanted in America.

And because this is supposed to be “straight talk”, not bigoted and hateful discourse, he has not disqualified himself to be President of the United States. Indeed, on August 6th, The Donald will be center stage at the first Teapublican presidential debate, playing the role of the leading candidate. Clearly, “straight talk” trumps the dog whistle rhetoric engaged in by the likes of Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, et. al.

It appears that under the heading of “straight talk”, Donald Trump can get away with saying anything. In his passionate crusade to denigrate President Obama at any and every opportunity, he has departed from his “birther cruise to nowhere” and now is intent on proving that the president is incompetent, weak and “the worst president in the history of this country”.

Never one to let the truth get in the way, Trump conveniently omits President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, his leading the country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, saving the auto industry, saving the banking industry, instituting a national healthcare system and establishing a financial services regulatory system that most probably would have saved this country from the aforementioned economic crisis had it been in effect in 2007.

Trump is so concerned about being a “winner”, despite the multiple bankruptcies of companies with the Trump name and his own flirtations with financial disaster. But being such a “winner”, one would think that Trump would appreciate the fact that Barack Obama won the presidency with more than 50% of the popular vote – twice. President Obama is the only person to do that since President Eisenhower over a half a century ago. That should make him a “winner” by the Trump standard. But then, Donald Trump has never let facts get in the way of a good diatribe.

And so, as he continues his rant about the failures and deficiencies of Barack Obama, Trump engaged in “straight talk”, saying that President Obama will make it impossible for another African American to be elected president “for generations”. Such language and thinking is precisely the source of the sick, racist virus that has sickened this country from its very inception.

Even if one wishes to accept Donald Trump’s outlandish assessment of President Obama’s record, even if he were as bad as George W. Bush – he of the stolen election and lie-based wars – why would that keep another African American from being elected president? Jimmy Carter was not considered to have a particularly outstanding one term presidency, but that did not prevent another white Southerner, Bill Clinton, from being elected twelve years later.

The racist tone and logic of Donald Trump’s statements regarding the election prospects of future African Americans, in the name of “straight talk”, is actually an illustration of dog whistle politics without the dog whistle. He is only saying what too many white Americans still believe. The shame of Donald Trump’s rhetoric is that too many Americans are listening and liking it.

When President Obama visited Africa he took the opportunity of being in Africa to speak to the truths about Africa. He correctly stated that the African continent is overflowing with potential for progress and growth. He also correctly stated that until Africa confronts its challenges with respect to women, governance and human rights that it will never reach that potential. In other words, there is unfinished business in Africa.

When he spoke before the leadership of the African Union, President Obama said things that it would have been difficult for an African leader to say. As President of the United States he is cloaked with the power and prestige of his office. As the son of an African, as the grandson of Africans, as the brother of African brothers and sisters, Barack Hussein Obama has family ties that remove the possibility of him being considered a disinterested outsider lecturing the “natives”.

It is difficult to imagine President Mitt Romney giving Barack Obama’s speech in front of the African Union. It is virtually impossible to envision President John McCain, or President Donald Trump or President Scott Walker at the podium delivering that message. For that matter, it is difficult to envision President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders standing in that place – it had to be Obama.

And President Obama told the truth about the role and status of women in Africa – it must change. He said that the African traditions that oppress women and mutilate the genitals of girls and bind women with the chains of ignorance are bad traditions. He told the truth when he said that Africa will never, can never, reach anywhere near its true potential while half of its population is entrapped in the rickety cages of “tradition”.

President Obama was faithful to the truth when he pointed out that in a democracy there can be no “presidents for life”. He told the leaders of the fifty four countries on the continent that the peaceful transfer of power ensures peace just as holding on to power indefinitely ensures that there will never be peace. And, just as importantly, the peaceful transfer of power guarantees that the energy and genius of the youth of Africa will be encouraged to stay in Africa rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

President Obama also took the occasion to point out that respect for the human rights and dignity of all persons is necessary, otherwise no one will have their human rights and dignity respected. Marginalizing or imprisoning or murdering someone because they are from a different country or a different tribe, or because they love a man instead of a woman or a woman instead of a man are practices that keep Africa mired in the past. And marginalizing, imprisoning or murdering in the name of tradition can only mean that the tradition is wrong – as President Obama put it, “it is a bad tradition”.

What was so interesting about his address is that President Obama ultimately spoke in terms of unfinished business in Africa. But he alluded to the fact that there is also unfinished business in the United States. He could have pointed out that while American women have made major strides during the past fifty years, women still earn less than men and women are the majority population of the poor in this country.

He could have said that while this country has been governed by a democracy for over two hundred years, at this very moment there are cadres of lawyers and activists all over this country who celebrated the demolition of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. He could have mentioned that voter suppression has now become a political tactic and that thanks to the Citizens United and McCullough Supreme Court decisions, obscene amounts of money flood and pollute the political process like never before.

President Obama could have mentioned that while there have been major advances in respecting the rights of individuals in this country, there are still states that fly the Confederate flag and there are legislatures considering bills that will somehow outlaw same sex marriage and constrain a woman’s right to choose.

He could have said all of those things. There is unfinished business in Africa. And there is also unfinished business in the United States.

Donald Trump has become the poster boy for the New Jacked Up 21st century politics. Bluster, bigotry and bullying are now legitimate credentials for a presidential candidate, at least in the universe in which Teapublicans reside. While the spectacle that is the Trump campaign threatens the seating arrangement in the already overcrowded Teapublican Clown Car, there is actually a danger that the other candidates will try to out-Trump Trump in order to suck up some precious media oxygen.

As you are reading this, Donald Trump, the Heavyweight Self-Promoting Champion of the World, is leading all Teapublican candidates in national polls. Most self-confessed Teapublicans want him to stay in the race despite the daily exhibitions of classless and tasteless excess which define Trump as a candidate and as a human being. And as you are reading this it becomes clear that Donald Trump is not a momentary publicity comet flitting across the American skies (see Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain). His star has staying power and all of his competitors for the Teapublican crown know it.

It is now a bizarre badge of honor for Teapublican candidates to be attacked by Donald Trump. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham are thankful to be his targets because that means that for a few nanoseconds their name will be mentioned in the same breath as The Donald. Without being asked to respond to his insults, they would have few, if any talking points that anyone else wants to hear.

While Democrats are looking for ways to keep The Donald Clown Balloon floating high, they should be careful what they ask for. Donald Trump is impervious to insult and insulated from concern as to what others think. His run for president is an example of superselfindulgence on steroids. But, and this is important, if the polls are to be believed, there are millions (millions!) of American voters who think that Donald Trump is a serious presidential candidate.

Consider that just six years ago this country was in what was arguably the most profound, and certainly the most frightening financial crisis in its history. During the past six years a plans for universal healthcare coverage and reform of the financial regulatory system were devised and implements.

During this time this country has had to address crises ranging from the BP oil spill to the collapse of the Iraqi government to the rise of ISIS and the multiple implications of the Arab Spring. The dawning realization of the impact of climate change, addressing the necessity of a nuclear weapons agreement with Iran and the continued carnage that is woven into the fabric of the United States of Gun are all realities in modern America.

Russia in the Ukraine, new Chinese bellicosity and the explosive realization that black lives do matter, especially in the face of the domestic terror that American racism has supported are all issues that the President of the United States has had to address and we can be sure of only one thing, there will be no certainties for the next President, not here in the United States, not here on this planet.

It is virtually impossible to believe that Donald Trump has the competence, intelligence or intellectual capacity to manage all of these issues and more. But what Donald Trump has done is lower the bar for what are considered requisite qualifications to be president. Donald Trump is the one with the loudest bluster. Donald Trump is the one prepared to wrap himself in the hate-soaked banner of bigotry in order to curry favor with the haters and the bigots. And by being the loudest bully on the Teapublican block he has virtually eliminated any possibility of intelligent debate on that block.

Democrats and Teapublicans alike should be concerned. By demeaning the presidential selection process with his antics, Donald Trump is also demeaning the institution of the presidency. If asinine antics and a half-baked act that wouldn’t make it in Las Vegas are enough to qualify someone to be a serious presidential candidate, then the presidency itself becomes seriously devalued.

And that is a danger that this country can ill afford in the 21st century.

When seasons change it is rarely dramatic, but rather it is gradual. We sense a difference before we realize it. And so it has been with President Obama. There has been a change in the man during these last several months. He has spoken with greater clarity, acted with greater boldness and he has transformed his vision into deeds. As the noted poet James Brown might have said:

He ain’t no drag
Papa’s got a brand new bag

Let’s look at the facts. For over a half century this country has pursued the bizarre policy of trying to isolate and destroy Cuba. This policy has been adhered to by Republican and Democratic administrations even while alliances have been forged with countries that have no love for the United States, China and Russia come to mind, and with countries with a bloody and painful history for Americans, Vietnam comes to mind.

Through much of his presidency Barack Obama has sought to reason with the adherents of embargo and persuade the Cuba deniers. And then, a few months ago, he directed that this country commence formal diplomatic relations with Cuba. And now there will be an American embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington. He just did it.

He’s not too fancy but his line is pretty clean

Here’s another fact. When President Obama spoke at the funeral services in Charleston after the Mother Emanuel Massacre, he did something that no American president has ever done. He referenced the Confederate flag and pointed out the obvious, it stands for cause of the preservation and protection of racial slavery and that cause was wrong.

It is not clear which is more amazing – that it took over 150 years for an American president to state the obvious or that President Obama abandoned subtlety on a matter of race and spoke the truth plain and simple. In any event, he just did it.

Don’t play him cheap ’cause you know he ain’t shy

Even before he was elected president, Barack Obama has championed the cause of criminal justice reform. But, with too many in Congress still repeating the failed and hoary mantra of “tough on crime”, no real legislative changes have taken place. But now, President Obama has commuted the sentences of scores of non-violent drug offenders who have been serving decades in prison while killers and robbers and rapists have gone in and out of prison during their time of incarceration. And by commuting these sentences President Obama has sent a clear message that criminal justice reform simply must become a reality.

He’s doing the Fly ev’ry day and ev’ry night

Most recently, upon the announcement of the nuclear arms treaty with Iran, a reporter sought to depict President Obama as “celebrating the treaty while Americans were still languishing in Iranian prisons”. The president spoke truth to the goad and told the reporter that his question was “nonsense” although one could tell that a more graphic and barnyard epithet was very close to the surface. In the past President Obama might have endured yet another in the cavalcade of insults that have passed his way over the past six years, but this time he responded in kind. He just did it.

These changes in President Obama are historically important and will in turn change the way that the presidency functions in the future. He just did it.

Papa’s got a brand new bag

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 195 other followers