Race Conversation

A more perfect union imperative

Archive for July 2010

Race Based Political Hustle?

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The latest race based debacle has captured the imagination of the media, respective political players, and virtually all segments of the American population, as well as some in the international community.  The abounding media spectacle has virtually overshadowed many critical foreign and domestic policy issues, and sparked a board conversation concerning “race,” while feeding the incendiary allegations of racism and reverse racism across the political spectrum.

Inspired by the preemptive firing of a mid-level employee of the US Department of Agriculture, Mrs. Shirley Sherrod, the ensuing political debates, conversations and media coverage has again raised the prospect of a teachable moment relative to race in America.  The “Sherrod episode” was ignited by a political duel based on charges of alleged racism between the emerging Tea Party movement and the NAACP, a century old civil rights organization.

The NAACP President made a public announcement of a resolution calling on the Tea Party leadership to denounce the “racist elements” within their movement.  The resolution was directed to persons who brandished at Tea Party rallies, political posters, signage and rhetoric linking President Obama with the likes of Hitler, Carl Marx and Lenin, as well as portraying the President as an “uncle Tom.”

For their part, the members of the Tea Party, in response to the NAACP’s public admonition for the Tea Party to call out its racist elements, leveled accusations against the NAACP’s leadership for alleged acts of racism and reverse discrimination.  Subsequently, a political tit for tat between the two organizations was enjoined.

The Tea Party (conservative) vs. the NAACP’s (liberal) political conflagration was crystallized by an edited video tape engineered by a conservative blogger, was positioned to inflame the political wedge issue of “race” as bate for the Obama administration.  The Obama administration and the NAACP took that bate and Mrs. Sherrod was summarily fired by her boss, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the NAACP vociferously announced its support for Mrs. Sherrod’s firing from her employment.

The controversial firing of Mrs. Sherrod was exacerbated when the doctored tape was viewed in its entirety.  The tape was ultimately exposed as a political butchering job orchestrated by the conservative blogger hit man, in the first instance.  As a consequence of the political expose Mrs. Sherrod received across the board apologies from the NAACP, the Obama administration among others, and was offered her job back or another position, if she so desired.

In the wake of this unsuccessful political hatchet job, Mrs. Sherrod has become a media celebrity and was feted around the media circuit as a glowing example of racial sensitivity and personal growth relative to the race issue, that she deservedly represents.  Hence, the “race” conversation remains a predominant subject of the media among others, and the much touted teachable moment continues to be a hot topic engaging the usual political and civil rights suspects.

Interestingly enough, the plethora of media coverage and vociferous rhetoric between competing political positions is generating a substantial amount of heat, but very little light in the context of the teachable moment.  Thus far the apparent teachable moment is being squandered by partisan arguments that only attempt to advance respective political perspectives.  These race based political juxtapositions only serve to demonstrate how allegations of racism are hustled by competing interests from all quarters, whether substantiated or not, particularly during electoral political seasons.

Needless to say, the intellectual integrity of the race conversation has been thoroughly compromised in the balance, leaving the public at large completely disillusioned concerning the fact of race.  The media as well as the typical political hucksters, both conservative and liberal, are all culpable for undermining the intelligence of the American people.

In the media’s zeal for higher ratings and in the quest by the Tea Party, NAACP, among others for political brownie points, they continue to hoodwink the public, by hustling intellectually outdated information, regarding race.  At some point the teachable moment relative to the race conversation must be based on 21st century scientific data and academic scholarship.

However, the NAACP and others who are sustained by the civil rights industry continue to engage in race based politics.  Policies and political minority juxtapositions that serve to sustain their position are the only issues under discussion.  The NAACP’s victorious and glorious legacy of advancing America and the African American community during the dark history of the 19th and 20th century is laudable.  The NAACP integrity remains essentially unquestioned as a stalwart entity that helped to deliver the virtues of the America experiment to all Americans.

However, the critical political needs of Black American’s are no longer relevant to the orthodox civil rights agenda, vis-à-vis, its race based and partisan political sensibilities.  Yet, kudos extended to the NAACP and the respective leaders of the storied civil rights movement, for their achievements are appropriate.  But now, Black America requires a new political paradigm going forward, in the context of a coherent and politically sophisticated Black agenda…  The contemporary NAACP has effectively positioned itself to address the advancement of “all people of color” which is inimical to the particular needs of Black Americans in the quest to be politically and economically competitive in the 21st century’s global community.

On the other hand, the Tea Party movement has positioned itself as a political conservative initiative, but masquerades its race based politics in policies, and positions, with political buzz words and hot button wedge issues that are abhorrent to most Black folk.  By way of the “modern conservative” movement, special interest groups have effectively hijacked the Republican Party base and articulate a revisionist Republican history, in order to reposition the party of President Lincoln.  However, the Grand Old Party (GOP) in fact has no organic conservative roots associated with its founding.  The founding of the GOP was based on progressive eclecticism, and served as a cornerstone of the victorious civil rights advances that characterized African American communities successes of the 19th century.  The political achievements of African American’s during the first civil rights period, remains unparalleled in comparison with the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

The conservative movement in the Republican Party had its ignominious birth during the early 1960s and it was based on the fact that African Americans, by way of the modern civil rights movement (20th century) successfully infiltrated the Democratic Party of the Jim Crow era.  As a consequence the Southern Democratic conservatives for the most part, infiltrated the Republican Party and rendered it conservative during the early 1960s.  Hence, the conservative wing of the Republican Party was and continues to be a race based phenomenon that has positioned the GOP accordingly.

Moreover, America was born with the birth defect of “race” based inferiority and discrimination.  Unfortunately, racial dichotomies are a part of the fabric of the American political and social sensibility.  But the notion of race and the idea of multi-racialism is a delusion as a matter of fact.  Race as a distinguishing factor among human beings is a false and contrived construct that was designed and imposed to achieve social, economic and political objectives on behalf of the white ruling elite.  The political page relative to the multi-racial delusion must be turned, in order to end this infamous and bygone era.

Fortunately, the advances of science has totally and unequivocally discredited race as a factor that distinguishes human beings.  This writer remains confounded as to why the teachable moment regarding the race conversation is not based on current scientific data and scholarship.  However, he remains hopeful that at some point, hopefully in the near future, the fourth estate (media) will rise to the occasion, step up to the plate and disclose facts that will stop the race based political hustle…

Apparently, the prevailing political leadership in both parties and their respective operatives are too vested in minority based political juxtapositions to turn the corner on race motivated electoral politics.  Perhaps we the people must raise the intellectual quality of the race conversation beyond the partisan rhetorical political diatribe…  Maybe we the people will ultimately have to raise the political, social consciousness going forward.

Gary James is a former civil rights staff organizer in New York City, under the leadership of the late Dr. George Wiley, President of the National Welfare Rights Organization, (NWRO) from 1966-70.  James is a freelance writer, author, political analyst, and consultant.  For more information visit: garyJjames.com



Written by gjamescadreusa

July 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

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Controversy Continues Among Black People and Leaders…

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Should there be a “black agenda” in America? And if the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ what is the black agenda?

These are the questions that black leaders and black people have been discussing more and more since President Obama took office.  Reverend Al Sharpton hosted a leadership summit addressing this very issue.   Recently, a group of black leaders got together on an MSNBC special to talk about this issue in more detail.   And many will remember the on-air argument that Tavis Smiley and Rev. Sharpton had a few months ago about this topic.

Tavis believes that Obama isn’t doing enough.   Sharpton believes that Obama need not ‘ballyhoo’ a black agenda.   Most agree, though, that something needs to be done.

With a 16.5% unemployment rate (compared to 9.7% for white Americans), an education system that is under serving black children, higher than average rates of death from diseases like breast cancer, and continued social issues, it is hard to disagree that there is need for some kind of targeted and focused approach to dealing with the issues that affect  African-American.   But many are divided on whether or not the president is doing enough for black people, whether or not it’s incumbent on him to do anything at all, and what should or shouldn’t be done.


Written by gjamescadreusa

July 11, 2010 at 7:13 pm

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When Racism Masquerades as Something Else…

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This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Aspenia, the Italian journal published by the Aspen Foundation Italy.

Don’t let the virulent hatred of Obama’s presidency – veiled in “policy differences” – fool you. Just ask someone raised around bigotry. Carlos Dews  is an author, a professor of English literature, and chairman of the Department of English Language and Literature at John Cabot University in Rome.

” ‘The nigger show.”

I first heard this expression used to describe the Obama administration during a visit to my hometown in East Texas during the early summer of 2009.   I understood what the epithet meant: Our minds are made up, the president lacks legitimacy, and there is nothing he can do that we will support. I was  not surprised to hear such a phrase.

I grew up in the 1960s during the ragged end of the Jim Crow era, where many of the books in my school library were stamped Colored School, meaning they had been brought to the white school when the town was forced to integrate the public school system. I recall my parents had instructed me, before my first day of elementary school, not to sit in a chair where a black child had sat. And I remember my sister joked that her yearbook, when it appeared at the end of her first year of integrated high school, was in “black and white.”

The outward signs of racism of my home state have now disappeared, but racial hatred remains. My father and his friends still use the word nigger to refer to all black people, and the people of my hometown don’t hesitate to spout their racist rhetoric to my face, assuming I agree with them. I hold my tongue for the sake of having continued access to this kind of  truth. I learned long ago how not to accept the hatred I was being taught and how to survive not having done so. More recently, I realized that I also learned another lesson: how to recognize racism when it masquerades as something else.

More than 40 years after my first experiences with racism, I am thousands of miles away in Rome, but surrounded by ghosts. Last year, I received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a community program called the  Big Read, which sponsors activities to encourage communities to come together to read and discuss a single book. I chose Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, in part because I thought that some of the most salient issues in the novel – racism, classism, xenophobia, the Jim Crow era – were perhaps relevant to an increasingly diverse, contemporary Italy.

That there is racism in Italy is obvious to anyone who pays attention to current affairs. In fact, during the first week of the Big Read Rome, a story in one of Italy’s national newspapers detailed the experience of a  Nigerian woman being called sporca nera (essentially, dirty nigger) by two women she asked to stop smoking on a Roman bus.

But I never imagined that consideration of the novel would prove so relevant to a country that had just elected its first black president. Ironically, until the election of Barack Obama, my discussions of racism in the United States seemed historical. I felt that with the passage of the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s, the country had turned a corner,  that the slow evaporation of overt racism was perhaps inevitable. Now, my personal experience of Southern racism feels current and all too familiar. A  news story about the Big Read that appeared in La Repubblica on Sept. 20 (unaware that my grant was awarded during the Bush  administration),  presciently brought Rome, Obama, To Kill a Mockingbird, and racism together in its headline: “Obama brings antiracist book to Rome.”

Jimmy Carter was lambasted for having recently explained that the vehemence with which many Americans resist Obama’s presidency is an expression of racism. Carter was accused of fanning the flames of racial misunderstanding by labeling as “racist” what on the surface could be perceived as legitimate policy differences. Like Carter, as a white Southern man, I can see beyond the seemingly legitimate rhetoric to discern what is festering behind much of the opposition to Obama and to his administration’s policy initiatives. I also have access, via the racist world from which I came, direct confirmation of the racial hatred toward Obama.

The veiled racism I sense in the United States today is couched, in public discourse at least, in terms that allow for plausible deniability of racist intent. And those who resist any policy initiative from the Obama administration engage in a scorched-earth policy that reminds me of the self-centered white flight, the abandonment of public schools, and the proliferation of private schools, that followed the 1954 Brown v. Board of  Education decision to desegregate public schools. The very people, like my own rural, working-class family back in East Texas, who stand to gain from  the efforts of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are,  because of their racism, willing to oppose policies that would benefit them  the most. Their racism outweighs their own self-interest.

Unfortunately, racists in the United States have learned one valuable lesson since the 1960s: They cannot express their racism directly. In public, they must veil their racial hatred behind policy differences. This obfuscation makes direct confrontation difficult. Anyone pointing out their racist motivations runs the risk of unfairly playing “the race card.” But I know what members of my family mean when they say – as so many said during the town hall meetings in August – that they “want their country back.” They want it back, safely, in the hands of someone like them, a white person.  They feel that a black man has no right to be the president of their country.

During a phone conversation a few weeks after Obama’s election, my father lamented that he and my mother might have to stop visiting the casinos in Shreveport, La.: Given Obama’s election, “the niggers are already walking around like they own the place. They won’t even give up their seats for white women anymore. I don’t know what we’re going to do with ’em.”

My students often ask me how I managed to avoid accepting the lesson in racism offered by my family. From the time I was 4 or 5 years old – roughly the same age as Scout Finch, the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird – I recall knowing that I didn’t agree with racism. More important, my paternal grandmother provided me with the encouragement that I could ignore what I  was being taught. She provided me with the courage to resist.

My grandmother hoped that my father and his father represented the last  generations of the type of Southern man that had shaped her life – virulently racist, prone to violence, proud of their ignorance, and self-defeatingly stubborn. It was a type of Southern man that she hoped and prayed I could avoid becoming.

However, my father and his father were not the last of their kind; their  racial hatred has been passed on. My grandmother, if she were alive, would recognize the same tendencies among many of the people who shout down politicians and bring guns to public rallies. She would also see how the only change they have made is to replace overt racist epithets with more euphemistic language.

Rather than seeing my home state and its racist attitudes, slowly, over time, pulled in the direction of more acceptance the country as a whole has become more like the South, the racial or cultural equivalent of what is called the Walmartization of American retail.

It might be easy to see literature as impotent in the face of the persistence and adaptability of racism. But I continue to believe in the transformative potential of literature and its ability to provide an alternative view of the world. And for children who are not lucky enough to have grandmothers like mine, I believe that books like To Kill a Mockingbird can provide inoculation against the virus that is racism.

Written by gjamescadreusa

July 8, 2010 at 9:41 pm

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