Tuesday, May 13, 2008
MR. OBAMA: A BLACK PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HAS TO DEFINE WHERE HE STANDS ON RACEWITH NO AMBIGUITY.
Since Civil War Black Empowerment Has Split 4 Ways and
Barack Obama Should Do More than Straddle. But Hes Unlikely.
This weeks column for The Wanderer, the nations oldest national Catholic newspaper. (NOTE: Published article is excerpted from this
By Thomas F. Roeser
CHICAGOWe now digress from our weekly review of the presidential campaign for a little sociology. Why? Because Barack Obama and his ex-pastors quarrel about race will linger through Nov. 4. So let us divert from horserace politics and make it a teaching moment.
THE STORY THUS FAR: Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the black racist from Chicagos Hyde Park lives in a $1 million mansion owned by his church which spares him from paying taxes, in a gated community keeping him apart from the riff-raff. He drives a Mercedes and stands to become a multi-millionaire.
WHY? Because he suddenly hit the jackpot when one of his flock became the all-but-anointed black Messiah of liberalism, giving Wright access to the national media where Wright gets Superbowl-style coverage for his views which he enjoys hugely. He is good for big lecture fees starting at $25,000 a pop, a book and national TV bookings.
THEN WHAT HAPPENED? At the National Press Club last week he seemingly covered all the bases, declaring (a) Louis Farrakhan one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century and (b) declaring whites worship in church in the morning and put on white Klan sheets at night, (c) defending his accusation that the U.S. government invented the HIV virus to kill off the black population (our government is capable of doing anything). Topping it off, he (d) endorsed the anti-black stereotype that blacks and whites have differently wired brains. Why does he echo Mississippis old segregationist senator Theodore Bilbo of the `50s who used the same, unproven rationale to justify his contention that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites and hence integration cant work? A good psychiatrist might say its black nationalist race hatred born of deepest insecurity n reaction to generations of liberal white patronizing.
NOW THE PRESENT: Why did young Obama choose Wrights church in his quest for Jesus Christ? Chicago Democratic realists know that the agree that young Obama came to Wrights church not to find Jesus Christ (well, if he bumped into Him in addition to what Obama was really seeking, fine) but as a hip, politically astute community organizer looking for a political base to run for public office. Black churches are fecund sources for volunteers and Trinity was ripe pickins with 10,000-plus activist parishioners. As to why Obama stayed 20 years in a church where Wright extolled race hatred, the answer is easy and candidly supplied by Wright himself: Obama was seldom in the pews but used the church for shake-and-howdy. Did he know of Wrights views? Of course: theyre not much different from those of other black ministers who seek to rev up their congregations by turning up the heat on whitey. Once Obama became big time, the views seemed incongruent to his so-called moderate image.
HOW DID ALL THIS BEGIN?
Silberman and White Guilt.
Does the name Charles Silberman mean anything today? No? Ah, how soon we forget! He was the most famous establishmentarian interpreter of white social justice in 1964 with his book Crisis in Black and White [Random House: 1964]. An associate editor of Fortune, he beseeched compassion for the Negro the favored word of the era; his book was required reading for corporate executives striving to stay abreast of the times.
Silberman wrote that (1) whites have degraded the Negro. Slaves, he said, were treated more shabbily in the U.S. than almost anywhere in history (what? Worse than the Spartans and Athenians who drove their captives to work in the mines to the point of death in 7th century B. C.? Or the hostages held by 2nd century B. C. Rome who were fed to the lions for the pleasure of the crowds before Christians came along? Not even remotely true.) But Silberman sold the thesis to business and the media. By dint of 400 years of slavery and segregation, he wrote, black pride was systematically knocked out of them. The job is to re-instill it.
He continued: (2) Negroes can only recover their self-respect if whites go out of their way to give them a helping hand because merely allowing them equality of opportunity is not enough. So (3) there must be special remedial training in all areas starting with schooling for Negro children at an earlier ageat three or four. If this doesnt happen, by the time children are five or six an overcrowded, oppressive [sic] home life has stifled their impulse to learn and made them much less alert than comparable white children. Moreover (4) corporations must set job quotas for Negroes, give them on-the-job training and even put up with impaired efficiency until the Negroes are trained. Thus were affirmative action and quotas born.
Then Silberman pointed as a model (guess what and where?) the Woodlawn area of Chicagos South Side. Bounded by Lake Michigan to the east, 60th street to the north, Martin Luther King, Jr., drive to the west and 67th to the south, Woodlawn had been devastated by joblessness when black poor moved in to the former middle-class area in the 1940s--but never fear: Woodlawn, he pontificated, /would conquer black poverty, build jobs and opportunities through the heroism of one manChicago-born Saul Alinsky, 55. Alinsky, author of Reveille for Radicals which entranced liberals, had conceived a formula for community organization that instilled demonstrations, picketing and non-violent protest to gain remedial redress.
Alinsky had done it before successfully, Silberman wrote, when he organized a white ethnic Chicago neighborhood, Back of the Yards, to win respect for packing house workers struggling against the heartless owners of the stockyards. True to a degree: but now the old packinghouses were preparing to move away (which Silberman forgot to report). Now Silberman boasted, the man who organized Lithuanians, Poles, Irish and Italians into the Back of the Yards Council, was organizing black poor to win redress and make Woodlawn an island of social justice, through creation of a militant community organization, TWO (standing for The Woodlawn Organization). Apples and oranges, I reasoned: organizing whites with solid family structures and at least high school educations is different than galvanizing black poor without much education, products of splintered families who have moved here from the Mississippi delta.
How would Alinsky organize the black poor? By raising hell, staging picket lines, holding marches. I discovered (great coincidence) that Alinskys top assistant was one Ed Chambers with whom I had gone to school at St. Johns in Minnesota. I met with Alinsky and Chambers and was unimpressed. I didnt see how organizing black ministers with the aid of one powerful Catholic monsignor downtown (Msgr. Jack Egan) to lead pressure tactics was going to get anything more than TV coverage.
I was right. The latest census shows Woodlawn today is much worse off than it was in the `60s: 27,000 people living in 10,000 households, over 90% black, half on public aid and median income under $13,000. Also 60s-style liberal programs have contributed to the breakup of the black families existing there, to be supplanted by gangs. Gangs supply the semblance of solidity families once did and also financial resources for black youth in drug pushing and sales. But life expectancy may be shorter than in Baghdad since rival gangs war on the citizens and society. Liberals only answer: nothing more than ministers and weeping mothers parading with placards and white radical Fr. Michael Pfleger shouting from his pulpit for an end to legal gunshops.
Ah, but if I had only junked Silberman when I rejected Alinsky. No, Silbermans liberal poison of the white man as dispenser of beneficence had seeped into my consciousness. Whitey has a major responsibility to help heroically to enable Negroes to recover their self respect, that merely allowing Negroes equality of opportunity is not enough and that affirmative steps must be taken to ensure that Negroes are assisted more than any other group, including quotas, putting up with temporary inefficiency untilhow long? Until the Negroes are trained.
Misled by that faulty `60s sociology, I left Quaker temporarily, took the job as assistant Commerce secretary, built the nations minority enterprise program under Richard Nixon and. created the model of preferential government contracts for minority businesses that is both used and abused by the feds, states and municipalities even today (I wanted it to last 10 years but its life is now immortal), spawned hundreds of small business investment companies (SBICs) directed only to minorities, not whites.
It didnt pan out. The lowering of standards that Silberman advocated worsened the black feeling of inferiority which was eased by black anger and retaliation, black demands for reparations and foolish connotations of modern slavery. All the help from government and philanthropy unavailing, consider Michelle Obamas well-publicized grievances against a white society that had made special arrangements so she could go to Princeton and Harvard. She couldnt have gone either place on her own and shell never forgive white America for helping her.
Three Proposed Solutions to the Race Problem.
The rancorous national debate on race today is a meld of the contradictory views of black progress enunciated by four very different black men, three of whom clashed a few decades after the Civil War. The question: who was/is right? After years of working on civil rights issues hee and in Washington, I faltered, first believing W. E. B. DuBois was right but after returning to Chicago changed and have remained firm in my contention ever since.
. The two post-Civil War leaders holding radically different views were Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. They were followed later by Marcus Garvey whose thinking spawned Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan and from them a species of black liberation theologians including James H. Cone whose thinking influenced Jeremiah Wright. .
1. Booker T. Washingtons Gradualism Approach.
Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington [1856-1915] fostered the model for newly freed slaves to make the most of freedom (like Obama he came from mixed racial parentage; unlike Obamas Washingtons father was white). That was by education, hard work and family stability. In an address known as The Atlanta Compromise delivered in 1895, Washington told blacks that the goal for them must be education-education-education. Moreover social and political power does not come by fiat or legislationbut only by solid individual accomplishment, one person at a time. He pointed to business participation and more importantly, business ownership, saying that with ownership would come economic independence and from this will come such political and social power as they would deserve. Washington downgraded integration, insisting that southern whites should be given time to adjust to emancipation; until whites catch up, blacks should advance themselves not by voting or running for office but by working and finally owning the land.
2. W.E.D. DuBois Pressure Tactic for Equality.
But a racially diverse group composed of more affluent blacks and liberal whites felt Booker T. was too soft on whitey and not hard enough on the South. They formed the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), ironically picking the name colored people just before the phrase lost acceptability. The guiding star of the NAACP was Washingtons great nemesis, W. E. B. DuBois.
Unlike Washington, DuBois [1868-1963] came from middle-class, almost upper, black stock, born in Massachusetts where his people had benefited as free people of color. He graduated from Harvard college and received his doctorate with honors from there. Insisting that blacks deserved white acceptability immediately, not when whitey got around to accepting blacks. He saw Washington as an apologist for white racism and his call for black self-reliance as a ploy to win favors from whitey (it was but it made brilliant negotiative sense at the time).
DuBois lived long enough to see great changes in race relations, the Supreme Court-ordered end to separate but equal education, the end of Jim Crow, abolition of colored only drinking fountains with more progress on the way. But progress was not enough and, in fact, disillusioned him about the United States (a characteristic duplicated by most black activists endebted to DuBois including Jeremiah Wright). DuBois actually aligned himself with the Communists, served as a front-man for Communist-inspired peace groups during the Cold War and finally left the U. S. with his wife to become a resident of Ghana where he died at 95 on the day of the Martin Luther King I have a dream speech. The audience at the Lincoln Memorial was told of Dr. DuBois death and observed a moment of silence. Thus not for the first time did the civil rights movement of the `60s praise a pro-Communist who actively sided with the nations enemies.
DuBois intellectual legatees were Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor and an agnostic Jew, Saul Alinsky. King preached and practiced non-violence; Alinsky eschewed violence but was prepared to go to the waters edge. Alinsky was aided by the late Msgr. John Egan of Chicago who raised money for his efforts. Indeed, the two Democratic candidates for president, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, had early adopted Alinskys theories though both disclaim it now. Obama as community organizer says in his two autobiographies, he applied Alinskys strategies to try to organize the poor--but has soft-pedaled it greatly as candidate for president. As a Wellesley college graduating senior, Hillary Clinton wrote her honors thesis with the title There is Only the Fight: Analysis of the Alinsky Model. After she became First Lady, the White House press office put a kibosh on release of the thesis. Now she says Alinskys death changed everything about the strategy so her paper is moot. Alinskys methods calling for demonstrations, marches, blistering the white power establishment have been accepted and are de rigeur from Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and even minor league activists for change including Fr. Michael Pfleger. Media have taken up these agitators as civil rights leaders. Now those who espouse Booker T. Washingtons dictum are generally regarded by DuBois followers as tools of the white power trust and reactionary.
3. Garvey, Elijah, Malcolm X, Farrakhan and
One offshoot from Booker T. Washington but ending up far different than he was headed by Marcus Garvey [1887-1947]. Jamaica-born he became a publisher and organizer of the United Negro Improvement Association. Garvey agreed with Booker T. that blacks should tend to their own knitting and avoid getting mixed up in integration activities and heralded Pan-Africanism, a movement that would constitute a black nation within the U.S. with linkage to blacks everywhere in the world. While Washington thought the day would come through gradualism when blacks would be accepted by white and integration would be natural, when DuBois wanted to hasten the day of total equality through legislation and demonstrations, Garvey wanted undiluted black identity, no incremental steps ala Booker T., no push to integration with whitey ala W. E. B. DuBois but black nationalism. This led to the rise of Elijah Mohammad, Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little), Louis Farrakhan and ultimately Obamas one-time spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright. .
Farrakhan (and Wright) specialize in black separatism, brimming with hatred for whitey, the white power structure, the U.S. government and heavy anti-Semitism. Malcolm envisaged a Christianity vastly different from the concept of its Founder, writing The white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze on a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! Were worshiping a Jesus that doesnt even look like us!...The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus and to shout and sing and pray to this God thats his God, the white mans God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, top wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars here on this earth!
Both Malcolm and Louis Farrakhan had been top lieutenantsand rivalsfor Elijahs favor. Malcolm split from Elijah Mohammad purportedly because of Elijahs committing adultery with a bevy of black female staffers and was assassinated while speaking at a rally in 1964, the rumor being that Farrakhan having ordered the killing. The 1995 documentary film Brother Minister shows an extraordinary clip of Farrakhan addressing a closed gathering of his followers in February, 1993. Shouting, his eyes bugging out in rage, Farrakhan describes Malcolm X as a traitor and says that if the Nation of Islam dealt with him as anyother nation would a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours? It suggests powerfully that Malcolm was gunned down by the Fruit of Islam, the Nations trained security wing, acting on a directive from their leaders.
Was Farrakhan himself involved? No telling. Farrakhan came close to acknowledging it on 60 Minutes but then denied it. The columnist-author Christopher Hitchens summarizes that Farrakhan is the man praised by Jeremiah Wright and referred to with respect as Minister Farrakhan by the senator who hopes to be the next president of the United States. However, the Malcolm-Farrakhan message is seemingly identical and was translated into the black power movement by Stokley Carmichael, the Black Panthers and Ron Karenga.
Cone and Wright.
The Malcolm message was converted to a variant of theology by James H. Cone [1938- ] , a one-time follower of Martin Luther King, Jr. who is Charles A.. Briggs Distinguished Professor at Union Theology seminary, New York. In his 1969 seminal book Black Theology & Black Power, Cone put the finishing touches on the religion that Jeremiah Wright encompassed and whose church Obama joined. While Wright differs from Cone in some respects, they are united on the broad basics.
What are they? Cone believes Jesus was black and true Christianity depends on His blackness, thus dwelling of black liberation. Cone summons legitimate anger, dismissing contemporary theologians for dispassion and coolness. He writes of whitey the oppressor. The goal of black intelligentsia is to aid in the destruction of America he writes. In a preface written to Cones book A Black Theology of Liberation, Wright says There will be no peace in America until whites begin to hate their whiteness, asking from the depths of their being `How can we become black? Cone urges blacks to hate whites but denies this is black racismfor there is no black racism. Black racism is a myth created by whites to erase their guilt feelings.
While Booker T., DuBois and King welcomed white liberals to the fray, Malcolm, Farrakhan and Cone resent white liberals because they are as responsible for the black mans plight as the George Wallaces. White liberals want to be loved by blacks but yet retain their power, he says. What can they do to be loved and still stay in the drivers seat? Nothing. Christianity as practiced generally is a false Christianity, Cone says. He shrugs off so-called incremental progress. Instead black theology must confront whitey with a theology that teaches white society as the racist Antichrist, communicating to the oppressor that nothing will be spared in the fight for freedom.
Scholar Stanley Kurtz links Wright with this by pointing out that Wright made his Hyde Park church a dynamic center of black anger, particularly attractive to the middle class (poor blacks are too busy struggling to give much time to victimology). The general view is that Obama came to the church quite as a convertbut it is more likely, given some of the testimony I have heard from people who were at the church during Obamas entry and left, is that the young street organizer joined it in admiration of its 10,000-member strength.
Small, Initial Stirrings of a Black Conservatism.
Recently there has come the beginnings of a new breed of black spokesmen, not indebted to the old DuBois ways nor to Garvey-Malcolm X-Farrakhan. . Talk radio has featured a good many of them including Armstrong Williams and Walter Williams (not related). In Chicago the most profound is Frank Penn, decorated veteran of Vietnam and a former Chicago police officer. One national figure is Juan Williams, NPR political analyst who wrote the captivating book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black Americaand What We Can Do About It [Crown publishers: 2006].
There is one who by entertainment celebrity has made--and can continue to make--a huge difference. His name: Bill Cosby.
His life has been hard hit by racial violence. His son was randomly shot and killed while changing a tire on a Los Angeles freeway. His wife gained national headlines by blaming white racism. Not so Bill Cosby. He (and his wife) have an extensive record of supporting black causesstarting off with $22 million given to Spelman College, the largest individual contribution ever given to a black college.
Without contradicting his wife, he launched a campaign that argues absentee fathers, the rise of black-on-black crime, the spread of hip-hop are evidence that the black community is committing cultural suicide. Blacks are 13% of the population, yet black men account for 49% of this nations murder victims and 41% of the prison population. Teen birth rate for blacks is 63 per 1,000 more than double that for whites. In 2005, black families had the lowest median income of any ethnic group in the Census, making only 61% of the median income of white families. A recent study concluded by the Pew Charitable Trusts has found that the rate at which blacks born in the middle class in the 1960s backslid into poverty (45%), three times that of whites. A terrible statistic.
Thus he has gone on the road to speak about it. Ta-Nehisi Coates in Mays Atlantic Monthly describes it:
He speaks on a stage using a hand-mike in standard uniformdark sunglasses, loafers, a sweat shirt with the seal of the University of Massachusetts where he received a doctorate in education 30 years ago. He has been traveling the nation addressing men onlyblack men. Media is kept out. Men, he says, if you want to win we can win. But we are in a new time when people are behaving in abnormal ways and calling it normal. When they used to come into our neighborhoods we put the kids in the basement, grabbed a rifle and said, By any means necessary.
His message: the civil rights movement is exiting the stage leaving in its wake men hes only speaking to and about men who have shirked their responsibilities for as Cosby sees it the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, marches or pleas but strong families and from them strong communities. To see him perform is to evoke a kind of thrillhes Doctor Cliff Huxtable, the head of one of Americas most beloved TV households in The Bill Cosby Show. Although hes older and greyer now, just a quick athletic turn as he strides and he is once again the Oxford-educated Alexander Scott of the NBC adventure series I Spy in the `60s, the first network program to feature a black in a title role.
He has not been a perfect exemplar all his life. In 2006 he settled a civil lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed sexual assault by him; other allegations have been made by women which have not gone to court. But a Pew survey shows 85% of black respondents feel he has been a good influence on the community, higher than Obama (76%) but lower than Oprah Winfrey (87%).
Says Cosby: The lower economic and lower middle people are not holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on [applause]. In the old days you couldnt hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye [laugher]. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house and where you got on whatever you had and where you got it from. Parents dont know that today.
Im talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? [applause]. And where is his father and how come you dont know where he is? [applause]. Where were you when he was eighteen and how come you dont know he had a pistol? [louder applause]. And why doesnt his father show up to talk to this boy?
Fifty percent drop-out rate. Im telling you and people in jail and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me and as soon as you have it you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother and great grandmother in the same room raising children and the child know nothing about love or respect of any one of the three. All the child knows is gimme, gimme, gimme.
People getting shot in the head over a piece of pound cake. Somebody steals a pound cake out of a Seven-Eleven and runs down the street and is shot in the back of the head. Dead. Then we all run out and are outraged. The cops shouldnt have shot him! I say `what the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? [fervent applause]. I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else and I looked at it and I had no money. Something called parenting said if I get caught with it Im going to embarrass my mother. Im going to embarrass my family!
Listen to these people. They are showing you whats wrong We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans. They dont know a damned thing about Africawith names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crapand all of them in jail!
Good as he is, Cosby isnt as definite on a major cause of black failureillegitimacy and female-headed households--as I would like. Why do blacks lag behind whites in school? Are blacks genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than whites, as Wrights cockeyed brains-wired-differently statement would indicate? Wrong. Granted, blacks score worse than whites on intelligence tests but from eight months to a year there is almost no racial gapwhich indicates that the cause is fractured families. The proportion of black babies born out of wedlock has nearly doubled since 1970, to 69%. And 70% of these births are to mothers who are truly alone, not cohabiting. Ther is no doubt that stable, two-parent families accumulate wealth more easily than single-parent homes. Two-parent families find it easier to raise well-adjusted, studious children who go on to start stable families of their own. Broken families, if middle class, find it harder to stay that way, find it harder to break out. The man who has made the most eloquent case is white, not black: George Gilder whose books Sexual Suicide and Men and Marriage are renowned powerful, courageous.
If Cosby comes to your town, make a point to try to catch his performance. You may not be able to if youre not a black malebut try anyhow. You might buy his latest book, co-written by Dr. Alvin Poussaint (professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School) entitled Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors [Thomas Nelson: 2008]. Both he and Jeremiah Wright went to the same Philadelphia magnet high school a few years apartbut in approach are as different as night and day.
My conclusion, formed in 1971 when I returned to Chicago, is that the approach now articulated by Cosby, mingled with Booker T. Washington gradualism along with a strong insistence on Gilders program of strengthening two-parent families is the answer. Youll find this approach support of two-parent families plus acceptance of continuation of some government help within bounds too slow for W.E.B. DuBois followers and markedly subservient to whitey for Cone and Wright, a path that not just Obama, Clinton wont accept but which all of liberaldom rejects, because it eschews political demagoguery, racial invective, avoids trying to instill white guilt, doesnt blame America, puts less reliance on government and a maximum on individual accomplishment.