A Frank Conversation on Race — Part 1 — October 25, 2008
I understand our aversion to discussing this matter given the historic (and might I add brilliant campaign) Senator Barack Obama has embarked upon for President of the United States of America, but it’s an aversion that must be dispensed with as soon as possible. For the reality of the matter is Black America cannot afford for even a minute to remain silent regarding the disastrous conditions that are crippling our communities for the sake of temporary racial conciliation.
Today, many of the most vociferous (and overexposed) voices regarding race in America argue that African Americans are to blame for many of the racial disparities that are destroying our communities today: skyrocketing unemployment rates; alarming levels of incarceration; growing educational disparities; culminating with the dissolution of African American families, neighborhoods, and communities across our nation. These voices point to the pervasiveness of black criminality and violence; the proliferation of a tacit, if not outright dismissal of the importance of educational attainment; and our failure to capitalize upon hard fought opportunities afforded us by previous generations as inexcusable.
And yes, admittedly, painfully, I will concur that much of it is true. There is considerable validity to the argument that African Americans must take responsibility for, and more importantly agency over the issues that are afflicting us.
However, Black America has ceded too much ground, allowing the marketplace of ideas in which our lives are being deliberated to shift, becoming inundated with the aforementioned perspectives. And as a result of our relative silence, an endless stream of articles and primetime exposes have managed to foment too frequent characterizations of African Americans as slothful, under-qualified beneficiaries of set asides, corrupted morally and otherwise; certainly not deserved of a hand out or more accurately a hand up. The most disturbing manifestation of these images can be found in seamless depictions of African American men caricatured as lazy, irresponsible deadbeats, bent on lustful intentions and visions of criminal grandeur.
While these types of caricatures abound, it’s no wonder young black men’s lives are regarded with so little value. Or do we need to be reminded about Jena 6, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo?
It is this relative silence and accompanying shift that provided space for radical, rightwing ideologues such Pat Buchanan to draft his “Brief for Whitey.”; stereotyping African Americans as immature, ungrateful whiners for daring to speak to the racial disparities that exist in U.S. society. Buchanan states, “First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”. To summarize the article, Buchanan basically states that African Americans should simply shut up frankly, acknowledge white America as our saviors, be appreciative for the trillions of dollars spent to uplift our ungrateful derrieres out of Africa, and enjoy living in America.
Buchanan’s racist rant exemplifies the convenient ignorance and feigned naiveté that he and his ilk employ to de-legitimize efforts to deal with the savage inequalities that are ravaging Black America, and United States society in general for that matter. And trust that he is not alone, for his perspective is very much shared by a large, and well endowed silent majority that shares his perspectives. And it is this pervasively ignorant and myopic school of thought that must be confronted immediately for the sake of our children, and to be quite honest, for the sake of this nation.
Indeed, America must be reminded that this country’s survival was improbable at best, without the implementation of one of the greatest crimes against humanity the world has ever known. All Americans need to be informed that slavery was and is not some brief, inconsequential period of temporary bad behavior to be relegated to a couple paragraphs in our high school textbooks. Slavery was a brutal, government-sponsored institution that destroyed lives for a period of two centuries. Two hundred years. Six generations. In fact as Douglas A. Blackmon’s, Wall Street Journal contributor and author, “Slavery by Another Name” clearly demonstrates slavery did not cease until four decades into the 20th century. Indeed, the untold trillions of dollars Buchanan laments about are but a penance in comparison to the unimaginable, massive amount of wealth this country — specifically white America — accrued due to our blood, sweat, and tears literally.
The reality of the matter is that many of the rights and privileges that are enjoyed disproportionately by U.S. citizens would not have been if it were not for the strivings of African Americans for liberty and justice in this country. It seems too many of us have conveniently forgotten that the right to vote was reserved for white, wealthy male property owners before the dawn of the 20th century. Perhaps the silent majority (and many of us unfortunately) need to be reminded that Affirmative Action resulted in greater access to employment and educational opportunities for all Americans — specifically white women more than any other group. In fact, the supermajority of all legislation, policies, and efforts to protect the rights of African Americans have inevitably led to greater opportunity for Americans across the board, regardless of ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, class, etc.
The truth of the matter is America has a lot to thank Black America for. And I have only scratched the surface regarding the contributions we have made to this country. And let’s say for the sake of reconciliation we were to tolerate the ignorance of Buchanan and others, and accept that Affirmative Action benefited mythical hordes of African Americans. Does anyone really want to argue that once we gained entry into mainstream arenas of employment and education, that we have not had to work as hard as our lackluster white male counterparts, and be as good as the best of them? Really?
Perhaps, the most glaring illustration of the need for a renewed discussion concerning race in this country can be gleaned (brace yourselves) from the platform of Senator Barack Obama himself. Certainly, while I emphatically disagree with the venue and the verbiage Jesse Jackson chose to vent his disgust (nor do I trust his motivations completely), let’s not pretend he did not have a legitimate bone to pick with Obama. Let us not forget that when Obama weighed in on issues relating to fatherhood specifically, he spoke to Black America as if fathers were simply lying around, not accepting responsibility because they lack the desire.
Additionally, check out his platform. It’s rather inclusive, mentioning Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, women, the disabled….but only mentions African Americans I believe only once, maybe twice. I’m thinking this should inspire an umm hmmm moment given issues such as the inaccessibility of healthcare, racial intolerance, and unemployment rates, if I’m not mistaken, tend to impact African Americans disproportionately.
The long and short of it is, by no means should African Americans be afraid or shrink when it comes to insisting that issues that disproportionately impact our community be addressed.
And yes, still Vote Barack Obama for President.