December 2, 2014
In the South, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu angered Republicans when she pointed out the obvious, which is that President Obama’s unpopularity in the South is tied to the problem of race.
“I'll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” Landrieu said. “It's been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
In response, Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana) called Landrieu’s statement “remarkably divisive.” Meanwhile, state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere said her remarks were “insulting to me and to every other Louisianian,” adding “Louisiana deserves better than a senator who denigrates her own people by questioning and projecting insidious motives on the very people she claims to represent.”
Earlier in the election season, one Cajun voter had choice words for Senator “Obama lady” and her support for that black man’s healthcare: “I don’t vote for black people, lady,” he said. “No, ma’am. I don’t vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That’s the way I was raised.”
The senator’s comments—so simple yet so profound—reveal much about the South, and the eternal Civil War that Southern conservatives continue to wage against black people. Specifically, Southern conservatives and their problematic racial attitudes translate into destructive policies for the nation, particularly voter suppression and disenfranchisement. And despite the positive changes taking place in the South, this region of the country cannot shake off its legacy of Jefferson Davis and Bull Connor, of criminalizing people of color and depriving them of their rights.
The Landrieu family typifies the complexities of race in the South. The senator’s father, Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans from 1970 to 1978. Claiming victory with a progressive biracial coalition of blacks and middle-class whites, Moon Landrieu was credited with opening up opportunities for blacks. And for his support of civil rights, he was called “Moon the Coon” and “n*gger lover.”
When Moon Landrieu’s son Mitch ran to become NOLA’s first white mayor since his father, some in the black community wondered if the candidate would come clean about the family’s purported African ancestry. In a nation where one drop of black blood made you black under Jim Crow laws—and to be black was wear the badge of slavery—many light-skinned blacks were known to pass for white, disappear into white society, even abandon their families to make it in America.
And New Orleans, with its history of racial ambiguities, became ground zero for the system of Jim Crow segregation. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court legally sanctioned Jim Crow, providing it with the constitutional legitimacy it would enjoy until the civil rights movement and the Brown school desegregation decision. Homer Plessy—an octoroon who was seven-eighths white and not visibly black--violated Louisiana’s Separate Car Act by sitting in a whites-only railroad car. He had been recruited by the Citizens’ Committee of New Orleans to help bring down racial segregation laws. The court ruled in favor of separate but equal accommodations for the races. But in reality, Jim Crow depended on upholding white superiority and maintaining the subordination of blacks. Clearly demarcating the color line, the Supreme Court validated whiteness as a property right. In determining who was white and black and what that meant for each, Plessy revealed race to be a random and capricious, yet potent political construct.
And in the name of upholding the white race and keeping the emancipated slaves out of power, the former Confederate states enacted voter suppression and voter disenfranchisement measures, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and the implied and actual threat of Klan violence and lynching. The black members of Congress, all Republican, dwindled due to black voter disenfranchisement. The last man standing, Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina-- the first to introduce a federal anti-lynching bill in Congress, and who proposed penalizing Southern states for disenfranchising blacks— addressed the House floor at the end of his term in 1901:
“Mr. Chairman, before concluding my remarks I want to submit a brief recipe for the solution of the so-called ‘American Negro problem.’ He asks no special favors, but simply demands that he be given the same chance for existence, for earning a livelihood, for raising himself in the scales of manhood and womanhood, that are accorded to kindred nationalities.”
A black face would not return to Congress until 1928, or represent a Southern state until 1972.
In the interim, martyrs were created fighting for the right to vote. Southern states incorporated the confederate “stars and bars” into their state flags to protest desegregation. The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed. And the segregationist Dixiecrats changed teams. Capitalizing on Southern white resentment over the civil rights gains made by African-Americans, the Republican Party assumed the mantle of whiteness. Today’s Republican brand rests on white supremacy, with a Southern Strategy that lured disaffected whites away from the Democrats.
In 27 states, GOP election officials have launched a massive voter purge scheme called the Interstate Crosscheck program, as was reported by Al Jazeera. With 7 million names targeted for scrubbing from the voter rolls, the program weighs heavily towards people of color-sounding names. In a nation where voter fraud is nonexistent, Republicans would have us believe that 1 in 7 African-Americans, 1 in 8 Asian- and Latino-Americans, and 1 in 11 whites may have voted twice. What we are experiencing is a twenty-first century Reconstruction era, with massive voter suppression not unlike the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Add to that the restrictive voter ID laws, and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Republican-owned Supreme Court.
And now, Mary Landrieu is the last white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South, as she faces a runoff to salvage her job. And one of the few faces of color in the GOP, Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), of Sikh descent, defended the flying of the Confederate flag at the State House in Columbia. Haley is responsible for Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the first Southern black Republican elected to Congress since Rep. White left in 1901. Scott, who repudiates those who compare Republicans to confederates—yet will not reject the Jim Crow voter suppression policies of his own party—is no George White.
Meanwhile, we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the savage police attack on peaceful protestors on the Edmund Pettis Bridge known as Bloody Sunday. The march, which is dramatized in the upcoming film Selma, led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. And racial politics have come full circle, and we are once again fighting against the war on voting rights. And we have to ask, what is going on here, and will it take another civil rights movement to stop the Republican Party?
September 25, 2014
July 22, 2014
The decision by NBA player LeBron James to leave the Miami Heat and return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers is a testament to his character and holds lessons for us all.
Cleveland is not the type of place that people usually return to once they've hit the big time.
In 2010, Cleveland topped Forbes' list of most miserable cities, with high unemployment and a loss of manufacturing jobs, a massive foreclosure problem, abandoned homes, poorly performing schools, crime, and pollution.
"My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," James told Sports Illustrated. "I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."
He acknowledged the problems that Cleveland and his hometown of Akron, Ohio, have faced. "Our community," he said, "has struggled so much," and "it needs all the talent it can get."
In so doing, James cast a spotlight on problems that many of our cities face due to deindustrialization, neglect, and cruel policies.
For example, Detroit fell victim to years of population decline, an exodus to the suburbs, and an eroding tax base, culminating in an undemocratic state takeover of the predominantly African American city by Gov. Rick Snyder. Recently, the city government moved to shut water service to thousands of people who could not afford to pay, prompting some Detroit residents to seek help from the United Nations.
Chicago continues to be plagued by gun violence, with at least nine dead and 60 injured over the Fourth of July weekend, and three dead and 28 wounded the following weekend. Chicago also closed 50 of its public schools last year, an unprecedented blow to the predominantly African American and Latino children who depend on them.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia has fallen prey to Tom Corbett, the tea-party governor of Pennsylvania, where debates on public education funding rage while the state builds new prisons and gives large tax breaks to corporations.
By coming back to Cleveland, LeBron James can show the country that there is a more compassionate way to handle our urban problems.
In the last few years, James has shown that he is not afraid to speak out on political issues. He denounced the death of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin, and he condemned the racist statements made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Some star athletes such as Michael Jordan have embraced product endorsements but have eschewed community involvement and taking a stand, while other players have attracted attention for their personal exploits and foolish financial decisions.
LeBron James harkens back to the days of the socially conscious athletes, before the multimillion-dollar contracts. And he is setting the standard for the role of the athlete today.
"You know, God gave me a gift to do other things besides play the game of basketball," he said.
He has his priorities straight. So should we.
July 8, 2014
Fifty years ago this month, three young civil rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss. One was an African-American, and the other two were Jewish-Americans. Their last names — Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner — stand for the martyrdom of that era.
On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were murdered while in Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote during Freedom Summer. The men, all members of the Congress of Racial Equality, were investigating the burning of a black church when they were stopped and jailed by a deputy sheriff who was a member of the Klan. The three were released on bail but later shot to death by a lynch mob of Klan members, who buried them in an earthen dam.
Two days later, federal agents found the activists’ burned station wagon, and on August 4, their bodies were found. Nineteen men were indicted in federal court. After a three-year trial, seven of the defendants were found guilty, nine were acquitted, and the all-white jury deadlocked on the remaining three defendants.
It was the first time anyone was convicted of crimes against civil rights workers. This horrific crime opened America’s eyes to the brutality of racism, and that realization played an important role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/15/4176746/fifty-years-after-mississippi.html#storylink=cpy
May 7, 2014
In recent weeks there have been a number of news stories about young black men who were accepted to numerous elite colleges, including any and all of the blue chip, Ivy League schools of their choice. All of these positive news stories have provided a welcome respite from the usual fare, the portrayals of black youth as dangerous thugs, uneducated, unproductive, and a criminal element.
To be sure, as perhaps the most vulnerable demographic in America, black men have it hard. We are demonized, scapegoated and vilified, and the prisons are more than ready to accommodate us. And yet, we succeed against all odds. We always have suffered, and we always have demonstrated excellence. But I wonder, just for a second, for all of the black boys who are cultivated and supported, how many more are discouraged from succeeding on purpose?
The acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson never ceases to illuminate and educate whenever he opens his mouth, and remarks he made five years ago about the shortage of women in science are no exception. Answering a question about the predominance of male scientists and whether it is genetically related -- as former Harvard president and Treasury Secretary Larry Summers suggested -- Tyson used the opportunity to speak to the barriers facing African-Americans such as himself when he was growing up.
I've never been female, but I've been black all my life and so let me perhaps offer some insight from that perspective. I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expressions of these ambitions. All I can say that is the fact that I wanted to be a scientist, an astrophysicist was, hands-down, the path of most resistance through the forces of society.
Tyson noted that whenever he expressed this interest in becoming a scientist, teachers steered him towards athletics, throwing curveballs at every turn. And now one of the most prominent scientific minds around, this African-American man had aroused suspicion at the department store.
Now here I am, I think, one of the most visible scientists in the land. And I look behind me and I say, "Where are the others who might have been this?" And they're not there. And I wonder: Where is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not simply because of the forces of society that prevent it at every turn?
The forces of society to which Tyson is referring are engaged in a collective effort. Certainly, individuals such as Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and Nevada rancher-turned-conservative folk hero Cliven Bundy do their part with their racist rants and dehumanization of people of color. Surely these men would love to stifle the aspirations of black children if they had half the chance and the power to make it happen. The former profits from the labor of young black men in a black basketball league, yet does not want black folks at his basketball games. And the latter believes the "Negro" was "better under slavery" than "under government subsidy."
Meanwhile, others -- hate groups, militias and the like -- use violence and physical force rather than simply hateful words alone to make their point.
Ultimately, these angry individuals are characterized as a small, isolated group of nut jobs, often dismissed as innocuous when someone is not out there defending them. However, they are emboldened to make such statements and take certain actions because the path has been cleared for them. The national climate is shaped by policy makers who make the laws, and those with the money and power to purchase those laws.
Offended as I am by Donald Sterling's statement, I care more about his long history of discriminating against blacks and Latinos. I am concerned when Rep. Paul Ryan invokes Charles Murray, speaks of a culture in the inner cities where men do not work, and then has the power to legislate his racism. Further, I am outraged when Justices Scalia, Thomas and the rest of the Supreme Court's reactionary bloc uphold affirmative action bans and gut the Voting Rights Act, halting racial justice while declaring that racism is over. Gerrymandering, voter ID and Stand Your Ground are what racially offensive statements look like when codified into law.
An African-American presidency does not make a post-racial society, but creates a racial backlash. Throw in some micoraggression for good measure. At a time when the country is browning, some people do not like what they see, so they want to take their country back. If you require proof, you need only recall Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's disrespectful finger wagging at President Obama. Or take a look at a recent exchange between Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Black men are the perennial defendants, guilty until proven innocent of no crimes in particular, and everything in general. A jury of their "peers" comes in the form of a stacked deck, or a mob, the all-white or predominantly white jury in which the peers have been removed from the jury and silenced.
I know that as a parent of a black child, it is my responsibility first and foremost to nourish, nurture and validate him. For all of its promise, this nation presents a harsh climate for black boys, and it always did. At the same time, I must hope for an America where the resistance to my son's success is no longer normalized. This is not the 1950s, but sometimes it sure feels like it.