Being a ‘good’ white person or a liberal white person won’t get you off the hook.
In the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the closing remarks at the March on Washington. More than 200,000 people gathered to cast a national spotlight on and mobilize resistance to Jim Crow, racist laws and policies that disenfranchised black Americans and mandated segregated housing, schools, and employment. Today, more than 50 years later, remnants of Jim Crow segregation persist in the form of mass incarceration—the imprisonment of millions of Americans, overwhelmingly and disproportionately black adults, in local, state, and federal prisons.
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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
BECAUSE OF FEAR AND COMPLACENCY, DON’T EXPECT ANYMORE FROM THE BLACK MIS-LEADERSHIP CLASS THAN WHAT WE HAVE. IT WILL TAKE CONSCIOUS BLACK PEOPLE BOTH IN THE DIASPORA AND ON THE CONTINENT, TO FORGE BETTER RELATIONSHIP’S FOR THE SALVATION OF OUR PEOPLE! IT WILL HAPPEN, AND IS HAPPENING NOW. BECOME PART OF A CONSCIOUS BLACK ORGANIZATION TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, BE PART OF A SOLUTION, NOT THE PROBLEM. HERE ARE JUST A FEW.
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Trump’s disregard for Africa and its affairs is worrying but presents a unique opportunity for progressive black leaders to shape US foreign policy
Trump has exhibited an unabashed lack of interest in Africa. This is a continent where numerous countries play a key role in the US war on terrorism. Africa’s geopolitical importance also extends from its numerous natural resources, which are essential to global manufacturing industries. Other areas of import include its growing population, China’s broadening involvement, and rapid democratisation in many countries.
Trump’s lack of substantive interest in African affairs is worrying. But his disregard presents a unique opportunity for progressive leadership to shape US foreign policy.
The political left should leverage Trump’s foreign policy weaknesses to strengthen rather than weaken international partnerships. This is much the same as Democrats did during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The left should also expand rather than retract US support for Africa’s democracies, democratic movements and its economic development.
African American elected officials, in particular, have an opportunity – if not an obligation – to reassert themselves on African affairs.
Visionary leadership in dark times
I was fortunate to come of age during the 1980s. It was a decade in which the Congressional Black Caucus exercised considerable influence on African affairs. In fact, it had greater influence than any African American organisation in history.
Reagan viewed issues of the global south through a Cold War lens. He was fixated on anticommunism. Such a narrow framework blurred the details of local and regional politics. But it provided opportunities for the Black Caucus to shape political narratives that advocated a radical departure from traditional US-Africa relations.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Black Caucus’s initiatives toward African countries were shaped by progressive, activist politicians. Their roots lay in the civil rights struggle, the Black Power Movement and organised labour.
This high water mark of African American influence was a unique moment in US history. It holds many lessons for today’s politics. To effectively mobilise African American congressional leadership, it is useful to understand the Black Caucus’s strategic vision, nimbleness and political acumen during the 1980s. This was the decade of strength, despite the obstacles of the Reagan administration’s fixation on communism.
Congressman Charles Diggs, a radical Democrat from Detroit, Michigan, was the founding chairman of the Black Caucus in 1971. He and his colleagues thrust African issues into congressional foreign policy debates. These included apartheid in South Africa, ongoing Portuguese colonialism, white-minority rule in Rhodesia and democracy and oil in Nigeria.
Diggs was a model activist legislator. He led official delegations to Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. He also created an NGO to raise awareness and funds in response to the growing famine in the Sahel.
Under his leadership, the Black Caucus submitted legislation and resolutions to steer US policy toward a country-specific approach and away from anticommunism as the determinant for where the US engaged in Africa.
During the 1980s activist Black Caucus members demonstrated solidarity with leftist regimes in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. They led the push for historic anti-apartheid legislation in 1986 and record-level famine relief in 1985. They pushed the US government to give greater market access to African goods and political and humanitarian support for southern Africa’s Front Line States, the organisation of southern African countries opposed to apartheid.
The number of African Americans in Congress increased during this period. They asserted themselves as the most strident critics of Reagan’s Africa policies. The Black Caucus countered his deleterious programmes with the triple threat of legislation, mass organising and protests. They also coordinated with organisations such as the Free South Africa Movement and, beginning in the late 1970s, TransAfrica. Black Caucus members helped launch both organisations.
These are mere snapshots of the array of issues that kept the Black Caucus at the centre of US political discourse through the 1990s.
The decline of the Black Caucus
The Black Caucus continued with some relevance into the new century. But its collective voice has diminished to near silence. Many factors contributed to its current weak and largely symbolic political position.
In 1995, Congress eliminated funding for all legislative service organisations, including the Caucus. This forced its members to raise money for their initiatives.
Another constraint was George W. Bush’s War on Terror. This radical foreign policy crowded out possibilities for a progressive, humane foreign policy toward global south nations in the early 2000s.
During the Obama presidency, African American elected officials generally avoided presenting alternatives to the president’s policies. They feared weakening his capacity to withstand attacks from the right. Without this tacit support, it would have been impossible to push his policies past an obstructionist Republican-controlled House and Senate.
The Trump mandate
The consequences for African economies will be dire if Trump privileges a terrorism lens and pulls away from trade agreements, as he has threatened.
His trade policies will imperil the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which President Bill Clinton signed in 2000. The result will be increased tariffs on US imports from Africa. The Black Caucus must make the importance of AGOA evident to the public and the new US president. It must work to protect this legislation.
The Black Caucus must chart the US economic path in Africa. Trump’s protectionist policies will cause the economies of the leading US trading partners in Africa – South Africa, Nigeria and Angola – to tailspin. The Black Caucus should use press conferences, press releases, conferences and legislation to make clear the ways the US benefits from these African economic giants.
Ethiopia is also a country to watch. Although US-Ethiopian relations have recently strained around human rights and governance issues, Ethiopia has enjoyed a special status under Obama. This is largely through its cooperation in fighting terrorist groups in East Africa and its contracts with the Boeing Company. The Black Caucus must raise awareness of the US-Ethiopian partnership. But it must also demonstrate support for the ongoing movement for true democracy and political freedoms in Ethiopia.
In addition, the Black Caucus should outline specific ways the new administration might bolster the vibrant democracies of Ghana, Namibia, and Botswana. They must be promoted as examples for the entire continent.
Recently, its members have spoken out forcefully in support of the kidnapped Nigerian school girls. Their actions are laudable. But symbolic stances must be accompanied by policy and security recommendations for the US as it confronts Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
During the Trump presidency, African American elected officials would do well to look at their own history of acting within Congress on behalf of African governments, movements and issues for strategies toward a progressive agenda on African affairs. It is imperative that the Black Caucus define the popular narrative for the US approach to African countries. They should weaken Trump’s hand before he whittles Africa into a caricature of terrorism, poverty and migration across the Mediterranean. History is the Caucus’s greatest weapon.Post Views: 318
By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
There are several Black owned businesses that are located throughout the United States. These businesses focus vary in the different types of services which they provide, and many of them rank high just as their counterpart owned businesses by White Americans. There are some cities that stand out among the rest for being the cities with the highest percentage of Black-Owned Businesses.
1. Baltimore, Maryland: Baltimore, Maryland is by no surprise at the top of the list for the city with the most owned African-American businesses. Despite the recent riots there are over 35 percent Black-owned businesses in the area.
2. Atlanta, Georgia: It comes as no surprise that Atlanta, Georgia made the list. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the south with newly Black owned businesses popping up almost every day. It made second on the list with 31 percent of the businesses owned by African Americans.
3. Washington, DC: Washington, DC scored 3rd on the list with 28 percent of their businesses owned by African-Americans. With some of the top HBCU schools in the area, this actually comes as no surprise.
4. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Regardless of what many people think, there are Black people located in the mid-west, and many of them own their own businesses. There are 22 percent businesses in the area owned by African-Americans; this made Milwaukee top the list at number 4.
5. Kansas City, Missouri: Kansas City is second in the Midwest and scored 5 on the list, but there are over 13 percent businesses in the area that are owned and operated by African-Americans.
Other cities that made the list but did not make the top 5 are:
- Denver, Colorado-4.3%
- Seattle Washington-3.7%
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – 2.1%
- Mesa, Arizona – 2.1%
- Tucson, Arizona – 1.8%
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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
In 2015, I conducted a series of 19 interviews with philosophers and public intellectuals on the issue of race. My aim was to engage, in this very public space, with the often unnamed elephant in the room.
These discussions helped me, and I hope many of our readers, to better understand how race continues to function in painful ways within our country. That was one part of a gift that I wanted to give to readers of The Stone, the larger philosophical community, and the world.
The interviewees themselves — bell hooks, Cornel West, Judith Butler, Peter Singer, David H. Kim, Molefi Kete Asante among them — came from a variety of racial backgrounds, and their concerns and positions were even more diverse. But on the whole I came to see these interviews as linked by a common thread: They were messages to white America — because they often directly expressed the experience of those who live and have lived as people of color in a white-run world, and that is something no white person could ever truly know firsthand.
That is how I want to deliver my own message now.
Dear White America,
I have a weighty request. As you read this letter, I want you to listen with love, a sort of love that demands that you look at parts of yourself that might cause pain and terror, as James Baldwin would say. Did you hear that? You may have missed it. I repeat: I want you to listen with love. Well, at least try.
We don’t talk much about the urgency of love these days, especially within the public sphere. Much of our discourse these days is about revenge, name calling, hate, and divisiveness. I have yet to hear it from our presidential hopefuls, or our political pundits. I don’t mean the Hollywood type of love, but the scary kind, the kind that risks not being reciprocated, the kind that refuses to flee in the face of danger. To make it a bit easier for you, I’ve decided to model, as best as I can, what I’m asking of you. Let me demonstrate the vulnerability that I wish you to show. As a child of Socrates, James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, let me speak the truth, refuse to err on the side of caution.
This letter is a gift for you. Bear in mind, though, that some gifts can be heavy to bear. You don’t have to accept it; there is no obligation. I give it freely, believing that many of you will throw the gift back in my face, saying that I wrongly accuse you, that I am too sensitive, that I’m a race hustler, and that I blame white people (you) for everything.
I have read many of your comments. I have even received some hate mail. In this letter, I ask you to look deep, to look into your souls with silence, to quiet that voice that will speak to you of your white “innocence.” So, as you read this letter, take a deep breath. Make a space for my voice in the deepest part of your psyche. Try to listen, to practice being silent. There are times when you must quiet your own voice to hear from or about those who suffer in ways that you do not.
What if I told you that I’m sexist? Well, I am. Yes. I said it and I mean just that. I have watched my male students squirm in their seats when I’ve asked them to identify and talk about their sexism. There are few men, I suspect, who would say that they are sexists, and even fewer would admit that their sexism actually oppresses women. Certainly not publicly, as I’ve just done. No taking it back now.
To make things worse, I’m an academic, a philosopher. I’m supposed to be one of the “enlightened” ones. Surely, we are beyond being sexists. Some, who may genuinely care about my career, will say that I’m being too risky, that I am jeopardizing my academic livelihood. Some might even say that as a black male, who has already been stereotyped as a “crotch-grabbing, sexual fiend,” that I’m at risk of reinforcing that stereotype. (Let’s be real, that racist stereotype has been around for centuries; it is already part of white America’s imaginary landscape.)
Yet, I refuse to remain a prisoner of the lies that we men like to tell ourselves — that we are beyond the messiness of sexism and male patriarchy, that we don’t oppress women. Let me clarify. This doesn’t mean that I intentionally hate women or that I desire to oppress them. It means that despite my best intentions, I perpetuate sexism every day of my life. Please don’t take this as a confession for which I’m seeking forgiveness. Confessions can be easy, especially when we know that forgiveness is immediately forthcoming.
As a sexist, I have failed women. I have failed to speak out when I should have. I have failed to engage critically and extensively their pain and suffering in my writing. I have failed to transcend the rigidity of gender roles in my own life. I have failed to challenge those poisonous assumptions that women are “inferior” to men or to speak out loudly in the company of male philosophers who believe that feminist philosophy is just a nonphilosophical fad. I have been complicit with, and have allowed myself to be seduced by, a country that makes billions of dollars from sexually objectifying women, from pornography, commercials, video games, to Hollywood movies. I am not innocent.
I have been fed a poisonous diet of images that fragment women into mere body parts. I have also been complicit with a dominant male narrative that says that women enjoy being treated like sexual toys. In our collective male imagination, women are “things” to be used for our visual and physical titillation. And even as I know how poisonous and false these sexist assumptions are, I am often ambushed by my own hidden sexism. I continue to see women through the male gaze that belies my best intentions not to sexually objectify them. Our collective male erotic feelings and fantasies are complicit in the degradation of women. And we must be mindful that not all women endure sexual degradation in the same way.
Don’t tell me that you voted for Obama. Don’t tell me that you don’t see color. Don’t tell me that I’m blaming whites for everything. To do so is to hide yet again.
I recognize how my being a sexist has a differential impact on black women and women of color who are not only victims of racism, but also sexism, my sexism. For example, black women and women of color not only suffer from sexual objectification, but the ways in which they are objectified is linked to how they are racially depicted, some as “exotic” and others as “hyper-sexual.” You see, the complicity, the responsibility, the pain that I cause runs deep. And, get this. I refuse to seek shelter; I refuse to live a lie. So, every day of my life I fight against the dominant male narrative, choosing to see women as subjects, not objects. But even as I fight, there are moments of failure. Just because I fight against sexism does not give me clean hands, as it were, at the end of the day; I continue to falter, and I continue to oppress. And even though the ways in which I oppress women is unintentional, this does not free me of being responsible.
If you are white, and you are reading this letter, I ask that you don’t run to seek shelter from your own racism. Don’t hide from your responsibility. Rather, begin, right now, to practice being vulnerable. Being neither a “good” white person nor a liberal white person will get you off the proverbial hook. I consider myself to be a decent human being. Yet, I’m sexist. Take another deep breath. I ask that you try to be “un-sutured.” If that term brings to mind a state of pain, open flesh, it is meant to do so. After all, it is painful to let go of your “white innocence,” to use this letter as a mirror, one that refuses to show you what you want to see, one that demands that you look at the lies that you tell yourself so that you don’t feel the weight of responsibility for those who live under the yoke of whiteness, your whiteness.
I can see your anger. I can see that this letter is being misunderstood. This letter is not asking you to feel bad about yourself, to wallow in guilt. That is too easy. I’m asking for you to tarry, to linger, with the ways in which you perpetuate a racist society, the ways in which you are racist. I’m now daring you to face a racist history which, paraphrasing Baldwin, has placed you where you are and that has formed your own racism. Again, in the spirit of Baldwin, I am asking you to enter into battle with your white self. I’m asking that you open yourself up; to speak to, to admit to, the racist poison that is inside of you.
Again, take a deep breath. Don’t tell me about how many black friends you have. Don’t tell me that you are married to someone of color. Don’t tell me that you voted for Obama. Don’t tell me that I’m the racist. Don’t tell me that you don’t see color. Don’t tell me that I’m blaming whites for everything. To do so is to hide yet again. You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism. After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.
As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering. Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist. That is the gift that I want you to accept, to embrace. It is a form of knowledge that is taboo. Imagine the impact that the acceptance of this gift might have on you and the world.
Take another deep breath. I know that there are those who will write to me in the comment section with boiling anger, sarcasm, disbelief, denial. There are those who will say, “Yancy is just an angry black man.” There are others who will say, “Why isn’t Yancy telling black people to be honest about the violence in their own black neighborhoods?” Or, “How can Yancy say that all white people are racists?” If you are saying these things, then you’ve already failed to listen. I come with a gift. You’re already rejecting the gift that I have to offer. This letter is about you. Don’t change the conversation. I assure you that so many black people suffering from poverty and joblessness, which is linked to high levels of crime, are painfully aware of the existential toll that they have had to face because they are black and, as Baldwin adds, “for no other reason.”
Some of your white brothers and sisters have made this leap. The legal scholar Stephanie M. Wildman, has written, “I simply believe that no matter how hard I work at not being racist, I still am. Because part of racism is systemic, I benefit from the privilege that I am struggling to see.” And the journalism professor Robert Jensen: “I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. Every time I walk into a store at the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege.”
What I’m asking is that you first accept the racism within yourself, accept all of the truth about what it means for you to be white in a society that was created for you. I’m asking for you to trace the binds that tie you to forms of domination that you would rather not see. When you walk into the world, you can walk with assurance; you have already signed a contract, so to speak, that guarantees you a certain form of social safety.
Baldwin argues for a form of love that is “a state of being, or state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” Most of my days, I’m engaged in a personal and societal battle against sexism. So many times, I fail. And so many times, I’m complicit. But I refuse to hide behind that mirror that lies to me about my “non-sexist nobility.” Baldwin says, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” In my heart, I’m done with the mask of sexism, though I’m tempted every day to wear it. And, there are times when it still gets the better of me.
White America, are you prepared to be at war with yourself, your white identity, your white power, your white privilege? Are you prepared to show me a white self that love has unmasked? I’m asking for love in return for a gift; in fact, I’m hoping that this gift might help you to see yourself in ways that you have not seen before. Of course, the history of white supremacy in America belies this gesture of black gift-giving, this gesture of non-sentimental love. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered even as he loved.
Perhaps the language of this letter will encourage a split — not a split between black and white, but a fissure in your understanding, a space for loving a Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald and others. I’m suggesting a form of love that enables you to see the role that you play (even despite your anti-racist actions) in a system that continues to value black lives on the cheap.
Take one more deep breath. I have another gift.
If you have young children, before you fall off to sleep tonight, I want you to hold your child. Touch your child’s face. Smell your child’s hair. Count the fingers on your child’s hand. See the miracle that is your child. And then, with as much vision as you can muster, I want you to imagine that your child is black.
George YancyPost Views: 180