Sunday, January 18, 2009

When Are We Going To Get Over It?

(BLOGGER'S NOTE:) This article is how race and racism should be discussed in the United States. The frankness, openness and honesty of Professor Andrew M. Manis is rare among white Americans, and is to be commended...

For much of the last 40 years, ever since America "fixed" its race problem in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, we white people have been impatient with African-Americans who continued to blame race for their difficulties. Often we have heard whites ask, "When are African-Americans finally going to get over it?" Now I want to ask "When are we white Americans going to get over our ridiculous obsession with skin color?"

Recent reports that "Election Spurs 'Hundreds' of Race Threats, Crimes" should frighten and infuriate every one of us. Having grown up in "Bombingham," Ala., in the 1960s, I remember overhearing an avalanche of comments about what many white classmates and their parents wanted to do to John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Eventually, as you may recall, in all three cases, someone decided to do more than "talk the talk." Since our recent presidential election, to our eternal shame, we are once again hearing the same reprehensible talk I remember from my boyhood.

We white people have controlled political life in the disunited colonies and United States for some 400 years on this continent. Conservative whites have been in power 28 of the last 40 years. Even during the eight Clinton years, conservatives in Congress blocked most of his agenda and pulled him to the right.

Yet never in that period did I read any headlines suggesting that anyone was calling for the assassinations of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan or either of the Bushes. Criticize them, yes. Call for their impeachment, perhaps. But there were no bounties on their heads. And even when someone did try to kill Ronald Reagan, the perpetrator was a nonpolitical mental case who wanted merely to impress Jodie Foster.

But elect a liberal who happens to be black, and we're back in the '60s again. At this point in our history, we should be proud that we've proven what conservatives are always saying "” that in America anything is possible, electing a black man as president. But instead, we now hear schoolchildren from Maine to California are talking about wanting to "assassinate Obama."

Fighting the urge to throw up, I can only ask, "How long?" How long before we white people realize we can't make our nation, much less the whole world, look like us? How long until we white people can -- once and for all -- get over this hell-conceived preoccupation with skin color? How long until we white people get over the demonic conviction that white skin makes us superior? How long before we white people get over our bitter resentments about being demoted to the status of equality with nonwhites?

How long before we get over our expectations that we should be at the head of the line merely because of our white skin? How long until we white people end our silence and call out our peers when they share the latest racist jokes in the privacy of our white-only conversations? I believe in free speech, but how long until we white people start making racist loudmouths as socially uncomfortable as we do flag burners? How long until we white people will stop insisting that blacks exercise personal responsibility, build strong families, educate themselves enough to edit the Harvard Law Review, and work hard enough to become president of the United States, only to threaten to assassinate them when they do?

How long before we start "living out the true meaning" of our creeds, both civil and religious, that all men and women are created equal and that "red and yellow, black and white" all are precious in God's sight?

Until this past Nov. 4, I didn't believe this country would ever elect an African-American to the presidency. I still don't believe I'll live long enough to see us white people get over our racism problem. But here's my three-point plan during the Obama administration: First, every day that Barack Obama lives in the White House that Black Slaves Built, I'm going to pray that God (and the Secret Service) will protect him and his family from us white people.

Second, I'm going to report to the FBI anyone I overhear saying, in seriousness or in jest, anything of a threatening nature about President Obama. Third, I'm going to pray to live long enough to see America surprise the world once again, when white people can sing of our damnable color prejudice, "We HAVE overcome."

Andrew M. Manis is associate professor of history at Macon State College in Georgia.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


William Wilberforce

(Speech given at the Slavery, Anti-Slavery and the Road to Freedom Conference in Halifax Nova Scotia, June 25-30, 2007, by Ray Winbush)

I always feel uneasy about commemorations. They force one to look at an historical event and then, like Rubik’s Cube, attempt to twist and turn them in such ways that others will see it with all of the events in order and in one way. There is a desire on the part of the “commemorators” if you please, to give everyone a shared vision or a “co-memory” of an event that allows people to have a homogenzed understanding of the event.

In 2006, we witnessed the attempt by the current administration to create a “co-memory” of the events of September 11, 2001 by having a commemoration ceremony, characterized by a jingoistic fervor for things American and ignoring a bankrupt American foreign policy in the so-called “Middle East” that may have triggered this horrific event in the first place. Creating a “co-memory” between George W. Bush and let’s say Muqtada al-Sadr for 9/11 is impossible since commemoration at the government level is, in fact, what politicians want their citizens to remember and forget about the past.

And so, on March 25, 1807, the once mighty British Empire where the sun never set, through the efforts of William Wilberforce abolished the most heinous and longest lasting crime of the 2nd millennium, the TransAtlantic Slave Trade. Commemorations of this event have abounded throughout the former colonial holdings of the UK including the United States and I am at once struck at the white supremacist nature of them. William Wilberforce is being venerated by commemorators during this period to the extent that my African colleagues in the UK have dubbed this fawning over him “Wilberfest”.

I reluctantly went to see the new film about Wilberforce entitled Amazing Grace, since I knew audiences would be asking me about it. It should have been titled “Amazing RACEism”, since there were only three speaking roles for Africans in the entire film and was more about white men running around in waist coats and powdered wigs valiantly saving Africans from the horrors of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade.

What Amazing Grace represents is how commemoration is totally a subjective process and is an act left up to the conquerors as to how it will be done. The US does not commemorate the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the Japanese do. The descendants of this settler nation don’t talk much about the Trail of Tears in my former state of Tennessee in but the Cherokee do. I have no doubt that one day, the atrocities of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq will be commemorated by Iraqis --- both Shiites and Sunnis --- but I doubt that such a day will be recorded on any calendar made in the United States.

At the UK’s March 25th commemoration of the abolition of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade, Toyin Agbetu, a human rights campaigner, ran in front of the altar at London's Westminster Abbey -- packed with dignitaries -- shouting "you should be ashamed," "you're a disgrace," and "this is an insult to us." Needless to say, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II were apopleptic as Brother Toyin yelled to his fellow Africans in attendance, "We should not be here, this is an insult to us. I want all the Christians who are Africans to walk out."

I like Brothers like Toyin; they speak truth to power in ways that are pure and simple. Nothing he said was untruthful and his one-man protest represents the best in civil disobedience and illustrates the schizophrenic nature of commemoration since he, rather than joining the orgiastic praise for William Wilberforce, chose to commemorate his Ancestors’ agency in their struggle for freedom which began in the rain forests of Africa and continue in the diaspora today. Toyin, like me, believes that although the institution of slavery was symbolically abolished 200 years and 17 days ago by the English, the mentality of the slaveowner and the slave mentality still exist in the world today. It is reflected in Don Imus calling my African sisters “nappy-headed hos”, or Clarence Thomas sycophantic relationship with Antonin Scalia which tells Old Massa that he is still a good slave. It is reflected in the mentality of Condoleezza Rice propping up her Marse President and also in comedian Michael Richards rant that included what would have happened to Black men just 50 years ago.

I doubt if any African will have the shared experience that white commemorators want us to have especially when it comes to enslavement. My reflections on enslavement include the heroism of Nat, the courage of Paul Bogle, Bussa and Harriet. My reflections also pause when I ask the question how a people can capture a human being, shackle them, transport them, castrate them, rape them, work them for 300 years and then rationalize the behavior as being divinely ordained and scientifically justified.

What we can do is to seek racial reconciliation by linking forgiveness with atonement. I repeat: what we can do is to seek racial reconciliation by linking forgiveness with atonement. It is not enough to say that I am sorry without restitution. Put another way, apologies without atonement is a deserted road to racial reconciliation. Reparations are the only way to move from hollow apologies or “deep regrets” as Tony Blair puts it, to a true understanding of the greatest crime against humanity of the past millennium.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A White Person Who Favors Reparations for Enslavement

Historically, most people associate the reparations movement with Black people. This article shows the increasing number of white people who see them as an essential means of acknowledging this crime against humanity and its after effects. Paul Devlin provides a good historical context why reparations for enslavement as a stimulus package deserves consideration.

Reparations as an Economic Stimulus
by Paul Devlin

Jan. 8, 2009--Don't call it reparations. Call it a belated bailout of the Freedman's Savings Bank, chartered by Congress in 1865 as a financial haven for freed slaves and failed in 1874 because its white board lost all the money after a spree of wild speculation.

It was like black people's version of the Bernie Madoff scandal (but the bank was thought to be as safe as the government could make it, and it was for a time). Thousands of African Americans lost millions of dollars—millions that had been earned through pure sweat and toil—when the bank failed. That combination of real assets lost and hundreds of thousands of people involved (to whom most African Americans today could claim an ancestor) provides a legitimate cover for, or different way of looking at, reparations. It's not a giveaway; it's a bailout, you know, just like the kind white people get today.

And OK, I am white. But as some of my best friends are black, I hope to at least get a meal or two out of any future reparations package.

All jokes aside, now is the perfect time, perhaps the only time, that African Americans might be in a position to achieve the elusive goal of reparations. The nation has dashed to the rescue of the undeserving, most notably in the sickening $150 billion bailout of the unhedged fund known as AIG. The automakers were bailed out by the White House, despite some Southern senators who have a complex about unions. And then there's the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.

Barack Obama's election certainly makes reparations more likely than they were under, say, Woodrow Wilson, but nobody thinks Obama has the political will to fight the fight, nor should anyone expect him to play with such political dynamite. Some enterprising Southern or Southern-ish GOP senator (paging Mitch McConnell, who'll never win another term anyway) needs to see the big picture, glimpse his place in history, foresee how African-American reparation spending will help his state/region and proceed to call in every favor and twist every arm until every congressman signs. It's not like Obama won't sign it. My calculations show it would cost a mere $900 billion. Now that we're on the verge of deflation, it's time to rev up the printing press anyway.

A belated Freedman's Savings Bank bailout package would effectively kill two birds with one stone. It would finally acknowledge and attempt to compensate African Americans for a portion of their fair share in creating this nation while simultaneously stimulating the economy.

Dave Chappelle, as funny as he is, did a disservice to the idea of reparations with his skit on them, which many average white people are likely to reference if the issue is brought up. Sure, maybe some black people will buy trucks full of cigarettes and act extra ignorant. But, I think it's safe to say that most African Americans will not rush the money to Switzerland, Bermuda or the Caymans. Most of the money will not disappear in insufficiently hedged or unhedged "hedge" funds.

No, instead the money will pay off mortgages, hopefully recapitalizing banks and stabilizing them. The money will go to buying new appliances. It will also go to higher education. Can you imagine how many people will return to school to finish degrees or get new ones? People will suddenly have the breathing room to do so. Crimes of a desperate nature will decrease. The money will go to churches and finance new church building projects. Some money will line the pockets of some worthy pastors and some unworthy pastors, but that's fine, because both groups will spend. Blighted neighborhoods will spruce up. Dreams deferred will become more possible. Much of the money will actually be spent in red states, thus placating the GOP.

Sounds like a rising tide!

Paul Devlin is a graduate student and writer on Long Island, N.Y.