by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
An Indian guy I work out with is still trying to understand what he calls the ‘American culture.’ There are so many contradictions inherent in the American ethos, that as I explain things to him, he is often left confused and bewildered.
One of our more recent conversations took place two days after the ‘execution’ of Troy Davis in Georgia. State-sponsored killing is bad enough–‘barbaric’ is how he described it–but given the circumstances behind Davis’ death, the institution borders on insanity.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last month, Davis has (or should I say ‘had’) become a poster child for international opposition to the death penalty. He was accused of murdering a police officer 22 years ago, based on the testimony of nine ‘eye witnesses,’ seven of whom later recanted their testimony.
No weapon was ever found, and DNA testing wasn’t available at the time. When someone else reportedly confessed to the murder, over 600,000 people signed a petition asking for clemency pending a new trial.
The Georgia Board of Parole refused, as did the U.S. Supreme Court days before his execution. Davis was given a lethal injection, his dying words declaring his innocence.
Oh, by the way, Davis was African American. His ‘victim’ was White.
That latter point can’t be dismissed, as the American judicial status quo asserts that a Black man accused of murdering a White person is 10 times more likely to get the death sentence than the other way around.
My Indian buddy also finds contradictions in how America on one hand touts itself as the “Land of Liberty,” and a beacon of humanity, yet maintains disdain for the poor.
As a native of India, my workout pal also questions the ever-growing opposition to affirmative action. If you recall, India was until the last century a ‘colony’ of Great Britain. A system of apartheid was put in place that negated the emergence of an Indian middle class. Remnants of those policies continue to this day.
When my Indian brother and I paused long enough between cycling and weight lifting, the topic was allegations of ‘reverse discrimination’ at the University of Wisconsin. Only in America would the majority group decry a legitimate effort to equalize the playing field by offering African Americans a mere handful of set asides at a state university, he said.
Does not the majority recognize that they are morally culpable for centuries of institutional racism?
Since his question was rhetorical, I didn’t answer other than to say there continues to exist in America a system of “White privilege,” a cultural phenomena that transcends law, religion and our system of democracy. The nonsensical concept of ‘reverse discrimination’ is America’s new form of Jim Crowism; it has become the convenient, albeit ridiculous, excuse to slow the Freedom Train and force America to live up to the ideals of the founding fathers.
Think I’m being overly dramatic? All you need to now is that decades after affirmative action, as little more than two years after the annual city Comptroller’s report on mortgage redlining revealed that it is still easier for a White high school dropout to secure a mortgage loan than a Black college graduate.
Our most interesting discussion in recent weeks focused on our political system, or more specifically, the entrenchment of polarizing partisan politics since the election of President Barack Obama three years ago.
Being from India, which maintains a social democracy where the parliament is made up of diverse political parties (and the president can appoint “congressmen” for underrepresented groups), my “comrade in sweat” expressed amazement at how our political structure works (or doesn’t), particularly the two party system in which some special interests are taken for granted, or otherwise muted to the point of being politically impotent.
His reference was specifically targeted toward Black Americans whose loyalty to the Democratic Party has never been rewarded with attention to the myriad of problems we face in America. Would we not be better served if there were other parties of influence—socialist, progressive, labor or even a minority party, he asked?
For that matter, would we be in a stronger position to influence the status quo if we formed a political group akin to the tea party?
‘A coffee party,’ I asked?
He didn’t get the joke, so I elaborated.
I’ve long advocated for a Black independent political party. Yes, an exclusively Black party, run by Black people with the express interest of Black people as its mantra!
My rationale is obvious: We don’t control the Democratic Party, even though we give our votes exclusively to it. As a result, we’ve historically been taken for granted, and our agenda has received little more than lip service. Making matters worse, as Rev. Al Sharpton surmised earlier this year, the Democrats use the new form of math—“addition by subtraction.”
In a nutshell Democrats use our numbers to swell the party’s impact. But when they are at the table to divvy up the rewards, we’re generally excluded.
(This is the point where I put my disclaimer in: I am not suggesting Black people ‘abandon the Democratic Party and become Republicans, so all you gatekeepers can put down the pitchforks, feathers and tar back in the garage. I am, however, about to lay down some truth that is both undeniable and revealing.)
This addition by subtraction phenomena explains why our community benefited so little, if at all, from the $800 billion Obama stimulus package. And why even when Democrats control the legislative process, our issues aren’t addressed.
If you want to understand Black voter apathy, just look through the eyes of loyal Democratic Party voters (very few of us are actually card carrying members), who watch in amazement as other special interests are placated—from gays, to unions to Jews—while we are merely given aspirin to ease the pain.
The few of us bold enough to complain are either ostracized as traitors, or told not to question the status quo or risk inviting Republican domination.
Moreover, we are family, so if one ‘child’ gets a reward, we should be happy for them, because when the tide comes in all ships rise. (Where have we heard that line before President Obama used it when asked what he would specifically do to help Black Americans?)
Well, there’s truth to both of those theories, but I’m among the group that declares: So what?
We’ve been hearing a similar argument since we’ve switched from the Republican Party during the early stages of what we now call the Civil Rights Movement.
(Ironically, we switched because the rumor was that Republicans would introduce legislation to take away our vote. The reality is that up until that period, it was the GOP that fought for Black rights, while the Democrats, many of whom were “Dixicrats” as some referred to them, fought us every step of the way. Again, I’m just stating historical fact; I’m not suggesting we switch parties. Today the GOP might as well stand for “Group Opposed to Progress,” when it come Black people.)
And excuse me for mentioning it, but when Democrats (one short year ago), controlled the Senate, House and presidency, we heard excuse after excuse for not addressing Black concerns (or nothing at all), even as they responded to every other special interest. There was no talk about a jobs program, community reinvestment, or Black stimulus two year ago, which makes the Congressional Black Caucus’ recent criticism of President Obama all the more hypocritical.
Not by coincidence, there was a similar scenario at the state level here in Wisconsin. Former Governor Jim Doyle controlled the mansion, while Democrats controlled the Senate and Assembly. Not only didn’t they address the nation-leading negative social indicators that define Black residency in Wisconsin, they actually made things worse.
Doyle went so far as to kill the two stimulus bill provisions—proposed by Black state representatives that would have eased our pain.
He also killed a dedicated tax that would have saved Milwaukee County transit, and let us not forget, he engineered the closing of the largest Black empowerment group in the state (OIC). While several of our Black lawmakers were hiding their heads in the sand, Doyle engineered policies that essentially stagnated Black empowerment, and pimp slapped the few of us who complained or even questioned his policies.
(For the third time, here’s another disclaimer: My point isn’t to lambaste Doyle or the Democrats, but to point out that our loyalty has not be repaid, in part because we make few demands of the party and never threaten to jump ship or withhold our vote.
An independent political party would solve that, although it bears potential of creating short-term upheaval.
So, as I told my Indian friend, the next best option is a ‘political entity,’ a Black Coffee organization, similar to the Tea Party.
The Tea Party has turned the Republican Party upside down with its influence, pushing the GOP further and further to the right, to the point where they are about to fall off the edge of the earth.
We could do the same thing (while pushing for a progressive agenda), with the threat of withdrawing our vote unless our concerns are on the table, while simultaneously forcing political accountability of party gatekeepers, including Black politicians. If they refuse to listen, we can run independent candidates, individuals who will put the people and principle ahead of the party.
So why haven’t we set that process into motion, my friend asked?
Because we’re politically naïve. Plus we are afraid of change. Lastly, and probably most significantly, we allow the Democratic Party to dictate our agenda and to engineer the Freedom Train.
One of the greatest impediments has been a long held—albeit unwritten—policy that forbids criticism of the party and Democratic politicians. To breach that unwritten law is to invite blasphemous condemnation. (It ranks right up there with declaring Jesus to be a Black man.) The usual refrain has been to criticize the party is to invite anarchy, or worse, the defeat of viable candidates who we’re told are going to slay the dragons of racism, inequality and poverty.
The punishment for telling the truth, or even asking questions, can be severe. And I can attest to that fact.
During his second campaign for the presidency, I was viciously attacked for pointing out President Bill Clinton’s failings, which included his advocacy to kill welfare, his support of the death penalty (he actually left the campaign trail to return to his home state to be on hand for the execution of a mentally retarded Black inmate) and his support of NAFTA, which killed thousands of American jobs. Clinton also lobbied for an overhaul of the criminal codes, which Senator Russ Feingold (the only Democrat to vote against it) called mean-spirited and discriminatory.
Instead of addressing those contradictions, Black leaders defended Clinton (including his adulterous affair) and blasted me and a few other individuals for making note of his agenda.
A similar scenario happened when John Kerry ran for president and expressed his opposition to affirmative action, and when Doyle sought re-election.
Ironically, I was later vindicated in each case (in fact others admitted the truth of my expressed concerns) however like the death penalty, my punishment was irreversible.
But the policy continues. That’s why few are willing to criticize Black politicians, including Obama. To criticize him is to be called an Uncle Tom, as if questioning his policies will somehow jeopardize his reelection bid.
The net result of this unwritten law has been weakening, if not totally stagnated Black progress. We’re caught between a rock and hard place and political accountability has become a joke, along with priorization of our agenda.
After explaining this dichotomy to my Indian workout buddy, he could only shake his head in confusion…or disgust. It’s no wonder Black Americans are at the bottom of the political and socioeconomic totem pole, he said, adding we only have ourselves to blame.
That’s true, I admitted. But we’re young, naïve and most of us are still standing under the shadow of slavery, whether we acknowledge that fact or not.
In some respects, we’re like the people who go to the gym every day, but on their way home buy a bucket of chicken and a six-pack of Miller beer. And they can’t figure out why they never lose any weight.