Showing posts with label RACIAL INTEGRATION. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RACIAL INTEGRATION. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Fire This Time-In Honor Of James Baldwin Whose Time Has Come Again-From The Archives- *Writer's Corner- The "Uncollected Writings" Of James Baldwin- A Guest Review

The Fire This Time-In Honor Of James Baldwin Whose Time Has Come Again-From The Archives-   *Writer's Corner- The "Uncollected Writings" Of James Baldwin- A Guest Review

Click on the title to link to a National Public Radio segment on a review of uncollected writings by the American writer James Baldwin.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129281259

Markin comment:


The gut-wrenching, no-holds-barred, truth-telling of the real racial story in this country by James Baldwin has been highlighted in this space recently. I have re-posted one such review that speaks to the continuing validity of that voice, that "voice of the voiceless" that James Baldwin still provides a quarter of a century after his death.

*****

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

*Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-James Baldwin's "Another Country"

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for James Baldwin's Another Country


Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin

Book Review

Another Country, James Baldwin, Dial Press, New York, 1962


Recently, in a blog entry, I went on my “soap box” to speak about those now seemingly endless references, by black and white liberals alike, to the ‘good old days' of the black civil rights movement and how far the black liberation struggle has come here in America so that even one (harried and vilified) black man can be President of the United States. This sentiment is codified by the ‘post-racial’ aura (or rather, in truth, the ‘benign neglect’ aura) that surrounds the subject of race lately. By reference to the the good old days these liberals have simply appropriated the catch words of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, names, forever, associated with the high-water marks of resistance to black segregation back in the early 1960s to their own uses. Moreover, to embellish the myth they have created a Martin Luther King who apparently was nothing short of the black ‘messiah’ rather than a man made of clay, a great deal of clay, and in turn have emasculated Malcolm X, the real “truth to power” speaker on race of the era, into a harmless icon suitable for framing.

The author under review, James Baldwin, fortunately, would have none of that. He, in a less overtly inflammatory and more literary but nevertheless powerful way, was in that Malcolm X “truth to power” mode. And, my friends, some of his books, including Another Country make my case, and his case, far more eloquently than this writer ever could. Here is a man hard, hard church-brought up as only fundamentalist churches can distort a child, preacher father-raised and beaten-down for doing things, right or wrong, racially put upon incessantly whenever he stepped outside the Harlem prison-ghetto where he was sentenced yet who did not duck the hard, hard truth that native son he might be but ‘invisible’ native son was the real program for those with black skin.

Another Country is another of those multi-themed Baldwin efforts, the now familiar ones of interracial marriage, adultery, bi- and homosexuality, the blindness of white racism, and the hard, hard fact of trying to be seen while black, poor, and gay in America (and elsewhere, for that matter). The sexual and interracial scenes center on the relationships of various black and white characters of various sexual preferences who inhabit New York's 1950s bohemian Greenwich Village (with a little Left Bank, Paris vignette thrown in), or who want to. The most impressive aspect of this piece is the very strong sense that one gets that while the white characters are sympathetic to the blacks, in their own narrow way, they were clueless to the "another country" aspect of black existence. I have , repeatedly, made the point that that "invisibleness", except now in certain high profile quarters, afflicts the perceptions of whites today as well. Thus, one can well afford to read this work with that continuing premise in mind rather than read it comfortably as some pre-"post-racial" screed. Thanks, James.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Fire This Time-In Honor Of James Baldwin Whose Time Has Come Again-From The Archives- *Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-James Baldwin's "Another Country"

The Fire This Time-In Honor Of James Baldwin Whose Time Has Come Again-From The Archives-   *Books To While Away The Class Struggle By-James Baldwin's "Another Country"

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for James Baldwin's Another Country


Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By” and "Films To While Away The Class Struggle By"-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs and films that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some books that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. Markin


Book Review

Another Country, James Baldwin, Dial Press, New York, 1962


Recently, in a blog entry, I went on my “soap box” to speak about those now seemingly endless references, by black and white liberals alike, to the ‘good old days' of the black civil rights movement and how far the black liberation struggle has come here in America so that even one (harried and vilified) black man can be President of the United States. This sentiment is codified by the ‘post-racial’ aura (or rather, in truth, the ‘benign neglect’ aura) that surrounds the subject of race lately. By reference to the the good old days these liberals have simply appropriated the catch words of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, names, forever, associated with the high-water marks of resistance to black segregation back in the early 1960s to their own uses. Moreover, to embellish the myth they have created a Martin Luther King who apparently was nothing short of the black ‘messiah’ rather than a man made of clay, a great deal of clay, and in turn have emasculated Malcolm X, the real “truth to power” speaker on race of the era, into a harmless icon suitable for framing.

The author under review, James Baldwin, fortunately, would have none of that. He, in a less overtly inflammatory and more literary but nevertheless powerful way, was in that Malcolm X “truth to power” mode. And, my friends, some of his books, including Another Country make my case, and his case, far more eloquently than this writer ever could. Here is a man hard, hard church-brought up as only fundamentalist churches can distort a child, preacher father-raised and beaten-down for doing things, right or wrong, racially put upon incessantly whenever he stepped outside the Harlem prison-ghetto where he was sentenced yet who did not duck the hard, hard truth that native son he might be but ‘invisible’ native son was the real program for those with black skin.

Another Country is another of those multi-themed Baldwin efforts, the now familiar ones of interracial marriage, adultery, bi- and homosexuality, the blindness of white racism, and the hard, hard fact of trying to be seen while black, poor, and gay in America (and elsewhere, for that matter). The sexual and interracial scenes center on the relationships of various black and white characters of various sexual preferences who inhabit New York's 1950s bohemian Greenwich Village (with a little Left Bank, Paris vignette thrown in), or who want to. The most impressive aspect of this piece is the very strong sense that one gets that while the white characters are sympathetic to the blacks, in their own narrow way, they were clueless to the "another country" aspect of black existence. I have , repeatedly, made the point that that "invisibleness", except now in certain high profile quarters, afflicts the perceptions of whites today as well. Thus, one can well afford to read this work with that continuing premise in mind rather than read it comfortably as some pre-"post-racial" screed. Thanks, James.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

*The Contradictions of Malcolm X- His Life As Told To Alex Haley

The Contradictions of Malcolm X- His Life As Told To Alex Haley



Click on the title to link to a "YouTube" film clip of Malcolm X speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in 1964. He still speaks to some powerful truths about the black experience in America. Black is back, or it had better be.

Markin Comment:

Directly below is a review (February 1, 2008) based on Malcolm X’s autobiography as told to writer Alex Haley (originally written in 1964) "The Autobiography Of Malcolm X”, an imaginative literary treatment of his short, checkered life as a leader of the Nation of Islam, at that time a notorious (to white eyes and ears) so-called race-hating outfit led by Elijah Muhammad (with whom Malcolm had broken at the time of this autobiography). I am reposting the original review because in essentials I continue to stand by the main political (and literary) points made there. I have added a few other points below that repost as I have thought about this book more recently.

*****

“The Contradictions Of Malcolm X

MALCOLM POSED THE QUESTION-WHICH WAY FORWARD FOR THE BLACK LIBERATION STRUGGLE? OUR ANSWER- BLACK LIBERATION THROUGH THE FIGHT FOR SOCIALISM

FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH


The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, Ballantine Books, New York, 1964

Let us be clear about one thing from the start, whatever contradictions Malcolm X’s brand of black nationalism entailed, whatever shortcomings he had as an emerging political leader, whatever mistakes he made alone the way as he groped for a solution to the seemingly intractable fight for black freedom he stood, and continues to stand, head and shoulders above any black leader thrown up in America in the 20th century. Only Frederick Douglass in the 19th century compares with him in stature. No attempts by latter-day historians or politicians to assimilate Malcolm along with other leaders of the civil rights struggle in this country, notably Dr. Martin Luther King, as part of the same continuum of leadership are false and dishonest to all parties.

Malcolm X, as a minister of the Black Muslims and after his break from that organization, stood in opposition to the official liberal non-violence strategy of that leadership. His term “Uncle Toms” fully applies to their stance. And, in turn, that liberal black misleadership and its various hangers-on in the liberal establishment hated him when he spoke the truth about their role in white-controlled bourgeois Democratic Party politics. The “chickens were coming home to roost”, indeed! The Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, the Obama the “Charmas” who represent today’s version of that misleadership please step back, step way back.

That said, who was Malcolm X? Or more properly what did he represent in his time. At one level, given the rudiments of his life story which are detailed in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, he represented that part of the black experience (an experience not only limited to blacks in immigrant America) which pulled itself by the bootstraps and turned away from the lumpen milieu of gangs, crimes and prisons into what I call ‘street’ intellectuals. That experience is far removed from the experience of what today passes for the black intelligentsia, who have run away from the turmoil of the streets. In liberation struggles both ‘street’ and academic intellectuals are necessary but the ‘street’ intellectual is perhaps more critical as the transmission belt to the masses. That is how liberation fighters get a hearing and no other way. In any case I have always been partial to the ‘streets’.


But what is the message for the way forward? For Malcolm, until shortly before his death, that message was black separatism-the idea that the only way blacks could get any retribution was to go off on their own (or be left alone), in practical terms to form their own nation. To state the question that way in modern America points to the obvious limitation of such a scheme, even if blacks formed such a nation and wanted to express the right to national self-determination that goes with it. Nevertheless whatever personal changes Malcolm made in his quest for political relevance and understanding whether he was a Black Muslim minister or after he broke for that group he still sought political direction through the fight of what is called today ‘people of color’ against the mainly white oppressor, at first in America and latter after travels throughout the ‘third world’.

However sincere he was in that belief, and he was sincere, that strategy of black separatism or ‘third world’ vanguardism could never lead to the black freedom he so fervently desired. An underestimation of the power of internally unchallenged world, and in the first instance American, imperialism to corrupt liberation struggles or defeat or destroy them militarily never seemed to enter into his calculations.

Malcolm’s whole life story of struggle against the bedrock of white racism in America, as the legitimate and at the time the ONLY voice speaking for the rage of the black ghettos, nevertheless never worked out fully any other strategy that could work in America, and by extension internationally. A close reading of his work demonstrates that as he got more politically aware he saw the then unfolding ‘third world’ liberation struggles as the key to black liberation in America. That, unfortunately for him, was exactly backwards. If the ‘third world’ struggles were ever ultimately to be successful and create more just societies then American imperialism-as the main enemy of the peoples of the world-then, as now had to be brought to bay. And that, my friends, whether you agree or not, requires class struggle here.

That is where the fight for black liberation intersects the fight for socialism. And I will state until my last breathe that the key to the fight for socialism in America will be the cohesion of a central black cadre leading a multi-ethnic organization that will bring that home. And it will not be from the lips of the Kings of today that the struggle will be successful but by new more enlightened Malcolms, learning the lessons of history, who will get what they need-by any means necessary.”

February 1, 2010

In re-reading the above review I feel that although I made the right political points I did not spent nearly enough time on the some of the problems addressed by Malcolm X's autobiography. Not the least of those problems is the one of socialists creating and honing of black revolutionaries like Malcolm out of the lumpen proletarian milieu. Or Malcolm’s perceptive take on the all pervasive nature of the imprint of white racism on the American experiment, for black and white alike then and now. And intimately tied up with that hard fact of political life is the problem of recruiting (and holding on to) cadre in the black milieu for nationalist or, in our case, socialist revolutionaries.

I noted in a review of William Styron’s novel of the great slave general Nat Turner a couple of years ago (See February 2008 Archives) that the historical problem of creating a revolutionary black leadership has always been a daunting one in America whether under slavery or Jim Crow (de facto or de jure, Northern or Southern version). Turner’s own life story, based as it was on creating himself by learning to read and write and thereafter learning a salable skill as a craftsman, violated every norm and expectation of ant-bellum slave existence. Turner was one of the “talented tenth”, as it were, of his time. The question is no less tricky is viewing the highlights of Malcolm’s transformation (in prison, to boot) from a street hustler, dope addict, womanizer and purely existential character seemingly doomed to the fate of many other Northern black youth of the mid-20th century. Those of us working the “black/ freedom/ labor” milieu at the beginning of the 21st century should well note that although Malcolm was an exceptional recruit away from that lumpenproletarian milieu we still have to understand, notwithstanding the Obama life story, that the life stories of our recruits to socialism will look a lot more like young Malcolm than young Obama.

There has been much talk, too much talk of late about this so-called “post-racial” society that has sprung up during the Obamiad. For about the one thousand and first time I will recognize that the election of a black man as President of the United States in race-conscious America is significant. But what of it? I will also concede that during the past fifty years or so, since the time of the hard civil rights movement, that especially among the young racial attitudes have softened. However, I will bet many a dollar that if old Malcolm X were still on the scene he would have more than a few choice words about “racial progress”. All he would have to do is look at the ghettoes, unemployment lines and the prisons. Those views don’t lie. I remember listening to Malcolm on late night radio (“The Jerry Williams Show” a call-in talk show in Boston that Malcolm mentions in his book). I swear I disagreed with virtually everything that Malcolm said in those days, except the pervasive nature of white racism that I was painfully aware of from my own white working class neighborhood in Boston. Malcolm told some home truths then, and I am sure he would tell them now as well.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February Is Black History Month- Hats Off To The Heroes Of The Civil Rights Movement

Februray Is Black History Month

Hats Off To Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement

DVD Review

Free at Last: Civil Rights Heroes, film documentary, Image Entertainment, 2005

Every major (and most minor) progressive social struggle in America from the struggle for independence from Great Britain through to the struggle for slavery abolition up to the struggle for women’s rights and gender equality today has had more than its share of heroes and martyrs. The purpose of the documentary under review, Free At Last: Civil Rights Heroes, rightly, highlights some of those lesser known heroes and martyrs from the struggle for black civil rights that came to national prominence in the 1950s and 1960s (although arguably that conscious struggle against the manifestations of Jim Crow goes back to the 1930s and before).

Although, in the end, the question of black equality had to be addressed (and still has to be addressed) nationally the thrust of the black civil rights movement that is featured in this film is the struggle for something like a democratic revolution by blacks and their supporters in the police state-like American South. That barbaric de jure and de facto Jim Crow system officially, as a matter state and social policy, held blacks in second class citizenship (or lower). The struggle to overcome that ingrained (and profitable, profitable for whites of almost all social strata) was almost, of necessity, going to create more than it share of heroes and martyrs.

The case of fourteen year old Chicago resident Emmett Till and his horrible murder at the hands of white marauders in Mississippi in 1955, the first of the three separate segments that make up the film graphically, highlights the problem. For the mere allegation of “whistling at a white woman while black” (if that allegation had any substance) young Emmett was brutally mangled and thrown into the local river. When his mother, righteously, made a cause out of this bestial murder all hell broke loose, at least on the surface. And the case galvanized blacks and whites nationally, alerting many for the first time to the hard fact that something was desperately wrong down in Mississippi (and not just there). But justice, Mississippi justice, to paraphrase poet Langston Hughes, is justice deferred. As detailed in almost all the cases highlighted in the film those directly responsible for the actions against the civil rights workers were either never brought to justice or only brought after something like a long drawn out legal civil war. No one should forget that aspect of the struggle either.

The other cases highlighted from the assassinated Medgar Evers, to the four Birmingham girls murdered in their church when it was bombed, to the three civil rights workers slain in Philadelphia, Mississippi that drew nation-wide attention, to slain white civil rights workers Viola Liuzzo and Reverend James Reeb, murdered for “being white while working for black civil rights” exhibit those same kinds of sickening results as in the Till case. Let me put it this way after viewing the film footage here, especially Bull Connor’s attack dogs being let loose on civil rights demonstrators in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama that was one of the first visual images that drove me into the civil rights struggle, I still wanted to throw something at the screen. And you wonder why fifty or so years later I still say Mississippi (or fill in your preferred state) goddam. Kudos here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-Mississippi’s Scott Sisters-Racist U.S. Justice: Cruel and Unusual"- Nina Simone Was Right- "Mississippi Goddam"

Markin comment:

1961 in Mississippi, Mississippi burning time. No, 2011 Mississippi time, Mississippi burning time. The case of the Scott sisters just brings to mind, for the umpteenth time, Nina Simone righteous "Mississippi Goddam" (lyrics below). And as we head into celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War expect more blather from the "secesh" side. It already started in December with "jubilee" celebrations of South Carolina's ordinances of secession. Where is the Massachusetts 54th when you need it?
********

Workers Vanguard No. 972
21 January 2010

Mississippi’s Scott Sisters

Racist U.S. Justice: Cruel and Unusual


In October 1994, two black women, sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, were sentenced to double life prison terms for their alledged involvement in an $11 armed robbery. On January 7 the Scott sisters were freed after 16 years of incarceration. But, with their sentences suspended, they will be on parole for the rest of their lives and have to pay the state $52 monthly. Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, proclaimed, “The victory of their release encourages us to press on in our nationwide efforts to convince more governors to use their clemency powers to free more people who desperately deserve it.” This is the pathetic voice of black petty-bourgeois protest inspired by the administration of Barack Obama, chief overseer of racist U.S. capitalism, pleading on behalf of a few who “deserve” when 2.3 million people, 70 percent black or Latino, languish in prison hellholes.

In Mississippi the legacy of slavery is self-evident in its bloody history. The viciously vindictive frame-up of the Scott sisters reeks of the stench of this legacy. The Scott sisters had no prior criminal record. Prosecution witnesses revealed that they were all threatened by the deputy sheriff and forced to sign false statements written in advance. The jury deliberated for 36 minutes. All appeals to reverse the draconian sentence were denied.

Behind Mississippi governor Haley Barbour’s decision to grant clemency to the sisters stood the Grim Reaper. Jamie Scott, who entered prison a healthy young woman, is now suffering complete kidney failure. After enduring the abuse of prison health care, she is in the final stage of this disease. As protests over the sisters’ ordeal mounted in Mississippi and across the country, Governor Barbour made his decision. But he made it clear that a big reason for Jamie’s release was that her medical treatment was a financial burden on the state. The macabre condition of Gladys’ release is that she donate a kidney to her sister.

It should come as no surprise that Barbour treats these black women as figures in an account ledger, balancing out an expense with a kidney. In a 2010 CNN interview, Barbour was asked if Virginia governor Bob McDonnell made a mistake by omitting any mention of slavery when he proclaimed April “Confederate History Month.” Barbour replied that omitting a mention of slavery “doesn’t matter for diddly.” He added that, as Republican governor of Mississippi, he joined bipartisan Confederate commemorations with the Democratic legislature that had “done exactly the same thing in Mississippi for years.” Indeed, Mississippi did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, until 1995. The last segregationist Jim Crow laws were removed from the state books in 2009, deleted without fanfare in fear of a politically embarrassing racist backlash.

It should also come as no surprise that the trial judge, Marcus Gordon, would treat the lives of these black women as simply trash to be disposed. The same Judge Gordon presided over the trial of notorious Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, the Klan organizer who ordered the 1964 murder of the three civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman. For 41 years Killen was a free man. Then in 2005, at age 80, he was convicted on three counts of manslaughter and sentenced to serve 60 years. A grand jury member who had reviewed the evidence stated with confidence that Killen “was the one every order went out from.” In sentencing Killen, an unrepentant race terrorist, Gordon said that “he took no pleasure in the task” (AP, 23 June 2005). Gordon showed no such regrets in sentencing the Scott sisters based on coerced witnesses.

Workers Vanguard readers are well aware of the brutally racist nature of the U.S. criminal injustice system. U.S. capitalism is based on black oppression—and its destruction will require a Third American Revolution, a socialist revolution. As we wrote in “From Slavery to Mass Incarceration: Black Liberation and the Fight for a Socialist America” (WV No. 955, 26 March 2010):

“From slavery to convict labor, from the chain gang to the assembly line, American capitalism has been built upon the lash-scarred backs of black labor. Any organization that claims a revolutionary perspective for the United States must confront the special oppression of black people—their forced segregation at the bottom of capitalist society and the poisonous racism that divides the working class and cripples its struggles.”
********
Mississippi Goddam Lyrics
Nina Simone


The name of this tune is Mississippi Goddam
And I mean every word of it

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

Can't you see it
Can't you feel it
It's all in the air
I can't stand the pressure much longer
Somebody say a prayer

Alabama's gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

This is a show tune
But the show hasn't been written for it, yet

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail
Black cat cross my path
I think every day's gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don't belong here
I don't belong there
I've even stopped believing in prayer

Don't tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I've been there so I know
They keep on saying "Go slow!"

But that's just the trouble
"do it slow"
Washing the windows
"do it slow"
Picking the cotton
"do it slow"
You're just plain rotten
"do it slow"
You're too damn lazy
"do it slow"
The thinking's crazy
"do it slow"
Where am I going
What am I doing
I don't know
I don't know

Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

I made you thought I was kiddin' didn't we

Picket lines
School boycotts
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie

Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
"Go slow!"

But that's just the trouble
"do it slow"
Desegregation
"do it slow"
Mass participation
"do it slow"
Reunification
"do it slow"
Do things gradually
"do it slow"
But bring more tragedy
"do it slow"
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know

You don't have to live next to me
Just give me my equality
Everybody knows about Mississippi
Everybody knows about Alabama
Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

That's it for now! see ya' later

Friday, December 25, 2009

*Not Ready For Prime Time Class Struggle-In The Time Of The 1960s Great Teenage Breakout- "Hairspray" - A Film Review

Click on the title to link to a "YouTube" of one of the songs from "Hairspray", "You Can't Stop The Beat".

DVD Review

Hairspray, starring John Travolta, Christopher Walkens, Michelle Pffeifer, directed by John Waters, 2007


If I were reviewing this off-beat musical comedy from a political perspective I would have to classify this film about the virtues of show tunes as a tool for racial harmony in early 1960s Baltimore, before the out-front racial polarization of the city was exposed to the world and Spiro Agnew hit the scene, as an integrationist’s daydream, and a segregationist’s nightmare. And at that political level the theme just doesn’t work, although the sub-theme about accepting differences (racial, ethnic, gender, size) has a certain appeal. But all of this is to take this sweet fluff of a film way beyond those rationale political parameters.

What does work? Well, a nice little odd-ball, not exactly cookie-cutter American family, circa 1960, with some big dreams and some big women get to play center stage in the quest for the American dream, or one of the early 1960s variant of it- stardom in the music and/or television world. The current “American Idol” is only the latest in a long line of such efforts. Here the plot revolves around becoming “top dog” on one of the old after school dance shows that were a staple of 1950s-early 1960s television to keep restless kids under control for a few hours until dad got home. To that extent the plot is just a ruse for some great songs about those above-mentioned social differences and how to deal with those differences in a quirky and dreamy interracial way.

The real kicker here though are the performances of John Travolta (yes, that John Travolta) as the over-sized mother, Edna, who can still dance up a storm, the usually bad guy-playing Christopher Walken as the supportive and skinny dad, Wilbur, and normally good girl, and always femme fatale Michelle Pffeifer, as the plotting television station manager makes this thing appealing to a non-teenager. And, of course Queen Latifah being, well…. Queen Latifah. The high school kids led by Wilbur and Edna's daughter Tracy (Nikki Blonsky), black and white, good or bad, sweet or vicious are just there to glue this thing together. Watch this couple of hours of an integrationist’s daydream.


Hairspray Cast - Come So Far (Got So Far To Go) Lyrics

QUEEN LATIFAH
Hey old friend, let's look back
On the crazy clothes we wore

Elijah Kelly
Ain't it fun to look back
And to see it's all been done before

ZAC EFRON
All those nights together
Are a special memory

NIKKI BLONSKY
And I can't wait for tomorrow
Just as long as you're
dancing next to me

EVERYONE
Cause it's so clear
Every year
We get stronger

ZAC EFRON
What's gone is gone

ELIJAH KELLEY
The past is the past

NIKKI BLONSKY
Turn the radio up

QUEEN LATIFAH
And then hit the gas
Cause . . .

EVERYONE
I know we've Come So Far
But we've Got So Far To Go
I know the road seems long
But it won't be long till it's time to go
So, most days we'll take it fast
And some nights lets we'll it slow
I know we've Come So Far
But baby, baby
We've Got So Far To Go

ZAC EFRON
Hey old friend, together
Side by side and year by year

NIKKI BLONSKY
The road was filled with twists
and turns
Oh but that's the road that
got us here

QUEEN LATIFAH
Let's move past the bad times
But before those memories fade

ELIJAH KELLEY
Let's forgive but not forget
And learn from all the mistakes we made

EVERYONE
Cause it's so clear
Every year
We get stronger
So don't give up
And don't say when
And just get back on the road again
Cause . . .
I know we've Come So Far
But we've Got So Far To Go
I know the road seems long
But it won't be long till it's
time to go
So, most days we'll take it fast
And some nights we'll take it slow
I know we've Come So Far
but baby, baby
We've Got So Far To Go
Hey old friend come along for the ride
There's plenty of room so jump inside
The highway's rocky every now and then
But it so much better than
where I've been
Just keep movin, at your own speed
Your heart is all the compass
you'll ever need
Let's keep cruisin the road we're on
Cause the rear view mirror only shows
what's gone, gone, gone
Got so far to go
Oh its so clear

ELIJAH KELLEY
Every year
We get stronger

EVERYONE
So shine that light
Take my hand
And let's dance into the promised land
Cause . . .
I know we've Come So Far
But we've Got So Far To Go
I know the road seems long
But it won't be long till it's
time to go
So, most days we'll take it fast
And some nights we'll take it slow
I know we've Come So Far
but baby, baby
We've Got So Far To Go

[Thanks to Lance Evans for lyrics]

[Thanks to Karina, Demetre Lindsey, Angelica for corrections

Friday, September 11, 2009

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”-Slavery and the Origin of the Race Ideology

Markin comment:

As almost always these historical articles and polemics are purposefully helpful to clarify the issues in the struggle against world imperialism, particularly the “monster” here in America.


Workers Vanguard No. 942
11 September 2009

Slavery and the Origin of the Race Ideology

(Quote of the Week)


Veteran American Trotskyist Richard Fraser developed the materialist approach to the black question in the 1950s in a series of articles and lectures for internal discussion in the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party. The ideology of race is a socially derived category used to justify the system of black chattel slavery in the American South, and black oppression continued as a bedrock of American capitalism even after the Civil War smashed the slavocracy. Fraser advanced the program of revolutionary integrationism: a proletarian-centered struggle against every manifestation of racial oppression based on the understanding that the complete integration and equality of black people can be realized only in an egalitarian socialist society. This means not liberal nostrums of reform, but proletarian socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist system and eliminate the basis of racial and class oppression. The excerpts below are from an unpublished manuscript in the collection of the Prometheus Research Library that Fraser was working on at the time of his death in 1988.

Race is a social relationship between people recognizably different in skin color. Recognizability is a necessary element of the relation, but the social aspects of prejudice, exploitation and segregation are the things race is really about. Race has no legitimacy as a biological division of mankind.

Race relations today are a residue of relations between white masters and black slaves. The fact that slaves were black and masters were white was an accident of history. Light skinned Europeans enslaved dark skinned Africans. Europeans had learned about gunpowder from the Chinese and had guns. The Africans didn’t. Skin color was a fact of life that differed between these people. That difference had an ancient and interesting origin, but did not have anything to do with the ability of Europeans to enslave Africans....

The basic change in race ideology that took place at the end of the eighteenth century was to transform the slave who was socially inferior by virtue of enslavement, and was incidentally black, into a person who was inferior because he was black and hence only fitted for slavery….

Why, after three hundred years of slavery did a race theory finally appear? Several things came together. The French Revolution did not just declare that people had personal rights by nature, but that reason ought to hold sway over blind faith. The Age of Reason had been born, and a scientific, and secular, rationale was needed to justify the enslavement of people.

Furthermore, opposition to slavery was beginning to occur. Slave revolts began to give slave masters cause for concern, not to speak of the nascent abolitionist movement. The hypocrisy of the U.S. Constitution which was based on the ideal of human liberty, but recognized the legitimacy of slavery, could be counteracted by the contention that slaves were not quite human, but some sort of inferior race. This was the social basis for the appearance of race ideology as a scientific discipline.

—Richard Fraser, The Struggle Against Slavery in the United States

Monday, June 29, 2009

*The Latest From "The Jena Six" Case

Click On Title To Link To Associated Press, June 27, 2009, Article On The Latest News On The Fate Of The Jena Six. As always we use the courts as best we can, when we can but I believe that without that massive mobilization of a couple of years ago the fate of the Jena Six in the Louisiana "justice" system might have been quite different. As it is the charges should have dropped long ago without any so-called deals as noted in the article.

**************

As background on this case I have reposted a guest commentary from the archives, dated February 3, 2008.

February is Black History Month

The following statement is passed on from the Partisan Defense Committee concerning the latest protest action in the fight for justice in Jena, Louisiana. Nothing need be added here. Send letters of support to the Jena Defense Committee P.O Box 2798, Jena La. 71342 and of protest to the LaSalle Parish (not county,remember this is Louisiana) District Attorney J. Reed Walters. Pronto.


Drop Charges Against Anti-Fascist Protestor

We print below a January 27 letter from the Partisan Defense Committee to LaSalle Parish District Attorney J. Reed Walters. The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Sparta-cist League.
The Partisan Defense Committee demands that the charges be dropped against William Winchester Jr., a supporter of the New Black Panther Party who was arrested in Jena, Louisiana, for demonstrating against a fascist provocation on January 21, Martin Luther King Day. Mr. Winchester was charged with battery of a police officer and resisting arrest.

The white supremacists, led by the Mississippi-based Nationalist Movement, came to Jena armed, waving the Confederate flag of black chattel slavery and brandishing lynch-rope nooses. The race-terrorists staged their murderous threats under the protection of several hundred state, local and federal law enforcement officers, including deputies from other parishes, SWAT teams and police snipers stationed on roofs.

The fascist bands spewing their racist filth through the streets of Jena are part of a wave of racist provocations, many involving hanging nooses to terrorize black people, that have swept the U.S. after the September 20 demonstration in Jena. That day, as many as 50,000 overwhelmingly black people protested against Jim Crow "justice" and in defense of the Jena Six, black high school students framed up for defending themselves after months of racist attacks. Mychal Bell of the Jena Six is now in prison. Free Mychal Bell! Drop all charges against the Jena Six! Drop the charges against William Winchester Jr.! •



The following is an article of interest to the radical public and black liberation fighters on the demonstrations down in Jena, Louisiana in September 2007. This is taken from the Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 899, dated September 28, 2007. I would only add that many of the political points made in the article are worthy of attention as we fight for the immediate goal of freedom for the Jena Six and the ultimate goal of victory in the black liberation struggle. And friends, that does not mean Obama as president, as significant as that may be in this deeply racist country.


Workers Vanguard No. 899 28 September 2007

Jena Six: Racist "Justice" U.S.A.

Break with the Democrats! For a Class-Struggle Workers Party! Finish the Civil War—For Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

(Young Spartacus pages)


On September 20, as many as 50,000 protesters—overwhelmingly black and comprising workers, students, retirees and church groups—poured into the small rural town of Jena, Louisiana. Alerted by black radio and Internet networks, they came on buses from all over the South, from Detroit and Harlem and as far away as Los Angeles, to express their outrage at the Jim Crow "justice" meted out to six black Jena high school students. After months of racist insults and threats prompted by black students sitting under the "white tree," with racists putting hangman's nooses on the tree, five of the youth were charged with attempted murder following a schoolyard scuffle with a white student, while the sixth was charged as a juvenile (see "Outrage Over Jim Crow Justice in Louisiana," JFFNo. 896, 3 August). On campuses and workplaces across the country, the case of the Jena Six has touched a raw nerve among black people. One protester in Jena held up a sign reading, "There Would Be More of Us Here But So Many of Us Are in Jail."

The day after the protesters left, Jim Crow justice in Jena reasserted itself. Earlier, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, the only one of the six students who has been continuously imprisoned since the schoolyard fight, saw his aggravated assault and conspiracy charges thrown out because he had been tried as an adult. But outrageously, on September 21 he was denied bail. Bell remains incarcerated in a town in the central Louisiana pine woods that has been a stronghold for KKKer David Duke. The other five still await trial, although charges against four of them have been reduced. Hours after the Jena demonstration, two young whites, one an admitted Klansman, provocatively drove through the nearby city of Alexandria, threatening people who had returned from the protest by dragging two nooses from their pickup truck, which contained a rifle and brass knuckles. Free Mychal Bell now! Drop all the charges against the Jena Six!

"Jena justice" is not some aberration. In Georgia, black youth Genarlow Wilson is still in prison for having had consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. After a court reduced his sentence to time already served, prosecutors appealed the ruling, keeping him behind bars. In New York City, Sean Bell, a young black man celebrating his upcoming wedding, was cut down in a hail of 50 cop bullets last December, and six months later black and Latino high school students in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood were rounded up by cops as they tried to attend a friend's wake. The prisons, and the barbaric death rows within the prisons, are overflowing with black men in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Many of the protesters who poured into Jena appreciated the connection made by Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Club comrades between the case of the Jena Six and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst racist atrocities in modern U.S. history. But Democratic politicians Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton, central leaders of the Jena protest, did not organize any significant protests over Katrina. The Katrina disaster could not be blamed solely on the criminal policies of the Bush administration but also indicted the Democratic Party, which for decades helped preside over the deterioration of the flood control system and ran the notoriously racist and corrupt New Orleans cops. A featured speaker on September 20 was New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who ordered the city's evacuation while abandoning those without cars—overwhelmingly black and poor—to the Katrina floodwaters. We wrote in a 4 September 2005 Spartacist League statement titled "New Orleans: Racist Atrocity" (WV No. 854,16 September 2005):

"This disaster has laid bare the class and race divisions in America. The logic of U.S. capitalism is that whites mainly lost property, blacks mainly lost lives. It is overwhelmingly black people, deemed 'expendable' by the rulers, who suffered and died by the thousands in this two-thirds black city.... This catastrophic destruction of lives and livelihoods underlines that the oppression of black people is rooted in the very bedrock of American capitalism and will not be ended short of a socialist revolution that rips power and the means of production from the greedy rulers and places them in the hands of the working people."

We look to the working class and its strategic black component as the social force that can overturn the capitalist order. With its hands on the means of production—the factories, mines, transportation systems—the working class produces the profits of the capitalist exploiters. We fight to build a workers party based on the perspective of revolutionary integrationism. While combatting racist segregation and state repression, we understand that black liberation can be achieved only through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society. This program is counterposed to the liberal myth that black people—an oppressed race-color caste—can achieve equality within the confines of the capitalist profit system. It is also counterposed to black nationalism, which capitulates to and helps perpetuate the racist segregation fostered by this country's rulers and despairs of multiracial class struggle.

Liberal Misleaders

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, whose longtime role as "black leaders" has been to quell social unrest, came down to Jena to preach reliance on the same "justice" system that from the county sheriff on up is a machine of racial and class oppression. Sharpton called in Jena for "federal intervention to protect people from Southern injustice," intoning that "our fathers in the 1960's had to penetrate the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we have to do the same thing" (Associated Press, 20 September).

It is a lie that the federal government is a friend of black equality. Fifty years ago during the battle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, President Eisenhower sent in troops to head off efforts by black people to defend themselves against racist mobs and KKK nightriders. Federal intervention into anti-racist and other social struggles has meant spying on and murderous repression of activists. President Bush, cynically claiming to be "saddened" by the events in Jena, noted that "the Justice Department and the FBI are monitoring the situation." We're sure they are—just like they "monitored" the Black Panther Party and thousands of other radicals, black and white, in the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War and New Left movements.

Under the FBI's Counter-intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds of others framed up. FBI "infiltrators" made up about 20 percent of Ku Klux Klan membership in the 1960s and were involved in bombings and murders, including the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo in her car in 1965. The November 1979 Klan/Nazi massacre of five leftists and union officials in Greensboro, North Carolina, was aided by a government agent who helped train the killers and by a "former" FBI informant who rode shotgun in the fascists' motorcade of death.

A living symbol of the system of racist capitalist injustice today is the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and later a MOVE supporter and radical journalist who has been imprisoned on death row for a quarter century, framed up on false charges of killing a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981. From the time he was a 15-year-old leader of the Philadelphia Panthers in the late 1960s, Mumia was a target of COINTELPRO spying and harassment. The cops, prosecutors, bourgeois politicians and their media jackals have howled for Mumia's legal lynching because they see in him the spectre of black revolt.

The big-name black liberals who organized the Jena Six protest have done nothing at all comparable on behalf of Mumia. While Jena is a small Southern town, Philadelphia is a major Northern city long run by the Democratic Party machine. And it was the local Democrats who joined with the cops and prosecutors in putting Mumia on death row. The D.A. who prosecuted Mumia in 1982, Ed Rendell, is now the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania. Since first taking up Mumia's cause two decades ago, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have urged all opponents of racist oppression to join the fight for his freedom and to abolish the racist death penalty. But we understand that this fight must be waged independently of the capitalist courts and political parties that conspired to railroad Mumia.

Democrats: The Other Party of Racist Capitalist Rule

What politicians like Sharpton, who admits that he wore a wire for the FBI in the 1980s, want above all else is to keep black people tied to the Democratic Party as the "lesser evil" to the Republicans, who openly appeal to the white racist vote. All the major GOP presidential candidates recently refused to appear in a debate at Baltimore's historically black Morgan State University. In an earlier calculated insult, all but one Republican candidate turned down the chance to debate on the Spanish-language Univision network. In his New York Times (24 August) column, liberal commentator Paul Krugman noted that the Republicans' "electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity." He pointed out that "Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination," despite his big-city social life and record on abortion, because he "comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who."

The impoverishment of the black populace is perpetuated by the American capitalist government—federal, state and city—whether run by Democrats or Republicans. It was the Clinton administration in the mid 1990s that axed the main federal welfare program, thereby condemning millions of women and children, disproportionately black, to destitution while further depressing wages at the low end of the labor market, where black workers are concentrated. Today in response to the Jena atrocity, Hillary Clinton has joined the call for an "investigation," while Barack Obama says he just wants "fairness" and claims it "isn't a matter of black and white." Tell that to the marchers who passed Confederate flags on the way out of Jena!

The bulk of the "socialist" left, which sows the illusion that the capitalist system can be reformed to serve the interests of workers and the oppressed, has offered no criticism of the Sharpton and Jackson leadership of the Jena protest. Typical are the eccentric Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who went to Jena with stickers to "Impeach Bush!"—their longstanding gimmick to promote the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war. The RCP's Revolution has pumped out a lot of newsprint on Jena that includes some ritualistic denunciations of capitalism and white supremacy. But you won't hear from them that Jackson, Sharpton & Co. have repeatedly moved to steer anger over racist abuses into toothless "reforms" and bourgeois electoral politics.

MLK and the Failure of Liberal Reformism

There was a lot of talk at the Jena protest about the need for a "new civil rights movement." It's obvious to millions of oppressed black people that something needs to be done. The bipartisan "war on drugs" campaign has led to the mass incarceration of black as well as Latino youth. A decision by the Supreme Court this summer effectively put the last nail in the coffin of school integration. The mass of black people is forced to live in ghettos that are little more than rotting shells: no jobs, no health care, primary and high schools little more than prisons. In some inner cities, infant mortality rates approach Third World conditions.

The civil rights movement succeeded in eliminating legalized racial segregation (the Jim Crow system) in the South. That system had taken hold in the late 19th century after the defeat of Radical Reconstruction, the period of racial equality and black political empowerment that followed the smashing of the slavocracy in the Civil War. An important factor leading to the end of Jim Crow was that by the late 1950s legalized segregation had become an increasing embarrassment for the U.S. imperialist rulers in their Cold War with the Soviet Union, especially in the former colonial countries of Asia and Africa.

But the civil rights movement was defeated in the mid 1960s when it came North, where blacks already had the same formal democratic rights as whites but remained segregated at the bottom of society. For here it ran straight into the conditions of black impoverishment and oppression rooted in the basic structure of American capitalist society: mass unemployment, rat-infested slums, rampant police brutality. These conditions could not be eradicated by Congress passing a new civil rights act.
However, the civil rights movement—in which the black masses courageously confronted the white-supremacist police states of the South—also had the possibility of developing into a working-class-centered struggle for black equality. Such a struggle was obstructed and sabotaged by Martin Luther King Jr. and the other black misleaders who tied the movement to the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The main organization of young civil rights militants in the South was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which in the early 1960s underwent a leftward radicalization. Through their own bitter experience, SNCC militants came to recognize that the Kennedy/Johnson White House was a lot closer to the racist Dixiecrats than it was to them. At the same time, they also came to recognize that the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, were a party of imperialist militarism, seeking to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and escalating the war in Vietnam in the name of anti-Communism.

Tensions between the young militants and King & Co. came to the surface during the 1963 March on Washington. The liberal leaders pressured then SNCC chairman John Lewis into deleting from his prepared speech the following passage: "We cannot depend on any political party for both the Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence." Subsequently, Lewis, like many other activists, came to terms with the racist capitalist order, becoming a Democratic Congressman.

To black people, King preached "non-violent resistance" in the face of racist police repression as well as attacks by the Klan. And when in the summer of 1965 blacks in the Watts district of Los Angeles rose up against police brutality, King, at the behest of Lyndon Johnson, endorsed their bloody suppression by the L.A. cops and National Guard. King's support for the suppression of the Watts rebellion widely discredited him among young black militants who were already derisively calling him "De Lawd."

Our own political tendency emerged during this convulsive period. The Spartacist League originated as a left opposition, the Revolutionary Tendency (RT), in the once-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). When the Southern civil rights struggles erupted in the late 1950s, the SWP was beginning to move away from the Trotskyist program, finally descending into reformism in 1965. The SWP leadership abstained from intervening in the mass struggles for democratic rights while acting as cheerleaders for both King and the black nationalists of the Nation of Islam.

The RT fought for the SWP to intervene into the civil rights movement based on a program of linking the struggle for black democratic rights and social equality with the working-class struggle against capitalist exploitation. Concretely, we called on civil rights militants to break with the Democratic Party and form a Freedom Labor Party. We called as well for a Southern organizing drive backed by the labor movement. Then as now, only on the basis of common class interests and struggle can the deep racial divide between black and white workers be overcome. After being expelled from the SWP, the early Spartacist League intervened in the civil rights movement in both the South and North, to the best of the ability of our very small forces.

Recoiling against the liberal reformism of King and identifying the labor movement with its bureaucratic misleaders, many SNCC and other militants turned toward black nationalism. Black nationalism or, more accurately, separatism is at bottom a doctrine of despair. This outlook accepts that the racist character of American society is unchangeable and that no significant section of the white populace can be won to the struggle for black equality. The best of the young black radicals of this period were represented by the Black Panther Party, which was destroyed largely through murderous state repression. Many Panthers subsequently returned to the fold of liberal reformism and the Democratic Party.

The Class-Struggle Road to Black Liberation

Black nationalism obscures the class divide in this society, denying the potential power that black workers have as a strategic component of the multiracial proletariat. Despite the destruction of many industrial jobs and erosion of union strength, black workers, whose rate of union membership is significantly higher than that of white workers, continue to be integrated into such industries as steel, auto, urban transit and longshore. The proletariat alone has the power to shatter this racist, capitalist system. Won to a revolutionary program and under the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party, black workers will be the living link between the anger of the dispossessed ghetto masses and the social power of the proletariat.

The two main obstacles preventing black workers from playing that historic role are the Democratic Party, especially its black component, and the trade-union bureaucracy, which chains workers to the capitalist Democrats. Beginning in the mid 1960s, the Republican Party positioned itself as the party of the "white backlash" while the Democrats moved to co-opt young black activists into the government bureaucracy. Black Democrats became mayors of major cities, where they acted as overseers of the ghetto masses and implemented the killing cuts in social welfare programs. One of those mayors, Wilson Goode of Philadelphia, ordered the firebombing of the MOVE commune in May 1985, killing eleven black men, women and children and destroying an entire black neighborhood in the process.

The failure of the trade-union misleadership to mobilize labor's power to combat the oppression of black people is a major factor underlying the decline of the union movement. This is nowhere clearer than in the South, where the legacy of Jim Crow racism has made it the main regional bastion of anti-labor reaction since the building of the integrated industrial unions in the 1930s. Nonetheless, black workers retain considerable social power alongside their white and Latino class brothers and sisters. The strike of 7,000 shipyard workers at Northrop Grumman, the world's largest naval shipbuilder, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, earlier this year demonstrated the potential power of the integrated labor movement, which under class-struggle leadership could spearhead a drive to organize the open shop South.

Organizing the region's working class, which now includes increasing numbers of immigrants, especially from Latin America, cannot be achieved on the basis of narrow business unionism. Labor needs a leadership which does not bow to this country's harsh anti-labor laws and which mobilizes unions to fight the systematic oppression of black people and to defend the rights of immigrants and all the oppressed. Black and working-class militants must stand for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

Our perspective of revolutionary integrationism is premised on the understanding that black freedom requires smashing the capitalist system and constructing an egalitarian socialist society. There will be no social revolution in this country without a united struggle of black, white and immigrant workers led by their multiracial workers party. As stated in the preamble to the program of the Labor Black Leagues, which are fraternally allied to the Spartacist League: "The civil rights movement, tied to pro-Democratic Party pressure politics and sold out by liberal reformism, failed to complete the unfinished business of the Civil War. We fight to win the entire working class, including white workers as well as the growing number of Latino and other immigrants, to the fight for black liberation, strategic to the American revolution."

Friday, March 20, 2009

*Studs Terkel's America-The Great Racial Divide

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.

The Other Great Divide-Race in Studs Terkel’s America

BOOK REVIEW

Race: How Blacks And White Feel About The Great American Obsession, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 2004

As I have done on other occasions when I am reviewing more than one work by an author I am using some of the same comments, where they are pertinent, here as I did in earlier reviews. In this series the first Studs Terkel book reviewed was that of his “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War II".

Strangely, as I found out about the recent death of long time pro-working class journalist and general truth-teller "Studs" Terkel I was just beginning to read his "The Good War", about the lives and experiences of, mainly, ordinary people during World War II in America and elsewhere, for review in this space. As with other authors once I get started I tend to like to review several works that are relevant to see where their work goes. In the present case the review of Race: How Blacks And Whites Feel About Each is a forthright look at the state of American racial tensions a couple of decades ago although the issues raised and the fears expressed are not far from the surface of today’s racial landscape.

Moreover, the times of Obama notwithstanding, although the “code” words for the race question have changed many of the attitudes that are articulated here are hardly “shocking” to one who has had his ear to the ground down at the base of society. The most common attitude expressed by whites here- that of course they are not racially prejudiced, have nothing against blacks, even has black friends, in short, have no racial problems is belied by the refusal to live, go to school with or work with blacks. Perhaps a little surprising, at least to me, was the feeling expressed by many blacks that they did not want to live with whites, did not trust them and also feared them. That is the paradox of race in America and has been since slavery times. Anyone who paid close attention to this year’s presidential race and avoided the easy democratic and social generalizations of the mainstream pundits got hit over the head with this reality on the job, in the public schools in the neighborhood and on the streets every day. Certainly the Obama victory was a significant fact in this racially divided society. However one would be living in a fool’s paradise to think that overnight the race question had been eliminated. But enough of that except to say that we could certainly have used Studs talents to do a postscript on this book today.

One thing that I noticed immediately after reading this book, and as is true of the majority of Terkel’s interview books, is that he is not the dominant presence but is a rather light, if intensely interested, interloper in these stories. This is important in trying to get to the bottom of such a socially charged question as racial attitudes. Here, for better or worse the interviewees get to tell their stories, unchained. In this age of 24/7 media coverage with every half-baked journalist or wannabe interjecting his or her personality into somebody else’s story this was, and is, rather refreshing. Of course this journalistic virtue does not mean that Studs did not have control over who got to tell their stories and who didn’t to fit his preoccupations and sense of order. He has a point he wants to make and that is that although most “ordinary” people do not make the history books they certainly make history, if not always of their own accord or to their own liking. Again, kudos and adieu Studs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama And The Race Question In America

Commentary


Make no mistake, Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama is another in the line of garden variety liberals who have been that party’s candidates over the past half century or so and therefore no more supportable by militant leftists that any of the others. No more and no less. That is the beginning of wisdom for us here. Nevertheless Obama's nomination does represent one significant different from past Democratic candidacies- his race. A not unimportant difference as this misbegotten presidential race heats up and the question of race will, one way or the other, raise its ugly head. Obama’s nomination, in the final analysis, is significant-for him- not so for the vast majority of blacks (and others for that matter). The reasons for that situation I have addressed in other commentaries in this space and will in the future. What I want to discuss today though is this question of whether Obama is electable today in this racially-divided society.

Part of Obama’s drawing card among some whites and others has been a deliberate strategy of arguing for a post-racial candidacy (I know, I know to even mention such a thing seems absurd on its face given the historical and current racial realities.). That appeal had a certain very real cachet among the young, well-educated urban college types, up and coming blacks and other minorities. Frankly, if wishes were reality it would be very appealing. But here is the nut. This election is about votes and, more narrowly, swing votes in a few key states if the past several presidential elections are any indication.

Frankly, as the numbers are starting to firm up things are starting to look grim for Obama’s chances. An in-depth recent poll I looked at told the tale that is the real face of American society, at least its voting segment. Obama, despite some cold water from die hard Hillary supporters, is very solid with the woman vote. He is obviously solid with the urbane young and virtually all blacks, no question there. He is also, and here is the kicker, solid with the very poor and lower white working class (family incomes under $50,000) that Hillary bashed him over the head with in the spring primaries. In short he looks good thus far for holding many of the old Democratic coalition segments together. So where is the problem?

The problem is the white suburban vote that has tended to call itself independent as it has left the cities but has swung Republican over the past several elections. Mainly, from what I can gather, this is now a second generation (at least) out in the suburbs. And that is the rub. One way of dealing with race (or better, racial fears and hatred) is to walk away from it, if you can. This segment has, generally, walked away from the cities with its teeming minorities. Thus the hard symbol of racial segregation is no longer the rope or the separate facilities but the “gated” community (I mean that metaphorically here). This is no the "white trash" of literary mention but those with some college, some money and many frustrations. These, moreover, are the people I live among. That is the deep, dark secret of American racism and ultimately why Obama is in serious trouble. More later as the campaign progresses (if that is the right term for this thing).

Monday, October 01, 2007

*FREE THE JENA SIX!

Click On Title To Link To Associated Press, June 27, 2009, Article On The Latest On The Jena Six.


COMMENTARY


Recently in a commentary on integration (Reflections of the 50th Anniversary of Little Rock, September 2007 archives) I mentioned, in passing, the case of the Jena Six, a group of six black youth faces with, frankly, unwarranted pig-piled charges being accused of beating up a white youth after provocation down in rural Louisiana. The case has received international attention as a result of being taken up by ‘black leaders’ and Democratic Party stalwarts Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who led a large and spirited march in Jena by a predominately black crowd from many parts of the country. That is to the good. As always when the ‘hot button’ issue of race intersects the raw face of American justice ‘Southern- style' (or Northern style, for that matter) the plight of these teenagers has been the subject of comment from all sides all the way up to the leading presidential contenders.

Here the reported comment of Illinois Senator Barack Obama deserves special mention. He, in his inevitable ‘color blind’ way is looking for ‘fairness’ in the case. And there is the rub. I do not know what planet the Senator is on but even a cursory look at the history of Black existence in this country, and more importantly, CURRENT prison population patterns both on death row and as a result of the 'war on drugs' renders that search as rather illusive.

And to have a word on the Jackson-Sharpton Democratic Party-oriented leadership. In my Little Rock commentary I noted that in some ways, in this case on the standards of ‘justice’ for black people in this country, there has been little progress since that time. Yes, the question of freedom for the Six rather than ‘fairness’ is correctly posed. However, as Hurricane Katrina definitively brought to the surface, what justice, what program for black advancement has been carried through by a policy of 'toting water' for the Democrats lo these many years? What has that policy gotten the masses of black (and other people) in this country? But enough of that for now, we can fight that argument out at another time. The demand here is for justice for the Six- by any means necessary. Free the Jena Six.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

*On The Question Of Racial Integration In American Society- Law Professor Dworkin's View

Click On Title To Link To "New York Review Of Books" Article Titled "The Supreme Court Phalanx" By Professor Ronald Dworkins About The Current Legal Efforts Around The Question Of Insuring Racial Equality (Or Rather The Lack Of Legal Efforts). This article rather vividly connects with the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the attempts to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas high schools.

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Repost from 2007

As background I repost the first paragraph of my commentary today concerning the 50th Anniversary of the attempts to integrate Little Rock.

COMMENTARY

Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. Keep the eyes on the prize.

History is full of ironies (and well as its share of tragedies, comedies and farces). These days as the fight for racial justice for the Jena Six unfolds down in Louisiana we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the epoch struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the nth time it was then, and today is, brought home to us there is no clear sailing in the struggle for racial equality. And we need not look only at those dramatic and well-publicized cases. In housing patterns, school population patterns, prison population patterns and general cultural and social patterns that promise of equality has either stalled or retrogressed. Further, as legal scholar Ronald Dworkin’s has graphically pointed out in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007 issue that also cites earlier articles by him on other Supreme Court decisions last term) well-worn legal strategies in order to achieve integration, with the overturning of the Seattle and Louisville school plans, seems to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Undeniably gains have been made, but when all is said and done a very strong argument can be made that that youthful goal of mine to live in a racially integrated society seems as far away as ever.

*Reflections On The 50th Anniversary Of Little Rock

Click On Title To Link To Wikipedia's Entry For The "Little Rock Nine".

COMMENTARY

Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. Keep the eyes on the prize.

History is full of ironies (and well as its share of tragedies, comedies and farces). These days as the fight for racial justice for the Jena Six unfolds down in Louisiana we are also commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the epoch struggle to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the nth time it was then, and today is, brought home to us there is no clear sailing in the struggle for racial equality. And we need not look only at those dramatic and well-publicized cases. In housing patterns, school population patterns, prison population patterns and general cultural and social patterns that promise of equality has either stalled or retrogressed. Further, as legal scholar Ronald Dworkin’s has graphically pointed out in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books (September 27, 2007 issue that also cites earlier articles by him on other Supreme Court decisions last term) well-worn legal strategies in order to achieve integration, with the overturning of the Seattle and Louisville school plans, seems to be blocked for the foreseeable future. Undeniably gains have been made, but when all is said and done a very strong argument can be made that that youthful goal of mine to live in a racially integrated society seems as far away as ever.

Usually I make political comments that many times are somewhat removed from direct personal experience. However, the question of race and racism, spoken or unspoken, is a central driving force in American politics and thus in this entry I want to present some personal information to elicit responses in order find out what the racial temperature is now. One of the most pervasive patterns that drives racial segregation, mainly consciously created as the documented history of ‘redlining’, exclusionary zoning practices and unsavory personal predilections indicate, is the housing question and that is where I want to start today. I spent my early childhood in an all white public housing project. My later childhood was spend in an all white poor working class neighborhood even though black neighborhoods existed as close as a drive over a bridge away. That bridge might as well have been a thousand miles long. My northern high school graduating class was all white. It might as well have been Central High in Little Rock. My urban, publicly funded college graduating class had few minorities. In adulthood I have lived in poor white neighborhoods, mixed student neighborhoods, the black enclaves of Oakland, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and, back in the days, in an integrated commune (for those who do not know that is a bunch of unrelated people living on the same premises by design), and now in a middling working class neighborhood, meaning that it is about 90% white. I have even, when I had a rich girlfriend, lived in the leafy suburbs. In short, I have been all around the race and the housing question.

The reader will have to tell me if my experience is usual or not. But the point here is that in a recent study (if a reader remembers the name of the study I would be grateful to get that information, I have forgotten its name) of racial attitudes on the question of ‘comfortability’ in proximity to other races, by another name -the diversity question- white comfort levels were favorable when the ratio was 90% white, 10% other. Just like my neighborhood! Blacks, asked the same question responded that they favored a 50%, 50% threshold. That is a truer measure of a mixed neighborhood. And that, my friends, is the rub.

In my youth we fought for integration, some of us desperately so. The Little Rock Nine attest to that. Schools, housing, bus depots, hell- even lunch counters and student dances. Everything. Somehow, as any serious look at the numbers today demonstrates, this idea has gotten off track since the demise of busing and the refusal to do anything meaningful about housing patterns. The very word integration has, as they say, lost ‘traction’. Today, in a not so subtle acknowledgement of defeat, the buzzword is ‘diversity’ (or its derivative ‘multiculturalism’). In effect the very hard, hard fight to create a real mix of peoples has been abandoned. The nationalists and racists of various stripes may be happy but down at the base the people have been abandoned to their respective fates. Hurricane Katrina, of now fading public memory, only laid bare that hard truth. Moreover, diversity in common parlance does not signify the mixing, and therefore action, of integration but only ‘respect’ for differences. However, not to be unkind… No, forget that, I want to be unkind on this. Having ten different ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood, going to an August Wilson play, not missing an Alvin Ailey Troupe performance and occasionally playing golf with minority friends or workmates is not integration. Diversity is fine, but integration is the goal. More later.