Thursday, July 31, 2008

So Long, And Thanks for all the Fish!

So were the final words of the dolphins as they left a doomed Earth in Douglas Adam's Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And that's pretty much what the Bush administration will be telling all of us come January 2009. The White House Budget Office has estimated the government's deficit will surge past a half-trillion dollars next year--amounting to a staggering $482 billion.

Oh but it gets better...

According to reports, "That figure is sure to rise after adding the tens of billions of dollars in additional Iraq war funding it doesn't include, and the total could be higher yet if the economy fails to recover as the administration predicts."

In fact, the AP points out, "The administration actually underestimates the deficit since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs."

In case any of you have not been paying attention, that bungled Iraqi colonial venture is currently costing the US an estimated $341.4 million per day.

The irony of course is that when George W. Bush was appointed to the presidency by the Supreme Court, he inherited a budget of unprecedented surpluses due to a 10-year period of uninterrupted economic growth. Sure much of that owed to exploitative neoliberal policies at home and abroad,
and all boats certainly did not "rise" (Sorry Mr. Friedman, world ain't so flat after all) . But it's not as if the Bush administration made any improvements. In fact, they actually made things worse. Continuing to aggresively push the same "free market" ideologies of his predecessors, Bush also pushed through a 10-year, $1.35 trillion package of tax cuts--mostly for the rich and upper class.

In typical form, presidential candidate Sen. John McCain used the news to rail against profligate government spending. "I have an unmatched record in fighting wasteful earmarks and unnecessary spending in the U.S. Senate, and I have the determination and experience to do the same as president," Sen. McCain said. In GOP speak this generally means, cutting funding to social services utilized by ordinary citizens even during an economic downturn. The one service Sen. McCain doesn't intend on cutting are the reported multi-trillion dollar tax cuts he plans on doling out to the wealthy.

Democratic contender Sen. Barack Obama promised as well to cut "wasteful spending." But to his credit, he identified this as closing corporate loopholes and rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on upper brackets that Sen. McCain favors. At the same time he is promising to make "health care affordable" as well as engaging in a middle class tax cut (sorry poor folks, you guys never qualify much for tax cuts; just hold onto that third job, if you can find it). How the Illinois Senator plans to do this however, and at the same time expand the military (and by extension the already bloated military budget) while prosecuting a war in Afghanistan and maybe even Pakistan, remains to be seen.

All of which brings me to my main point...

Now I'm no economist, and far be it from me to tell the experienced parties where to take their budget cutting scissors when it comes to reducing the deficit. But last I checked, the US in 2008 spent a staggering $623 billion on military funding--that's $123 billion more than the entire rest of the world *combined.*

And as massive as these numbers are, they don't even include the billions given away yearly in military funding to "friendly" regimes--from Pakistan to Israel--that the US doles out each year.

To put this in terms that are plain and relatable, in Fiscal Year 2007, 20% of American tax dollars went to health research and services; 12% went to respond to poverty; 11% went to interest; general government operations accounted for 7%; all of 3% was spent on community and economic development, including social programs; scientific and environmental studies was afforded another 3%, while international diplomatic aid accounted for 1%. The remaining 43% almost half of the federal budget, went to military and war funding. That's your money folks--our money.

Now call me a crazy man, but perhaps if we shaved just a little off the top there--heck a whole lot off the top--it might make a dent in our deficit and other economic woes? Instead of cutting funding to things that save and enrich lives (health care, education, etc.) how about we scale back on the things that take lives?

Unfortunately, as Glen Greenwald over at put it, there seems to be a "bi-partisan consensus" on US military spending. Outside of restricted and muzzled agitators like Rep. Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader, there is literally no debate or criticism of America's out-of-control military spending. In fact, there only seems to be an appetite--from both parties--for more.

Perhaps in the end this is part of that "military-congressional-industrial complex" that long haired hippie and kook President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about. But that's another post, for another blog...

*Special thanks to Glen Greenwald's The bipartisan consensus on U.S. military spending and the Friends Committee on National Legislation for the information. God Bless the Quakers!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Conservative Think Tank Suggests "War on Terror" is Flawed

Just last week, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey urged that Congress should explicitly declare a state of armed conflict with al Qaeda to make clear the United States can detain suspected members as long as the war on terrorism lasts. "Any legislation should acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us," Mukasey said. "Congress should reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations."

Yet a recently released report by the US funded RAND Corporation--a conservative think tank--undermines the attorney general's rationale, and calls into question the way in which the fight against terrorism is being waged. The report found the idea of a "war on terror" to not only be misguided but counterproductive. Furthermore, it suggested the US should rethink its entire strategy of militarism as a way to combat terrorism. In fact, it pointed out nations like Britain and Australia have long stopped using the phrase "war on terror" to describe strategy against al Qaeda and other terror groups, treating them instead as criminal organizations that are best stopped through intelligence gathering and policing.

Gee. Kind of puts a damper on that whole indefinite war with no end thing the Bush administration has been pushing huh...

Back in 2004, Democratic Presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry stated that he wanted to reduce terrorism to a "nuisance." As Kerry stated in a Times magazine interview, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." Sen. Kerry was drawing on his experience as a prosecutor, and pointed out that just as it was impossible to completely rid any society of prostitution, illegal gambling or organized crime, it was fantasy to think that terrorism could be thoroughly "neutralized" by a "war on terror" no less. For his insightful analysis, one that had been offered up since the wake of the Sept 11th attacks, Sen. Kerry was lambasted by conservatives and a media who played up the seeming gaffe.

Speaking to crowds of supporters, Presidential incumbent George W. Bush repeatdly chided his Democratic opponent. He asserted Sen. Kerry's description of the fight against terrorism as "primarily a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering operation" rather than a battle requiring the full might of American power, was naive. Claiming that the "nuisance" comment offered fresh "new evidence that Senator Kerry fundamentally misunderstands the war on terror," Bush hammered away on this theme--with a little help from his friends.

As noted by the NY Times in an Oct 12 2004 article:

In New Jersey, Vice President Dick Cheney called Mr. Kerry's view of terrorism "naïve and dangerous." In a conference call with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, mocked Mr. Kerry for comparing terrorism to gambling and prostitution. "The idea that you can have an acceptable level of terrorism is frightening," Mr. Giuliani said.

As noted by MediaMatters at the time, conservative pundits joined in on the pile-on:

PAT BUCHANAN (MSNBC analyst, as guest host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country): Kerry seems to have this -- obviously they try to portray him as a girlie man at the Republican Convention. But he seems to play into this with the phrase about sensitive war, and global test, and now terrorism is a nuisance. [MSNBC, Scarborough Country, 10/11]

SEAN HANNITY (FOX News Channel host and ABC Radio Networks host): He [Kerry] is saying, these are his words, this is his little debate he's had with himself, and the fact that 3,000 of our fellow citizens were slaughtered on 9-11 -- and here we are -- we're supposed to believe that these terrorists are only a mere nuisance -- just a nuisance. [ABC Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/11]

HANNITY: You know that nuisance that John Kerry was talking about? We're going to win the war on terror so that American cities and American malls and the American people are going to be safe. That's what the war has always been about. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/11]

TONY SNOW (FOX News Channel host and FOX News Radio host, as guest host of FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor): But first, our top story tonight, the political heat is on as we count down to November 2. President Bush and Senator Kerry are back on the campaign trail, pounding away at each other, verbally, of course. This morning, the president pounced on a quote in Sunday's New York Times Magazine where Senator Kerry called terrorists a nuisance. [FOX News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 10/11]

GARY BAUER (chairman of the conservative political action committee Campaign for Working Families and a former Republican presidential candidate, sitting in for CNN Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson): Listen up, Senator Kerry. We're fighting Jihadists, Islamofascists, not just a nuisance or law enforcement problem. [CNN, Crossfire, 10/12]

JACK KEMP (former Republican vice presidential candidate): What John Kerry did is take it and call it a soon-to-be nuisance, which is not correct. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 10/12]

Unfortunately, Sen. Kerry--giving into fear of pressing the issue with a seemingly indifferent or hostile media--simply stated that the Republicans were taking his words out of context. Much more plain spoken had been earlier Democratic foreign-policy wonks.

''We're not in a war on terror, in the literal sense,'' said Clinton-era diplomat Richard Holbrooke. ''The war on terror is like saying 'the war on poverty.' It's just a metaphor. What we're really talking about is winning the ideological struggle so that people stop turning themselves into suicide bombers.''

It will be interesting to see what the 2008 presidential candidates--one who thinks a hundred year occupation of Iraq is part of a "global war on terror" and another who intends on ramping up the Afghan war and is on record for unilateral military strikes into a sovereign nation (Pakistan) as a way to "fight terror"--will make of this report. Will they utilize it? Or is their tough talking rhetoric simply seen as more useful during a campaign?

Some further points from the Rand report:

*A transition to the political process is the most common way most terrorist groups end. But the process, found in 43 percent cases examined, is said to be unlikely with al-Qaida, because of its broad, sweeping agenda.

*The second most common way that terrorist groups end, seen in about 40 percent of the cases, is through police and intelligence services. Police are particularly effective because their permanent presence in cities helps them gather information.

*Military force, as currently being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, was effective in only 7 percent of the cases.

*Even where we found some success against al-Qaida, in Pakistan and Iraq, the military played a background or surrogate role. The bulk of the action was taken by intelligence, police and, in some cases, local forces.

*Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups but none has achieved victory in the 38 years covered by the study.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

CNN's "Black in America"- A Review by Dr. Boyce Watkins

On July 23rd and 24th, CNN presented its documentary “Black in America” a six-hour look at the role race plays in the lives of many black Americans. Hosted by Soledad O'Brien, it came in two parts, Black in America: The Black Man and Black in America: Black Women & Family.

In full disclosure, I didn't watch it. I was told about it repeatedly. I saw the advertisments. I got the emails. There were even people here in the city handing out free backpacks and other paraphernalia. But, much like Professor Watkins (whose article I post below), I just wasn't interested. I couldn't conceive that the network that has been trending towards FAUX News for ratings since the late 90s, that sent us sensationalist drivel like that of Nancy Grace, that beams out conservative racist noise boxes like Glenn Beck and allows Lou "I Hate Mexicans" Dobbs to spin himself off as a "populist," was going to give black America anything worthy and ultimately redeeming of previous media portrayals. Whatever respect I had for CNN went out the window a long time ago.

Sure I know, folks will say it was wrong of me to pre-judge something I hadn't seen, that I should have watched it first and then given it a chance. Maybe they're right. But when it comes to the corporate television media, I kind of have an idea who I'm dealing with. Ain't like they don't have a track record. So I'll leave the following perspective by Dr. Boyce Watkins, because it speaks to the inherent flaws in expecting anything out of such a documentary, and much more.

CNN's Black in America: Exactly What it was Meant to Be

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

When I received the email about CNN's recent series "Black in America", I wasn't happy, I wasn't sad: I was indifferent. I saw it for what it was: an attempt to use viral marketing to achieve a ratings hit against Fox News. But after seeing the same damn email forwarded to me over and over and over again, I knew one thing: many black people were excited….really excited, as if CNN were the Union Army and this were a modern-day Juneteenth. The email was forwarded as a "must see", save-the-date, tell ya mama, grandmamma, baby's mama event that was going to change the world. Finally, the predominantly white media was going to give us a fair shake and truly tell our story. They were going to help White America understand what we go through and why we are not the animals some think we are. They were going to present hurdles and solutions that will help us come together as a nation. Call me a skeptic, but if the media has never told our story accurately in the past, what in the hell made us think they were going to do it right this time?

Given that some label me a "haterologist" for daring to question the religious figure known as Barack Obama (I am cautiously, yet strongly supportive and protective of Barack, but I insist that anyone who gets my vote communicates an effective urban agenda) I chose to let the liquor keep flowing at the "We Shall Overcome via CNN" Happy Hour in Black America. In other words, I remained silent, since it's not fun to bring bad news (academics are trained to be skeptical, even if we think something is good). All of us were ready to pull out the popcorn and kool-aid, to stare down the TV set like we were watching Beyonce give birth in outer space. The CNN event was truly the Black middle class version of the BET Video Music Awards, without all the gold teeth and stuff.

I watched the show the same way I normally watch CNN: between flights in random airports. I don't even watch CNN when I appear on the network, since I stay pretty busy. I won't say how I felt after the special; I'll just let you read my facial expression through these words. Imagine a modest-looking, youngish-oldish, blackish/brownish bald man with a twisted frown-like scowl, a twitching, squinted left eye, a curled up bottom lip and gritted teeth, viewing a TV screen between his two middle fingers. Sort of like the face you make when watching an Olympic gymnast fall crotch-first onto the balance beam right before breaking his leg.

"Black in America" was the socio-political lovefest between CNN and Black people that just wasn't going to materialize. It was the day when we in middle class Black America truly thought we were going to be vindicated, and the world would finally learn to love us. Black America became Jeremiah Wright at The National Press Club, thinking that the same media that destroyed his image was going to be the source of image repair. But like Jeremiah Wright (whom I respect tremendously) , we marched away angrily, kicking the cracks in the sidewalk, shocked that we'd all been bamboozled. We were finally invited into the game, but only so they could use our ball and make us the mascot.

I don't hate CNN, I've done a lot of work with them. I do, however, hate Fox News….well, just Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (great job this week Nas – even though you should stop marketing yourself as a replacement for Jesse Jackson). I don't question the motives of the producers, including Soledad O'Brien, a woman I truly believe to care about black people. I also felt that Paula Zahn (a former host) really wanted to dig to the root of racial inequality in an honest way. I did not, however, feel that CNN could pull off an honest conversation on race, and I don't believe they wanted to. They were, to me, like American Generals thinking they could muscle their way to peace in Iraq. They felt that if they spent enough money, engaged in enough viral marketing and got enough black people excited, they could create a ratings monster.

CNN achieved its goal. What made me feel bad for black people is that many of us actually thought that their goals were the same as our own. Here are some quick thoughts:

1) Black people were not the target audience of this series. CNN was not talking TO black people, they were talking ABOUT black people. Understand, there is a difference between telling white America how horrible black people can be vs. telling White people things they may not want to hear. Sure, CNN was glad to have Black viewers, but they are designed to cater to the other 87% of the population, not the 13% who serve as stars of the show. Black people have always made good entertainment for the corporate news monster, which feeds itself from the number of eyeballs it gets on the screen.

2) Most of the content for a TV news show, guest selection, and everything else, comes from the mind of the producer(s). Most producers of cable news shows, and all of the hosts, are non-black. Their viewpoints, structured in a racist society, are going to manifest themselves in the content of the show. Our media school here at Syracuse is one of the top 3 in the world and we have a lot of students who go on to become producers at CNN, FOX, NBC, etc. During a highly racist show created on our campus news network a couple of years ago (it led to the studio being shut down and students being harshly and unfairly disciplined) , I noted that it was not the fault of the students that they see the world the way they do. It's the fault of their parents and educators who refuse to teach them what they need to understand about race. America must face the truth about racism in order to properly educate news producers to provide a more enlightened perspective. As I began working with international news organizations this year, the contrast became quite clear: I enjoy appearing on international networks like Al Jazeera much more than CNN, Fox and MSNBC. The difference is like comparing a gourmet meal of knowledge to crackers from a sound bite vending machine. That's why I only watch cable news in airports.

3) The Black in America series was done for one reason: to take away Fox News' Black viewers (Black people hate Fox, and I am glad they do) and to defeat O'Reilly at the ratings game. While Black in America did very well in the ratings, it was still second to The O'Reilly Factor. The idea that there are 2.5 million people in America who watch O'Reilly every night says something about where we stand in America as it pertains to race. If CNN is trying to steal these viewers, then an honest reflection on racism is not going to achieve that goal.

4) The way this show was done underscores the need to finance and secure more black-owned media (I shared this with Rev. Jackson this week, since I was disappointed that his mishap with the microphone occurred on Fox – whether you like Jesse or not, our most respected and cherished leaders should not have to lean toward racist venues like Fox News to get a message to their people). No one else will ever tell our story the way we would tell it. This underscores the importance of supporting black media outlets and even going to the Internet to get your news if necessary. This does not imply that CNN can't be a valid source of news, but I encourage their network to get more black hosts and producers so they can tell the story right next time.

5) Personally, I was a bit offended by the "Black in America" series, primarily because it gave me exactly what I expected: a series of shallow statistics and vignettes, featuring the most dramatically negative aspects of our existence, all provided without context to an audience that sits back and says "What's wrong with those people?" I can't help but wonder if a show called "White in America" would be produced, showing many negative realities of the White community. What is most ironic is that such a series would never be acceptable.

Only Black people feel the pressure to answer for every little thing that happens in all corners of our community. We will even say that we are "embarrassed" by something we saw on TV. I've never seen a White man get embarrassed by the behavior of someone in a trailer park, so I don't get embarrassed by Flavor Flav. It is the lack of image diversity in mainstream media that makes us angry at Flavor Flav for simply being who he is. The truth is that we should wonder why it is ONLY Flavor Flav on the network, and not another Black image to balance him out.

Self-reflection is necessary. But I don't believe in self-hatred. To LIFT yourself, you must learn to LOVE yourself. CNN's "Black in America" didn't give us much to love. But looking for love externally doesn't usually work anyway, so why were we trying so hard? The next time CNN offers us a media Juneteenth, this slave will already have left the plantation, I'll be educating my God kids instead.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of "What if George Bush were a Black Man?" For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins. net


Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh Where Have all the White Heroes Gone ?

Actor Matthew Mcconaughey as attorney Roger Baldwin in Spielberg's Amistad.

Actor and activist Danny Glover is steadily working on a biopic about the Haitian independence hero Toussaint-Louverture. But it's with no thanks to Hollywood. Glover said he "slaved" to raise funds for the film because financiers refused to back it. "I couldn't get the money here," Glover told the AFP. "I couldn't get the money in Britain. I went to everybody. You wouldn't believe the number of producers based in Europe, and in the States, that I went to." And what was the reasoning given by those who hold the purses? According to Glover, the monied interests in the movie industry complained there were no white heroes. "Producers said 'It's a nice project, a great project..." Glover recounted. "'Where are the white heroes?'"

Pay attention everyone, this is how whiteness works.

The white hero motif in black films is so tried and true, it has become a source of comedy in the black community--one of those private jokes black people laugh at together, of which many whites may be blissfully unaware. If Hollywood gets it into its mind to create a "black" film, and it deals with any topic pertaining to racism or oppression, rest assured a central white character will appear almost like magic.

Sometimes these white characters are actually pulled from history, and are used as the lens through which the story of the black main character or event is told. The 1987 film Cry Freedom followed this model, in which Denzel Washington played the role of murdered South African activist Steve Biko, but was overshadowed by the role of white actor Kevin Kline--who played Biko's journalist friend Donald Woods. Rather than focus on the singular inspiring and tragic life of Steve Biko, his white friend became a guide and a lens through which to view the apartheid struggle. The tagline for the movie read, "The true story of the friendship that shook South Africa and awakened the world." It was nominated for 3 Oscars.

By 1988, a year after the much acclaimed Eyes on the Prize documentary, Hollywood gave us Mississippi Burning, a film in which two FBI agents served as heroes for the entire Civil Rights Movement--doling out their righteous justice on Jim Crow. Played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, J Edgar Hoover's G-Men--far from the often neglectful, invasive and obstructionist figures remembered by many Civil Rights activists--are gallant and brave, doing their best not only to solve a brutal murder but protect hordes of frightened blacks who seem to spend much of the movie fleeing in terror from one set of whites or the other.

In 1996 the movie Ghosts of Mississippi, billed to be a story about the slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, ended up being a film about Bobby DeLaughter--the white prosecutor who successfully convicted Evers' murderer in 1994. "Instead of portraying Medgar Evers's quest for justice, they gave us the moral dilemma of a white liberal," critic Willie Morris of the New York Times noted. Even Variety objected this time around, stating the movie left the false impression that the battles for racial equality ''were fought and won by square-jawed white boys.'' That very year, John Grisham's fictional work set to film, A Time to Kill, seemed to teach just that lesson, as a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) was left to defend a black vigilante (Samuel Jackson). Any black would-be heroes, in the form of a diminished NAACP, were depicted as selfish, corrupt and inept.

Yet despite the criticism of the Medgar Evers film, a year later in 1997, Hollywood showed it hadn't abandoned its "white hero" formula. Steven Spielberg would give us Amistad, a movie that was billed as a biopic of the famed slave leader Cinque and his band of rebels who successfully defeated the crew of a slave ship and commandeered it for themselves. That turned out however to only be the first few moments of the movie. Rather than a film about slavery, Amistad turned into a re-telling of the dramatic trial over the Amistad and the white men (including none other than founding father John Quincy Adams) who fought it. Director Spike Lee would derisively note that the black actors in the film, Morgan Freeman and Djimon Hounsou, amounted to little more than "furniture" to dress up the set.

The most absurd case can probably be seen in Melvin and Mario Van Peebles 1995 movie Panther, intended to tell the life of the 1960s Oakland based Black Panther Party for Self Defense founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The father and son team, in their search for funding, soon found that backing by Hollywood came with strings. Entertainment Weekly's article Power to the Peebles noted some of the bizarre requests studio executives made:

At one pitch meeting, Mario recounts, it was suggested the movie would be more desirably ''mainstream'' if its story were told through the eyes of a white student radical, preferably one played by a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt. At another, it was suggested that since Jane Fonda had once supported the Panthers, it would be great if a role were written for her niece Bridget Fonda.

Rather than take the money and insert a fictional white character, the Peebles settled for a small budget that barely afforded them money to market the film. And in an ironic twist, they created a black fictional character through which to tell the tale of the Panthers--an act that was probably no less controversial than what the studios execs had in mind.

Seeming to realize the game, black director John Singleton's 1997 film Rosewood, a depiction of the black Florida town destroyed by a murderous white mob, came ready-packaged to Hollywood with a white hero in the form of Mr. Wright played by actor Jon Voight. Mr. Wright, based on John Wright, was a real historical figure who was reported to have let several blacks hide in his home. Wright is portrayed by Singleton as a conflicted soul caught up in the midst of the racial massacre. Yet the story is not told solely from his perspective. Instead, the key figure in the movie is a Mr. Mann--a fictional gun-wielding black superman played by actor Ving Rhames. In Singleton's inversion, this invented black hero acts as a force upon Wright, pushing the reluctant and morally questionable white hero into action.

If recent cinema history however is anything to go by, the white hero figure--although now a bit convuluted--still occupies a place in Hollywood storytelling. In the highly praised 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, the story of Ida Amin's brutal dictatorship is told from the perspective of white actor James McAvoy, who plays Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan. The movie is based on the book of the same name by author Giles Foden, whose Garrigan is a fictional character believed to be loosely (very loosely) based on former British soldier and colonial officer Robert Astles. In the film Garrigan is portrayed as a corruptible white young physician whose sexual appetites for African women and a lavish lifestyle, causes him to turn a blind eye to Amin's atrocities. Unlike Astles, who spent over six years in a Ugandan prison for his role in the regime, Garrigan finds redemption and escapes with his life. Though African-American actor Forest Whittaker received an Oscar as best male lead for his portrayal of Amin, more than a few black critics noted with irony that even the story of a black villain seemed to require a central white male presence.

A similar formula would be worked out for Blood Diamond, as Djimon Hounsou was cast in the role of a noble African fisherman opposite a rougish arms dealer (Leonardo DiCaprio) who manages to find his conscience in the end and become the life sacrificing great white savior for all of Africa.

As noted, some of the afore-mentioned films are historical, so the white characters in question may exist. Some are semi-historical, composites or loose interpretations of reality. Others are pure fiction. But the accuracy of the films isn't the issue I'm raising here. Rather, the question is, why do movies about black historical figures or events--namely tales dealing with racism or oppression--need to be told from either the perspective of a white hero or with whites in key roles? What is the basis of this formula?

After all, one can *choose* to tell the story of Steven Biko from his perspective--and not his white journalist friend. The story of Medgar Evers or Cinque can focus on these black figures as individuals in their own right, rather than the white lawyers out to secure their justice. Tales of Africa's blood diamonds don't *need* white interlopers that serve as centerpieces of the story. So what gives?

Perhaps it's a simple matter of money. Hollywood execs seem to fear that white audiences will not accept any film dealing with black people, oppression or racism without a white mediator to guide them--someone they can identify with or to help assuage any possible "white guilt." Perhaps the fear is that white movie-goers will assume that any film with an overwhelming and centralized black cast is a "black film," and will not reciprocate the courteous patronage blacks give to "white films" on a daily basis.

Whatever the case, it seems though Hollywood is far from ready for a black-centered movie on the Haitian Revolution, which struck fear in the slave regimes of the West, humbled Napoleon's France and helped alter the course of human bondage, it will nevertheless have to contend with Danny Glover's long awaited biopic. Funded from varied sources, including $18 million from Venezuela through the friendship of its leader Hugo Chavez, the film will feature a black cast as diverse as Don Cheadle, Angela Basset and Mos Def. Hopefully white movie-goers will prove Hollywood wrong, find interest in a movie in which they must accept their diminished roles and thus tell the gatekeepers of popular cinema to stop handling their "oh-so-fragile" white psyches with kid gloves.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Run Jesse Run

If we only spoke well of others, we'd need never whisper.--proverb, anonymous

I was at a lounge when someone passed me a mobile phone, and I read the news of Jesse Jackson's now infamous comments about Barack Obama. I stared at it dumbfounded for a while, thinking--hoping--I was reading something from The Onion. Then I found out the source was FOX News. Aha! I was certain then it wasn't true. Faux News tell the truth? Yeah right! I went to bed confident I'd wake up in the morning and learn the whole thing was cooked up by Bill O'Reilly during a midnight loofah run. But alas, the new day came, and the craziness was there--with a youtube video to boot. Jesse Jackson, social activist, stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, international peace negotiator, had claimed he wanted to castrate another black man. I remarked that day the only way things could be worse, was if on that recording Jesse had called somebody a "N---a." That would be the coup de grace. One week later... Sigh. Sometimes I hate being right.

In the aftermath, Jesse's detractors--who span the political and social spectrum--have been unable to conceal their glee. From angry rappers to white conservative pundits, everyone has made sure to give Jesse his licks. It's been an unashamed, free-for-all festival of "schadenfreude" that some are contending might be the end for the 66 year old activist turned public pariah. So I figure since everyone has been so quick to write Jesse's obituary, we might as well do the man the honor of recounting his life outside of one disastrous and ill-timed mic gaffe.

"Run Jesse Run." That was the famous slogan that fueled Jesse Jackson's 1984 and 1988 Presidential campaigns. Though selectively forgotten in recent history, the two runs were far from mere "stunts." In 1984 Jesse got 18.2 percent of the Democratic vote, winning five primaries and caucuses, including Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia, and one of two separate contests in Mississippi. In 1988 Jesse ran again and some 7 million Democrats of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds cast their vote for him, providing victories in at least a dozen primaries and caucuses. Long before the multi-racial coalition built by Sen. Barack Obama, candidate Jesse Jackson was reaching not only blacks, but poor disfranchised whites and others looking for "change." A case in point, while Sen. Barack Obama handily lost Puerto Rico in the 2008 primary, Jesse Jackson won over its overwhelming Latino constituency in 1988, who cast their vote without reservation for the black candidate.

Part of his appeal was that in American political culture, Jesse was no light weight. A veteran of the Civil Rights movement, he not only marched with figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but stood on the very balcony alongside the "King of Peace" on the day he was tragically martyred. A figure of international fame, Jesse was repeatedly involved in negotiations between enemy factions, and even successfully secured the release of American pilots shot down during missions--once in 1983 in Syria and again in 1999 during the Kosovo war. A staunch anti-war activist, anti-poverty crusader and advocate for the downtrodden, he was vocal against the Bush administration before 9/11, directly after, in the run up to the Iraq War, and long before "Dubya-Bashing" became popular. In 2004, his speech at the DNC lambasting the Iraq War was so adamant and clear, prime time networks refused to air it. Not one to allow partisan loyalty to blind him to wrongs, he has been critical of Republicans and Democrats alike. When President Bill Clinton used a speech organized by the Rainbow Coaltition to engage in his infamous "Sister Souljah" moment, he got a strong and angry rebuke from Jesse, who saw the race-baiting stunt for what it was.

Yet for all his deemed "good," Jesse has found himself on the receiving end of relentless criticism. For black conservatives he has been a regular object of scorn, a figure who in their eyes creates crutches for blacks and whines about racism--representing the worst aspects of modern "black leadership." For many in the black nationalist community, he is not radical enough--and deemed a collaborator with white America. The more radical of this grouping even charge him with treason, a member of the much maligned black Boule, in league with sinister forces out to wreak havoc through endless conspiracies. To much of white America itself, Jesse has come to be viewed as a grand annoyance--a figure who always seems ready to point out racism, who seems to appear at the head of every march, at every incident, there to "stir up trouble" and white guilt. Jesse hasn't helped his own cause, with more than a few questionable acts. In 2001 it was revealed he had fathered a child outside of his marriage in 1998, while consulting President Bill Clinton as a spiritual advisor during the Lewinsky affair. Questionably, the mother of his child was given $40K from funds taken out of Jesse's Rainbow PUSH coalition to make a maternity move. (*Jesse has kept up continuous financial responsibility for the child) Media Hog. Limelight lover. Overly Flamboyant. Ambulance chaser. Black loudmouth. Egotistical. Arrogant. Uppity. Say Jesse Jackson, and his detractors can rattle off an endless list of offenses. Whatever good will and diversity coalition Jesse was able to gather in 1984 and 1988 by today has been whittled away, leaving his image a tarnished one.

Enter Barack Obama.

Jesse and Obama aren't exactly strangers; they're even--in a fashion--familial. Michelle Obama went to school with Jesse's oldest daughter Santita, who not only sang at the couple's wedding--which Jesse attended as well--but became godmother to their daughter Malia. Through his wife's friendships with the Jackson family, Barack Obama had met and spoken to Jesse on numerous occasions. Yet this did not always mean the two men were close. As early as 2000 when Obama made his first run for the House seat of Rep. Bobby Rush, Jesse would back his long time friend (Rush) over the Southside Chicago organizer and state senator just starting to make a name for himself.

In 2007 as the Illinois Senator rose to prominence and entered into a presidential bid, Jesse's detractors took glee in comparing the two men. The rise of Obama was going to rid the world of Jesse, they cheered. Obama was the new leadership, Jesse was the old news. Conservative columnist and pundit George Will claimed Obama's rise would end Jesse's "Selma forever" tour. Even former President Bill Clinton, attempting to stir up racial animosity against Sen. Obama, would invoke Jesse during the South Carolina primary. Rumors of comments disparaging Obama by Jesse--in which he allegedly claimed Obama was "acting white" in his response to the Jena 6--made headlines. Rumors arose that the Obama campaign was keeping Jesse at arms length--the tarnished activist considered a liability with white voters. The two men however adamantly denied these claims. Jesse threw his support behind Sen. Obama, even as his wife threw hers behind Sen. Clinton. His son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., would become the Obama campaign's co-chair. Obama himself would state publicly that there was no competition between the two, and his presidency would not do away for the need for Jesse's activism.

Yet it's undeniable that the recent relationship between Obama and Jesse has been a strained one. The two have certainly not been enthusiastically courting each other. But this may have less to do with the "jealousy" of the superstar Obama, which has become a common narrative, and perhaps more so to do with the separate roles the men play. Though his detractors like to mockingly label him a "black leader," activist is the more fitting title for Jesse. As an activist, he is free to take very strong progressive positions on everything from the war to poverty. And he has done so on a national and international stage. Sen. Obama meanwhile is a presidential candidate, a politician who can't be called a "black leader" either. And while he ran left of centrist Sen. Clinton in the primaries, the Illinois senator has never espoused strong progressive values. And, true to form, once the primaries ended he shifted back to his more centrist positions. Sen. Obama is perhaps the candidate more likely to be responsive to progressive stances, but he's not one himself.

For Jesse, one can imagine this is especially irksome. As a presidential candidate, Sen. Obama is set to perhaps make history. And the glamour and glory surrounding that is almost electric in much of the black community. So much so, that criticism of Sen. Obama--even legitimate--is roundly condemned as some form of "black treason." One-time much beloved black radio and talk show host Tavis Smiley learned this the hard way. Jesse and other more progressive black activists have been forced to keep their mouths shut, unable to put forth any sound criticism of Sen. Obama for fear of not only being tagged as treasonous, but ending up playing into the media narrative of "jealousy" and "competition."

Somehow, all of that self-imposed silence managed to explode in precisely the wrong place and at precisely the wrong time--on a biased, unethical "news" network that has shown it not only has little problem with eavesdropping on his guests, but turning their private words into media catching headlines. Jesse's legitimate critique triggered by his progressive leanings--that as a politician Sen. Barack Obama should stick to talking about the government's social responsibility rather than playing the role of chastising father to black men on individual responsibility--was lost in the midst of a foul-mouthed gaffe of epic proportions. Not only did he use the very "n" word he has championed against, but he also invoked sexual violence akin to historical acts of race lynchings. It was stupid, inexcusable, asinine and most of all--tragic. The fact is that a figure like Jesse is hardly irrelevant--in fact, far from it. Barack Obama's possible victory in November, despite all its symbolisms, isn't going to make issues of racism, poverty, militarism, wealth inequality and more disappear over night. And progressives like Jesse--with all his faults--are as key now as ever. The worst result of this single irresponsible act is that it has not only given his detractors more ammunition than they know what to do with, but is being used to bludgeon a voice that spoke truth to power into silence.

Yet, although many are quick to write his obituary, I wouldn't count Jesse out of the fight yet. In his 1984 Presidential bid Jesse made a gaffe just as stunning. Telling black reporter Milton Coleman "let's talk black talk," Jesse went into a tirade of frustration over what he saw as obsession over Israel by members of New York's Jewish community. "That's all Hymie wants to talk about, is Israel," Jesse said, using a common racial slur for Jews. "Every time you go to Hymietown, that's all they want to talk about." Then, as now, Jesse's reliance on inner black solidarity did him in. In 1984 he was let down by Milton Coleman, who doing what journalists do, ignored the rule of "black talk" and reported what he heard. Today it was a crude remark made to another black guest that ended up on an open mic for none other than FOX News. And yet, even after the Hymietown comment Jesse survived and emerged stronger for 1988.

If anything perhaps now, away from the media spotlight, and outside of the Obama candidacy, Jesse can reorient himself and remain active in the causes where he matters most. This Jesse will hopefully be less apt to be on FOX "News" and give more interviews to worthy reporters like Amy Goodman. This Jesse will stay out of tit-for-tat dust-ups with braggadocios rap stars over their language, and focus more on his marches on Wall St over the subprime mortgage debacle. This Jesse will spend his valuable airtime detailing more about his trip to Haiti and his demand for food aid to the impoverished nation, and show less concern with Obama's seeming Bill Cosby-isms. This Jesse needs to show he is more than a lover of the media spotlight, and should not allow himself to be silenced by those who would like to see him--and the issues he supports--simply disappear.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

White & Black & Obama

"Poll Finds Obama Isn’t Closing Divide on Race." So read today's NY Times headline. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, it was found that while there is excitement over the prospects of America's first black president, its meaning is viewed quite differently depending on one's "racial" lens. While whites polled believed this historic event would signal a watershed in race relations, blacks polled--while enthusiastic about Sen. Obama--shared no delusions that an Obama presidency would herald a new age of racial harmony. In fact, many believed things to be the same or worse today than just four years or a decade prior. As the Times put it, "Black and white Americans agree that America is ready to elect a black president, but disagree on almost every other question about race in the poll."

Yeah, tell me something I don't know...

According to the poll:

Nearly 60 percent of black respondents said race relations were generally bad, compared with 34 percent of whites. Four in 10 blacks say that there has been no progress in recent years in eliminating racial discrimination; fewer than 2 in 10 whites say the same thing. And about one-quarter of white respondents said they thought that too much had been made of racial barriers facing black people, while one-half of black respondents said not enough had been made of racial impediments faced by blacks.

Hardly a surprise here. The notion that things are not as bad as black people think, that racism and oppression are more so figments of our minds than reality, has been a common mantra among white America as far back as the end of the Civil War. Then, as now, whites claimed blacks had achieved all they desired or needed to succeed and declared the project of ensuring equality over. Deciding 100 years later, after a history of Jim Crow repression, disfranchisement and white terrorism, that perhaps they were wrong, white America--pushed and cajoled by black protest and agitation--decided to once again "level the playing field." Within a few years, white America decided things were much better and blacks had never had it so good--and immediately set about dismantling every facet of the Civil Rights Bill they could, helping in part to fuel the growing Conservative movement. With a black candidate poised to perhaps take the White House, white America is more certain than ever that blacks have "overcome." From pundits like George Will and Chris Matthews, the Obama candidacy is hailed as the virtual "end of racism"--or at least the end of black people whining about it.

The NY Times article noted the following:

In this latest poll, over 40 percent of blacks said they believed they had been stopped by the police because of their race, the same figure as eight years ago; 7 percent of whites said the same thing. Nearly 70 percent of blacks said they had encountered a specific instance of discrimination based on their race, compared with 62 percent in 2000; 26 percent of whites said they had been the victim of racial discrimination. (Over 50 percent of Hispanics said they had been the victim of racial discrimination.)

If anything, experience is one heck of a teacher--provided it doesn't kill you first. Living while black or brown is not something whites have to contend with. Thus acts considered to show subtle or even blatant racism to those who experience it daily, may be lost on others who do not have to live that reality. What many people of color may be well aware of is that while an Obama presidency might be phenomenal, and quite symbolic, it won't solve the everyday problems of race in their lives. Having Obama as president isn't going to lessen unwarranted stops and searches by police. It won't eliminate racial profiling (although the Illinois Senator has admirably worked towards this). And it won't stop the innate concern that getting stopped by law enforcement could inexplicably escalate to a deadly confrontation, even if you're wholly innocent of any crime.

More from the article:

And when asked whether blacks or whites had a better chance of getting ahead in today’s society, 64 percent of black respondents said that whites did. That figure was slightly higher even than the 57 percent of blacks who said so in a 2000 poll by The Times.

That white America so joyously thinks things are getting better with each passing minute is amazing--given the fact that most of them aren't working to end white privilege, that invisible force that permeates institutions, systems, culture and more of our society. You'd think with such rosy outlooks, masses of white America were working daily steeped in studies on whiteness and reading Tim Wise articles by the bulk. If anyone is puzzled at how black people can be so pessimistic about opportunities and race, take the following Mar 2008 report by United for a Fair Economy into account.

*Due to the subprime lending catastrophe, the greatest loss of black wealth is unfolding. People of color have collectively lost between $164 billion to $213 billion over the past eight years.

*Given historic unfair discriminatory practices regarding homeownership, white wealth had been allowed to accumulate while blacks were left behind. Even though blacks began closing these gaps in the 1970s, even at such a steady pace it was estimated that it would still take 594 years-more than half a millennium-for blacks to catch up with whites in household wealth.

*Worse yet, that number was *before* the subprime lending catastrophe struck. Taking the loss of wealth into account, at current rates it would take a staggering 5,000 years before blacks achieve homeowner parity with whites.

We could go on discussing everything from a prison industrial complex, poor healthcare, enviromental racism, unfair drug laws, impoverished communities and more. Add in numerous studies that show continued acts of discrimination--even white felons have a better chance of landing a job than blacks with no criminal record--and we could question just whose view of reality is more accurate.

And the number of blacks who described racial conditions as generally bad in this survey was almost identical to poll responses in 2000 and 1990.

So how is it many are puzzling, that with things as bad as black people claim, we may possibly see an emerging black presidency? The problem here is thinking that Obama the man somehow translates into all of black America. While I never entertained silly notions cooked up by the likes of Stanley Crouch and Deborah Dickerson--who are aptly called the eternal black contrarians--as to whether Obama was "black enough," at the same time I knew that how whites viewed his race had alot to do with his success. Let's be blunt. Obama is just black enough in white eyes without being too black. What is "too black?" Think Jesse Jackson, or Rahim on the block--that is, anyone who might file a grievance against American racism. It's not only that Obama fits middle class American norms, or that he is bi-racial, it's that white America has decided to project on him their idea of what they would like black people to be. Were he anything else, anything that threatened to make them uncomfortable in their whiteness, they'd skittishly run to the hills and steer clear of his candidacy--like many of the more xenophobic members of the right. We almost saw just that, when the white world (liberal, moderate and conservative alike) were shocked to hear his former pastor Rev. Wright utter sentiments commonly heard (even if not wholly believed) in the black community, but utterly alien to white ears. Of course, Obama's appeal as the "friendly black candidate" remade to fit white expectations isn't his fault. But I'm more than certain he is as aware of it, and probably uses it to his benefit--as much as we *all* do in our everday lives.

So it looks like the good news is we may have a black president. The bad news is, we can't substitue a symbolic victory for the real racial and social equality. That is work in which both sides of the Hegelian power relationship will have to engage.


Friday, July 4, 2008

Patriotism Revisited

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.

So reads an excerpt from Francis Scott Key's poem, inspired by the British bombardment of Baltimore in 1814, which would be set to song and become known as "The Star Spangled Banner." By the time it was made the national anthem of the United States of America, the poem had undergone numerous revisions and the above lines from the third verse were removed. And no wonder. Those words were an uncomfortable reminder of a troublesome past. Key had been a slave holder. And when British forces during the War of 1812 enticed slaves to fight for their side in exchange for freedom, Key and other slaveholders were outraged--not seeming to understand that those held in bondage were patriotic not to flags, forefathers or nation-states, but to the liberty denied them. This dichotomous existence has been part of what it means to be black in America, and why Frederick Douglas would ask "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" Back in 2002 I wrote an article exploring these dilemmas. I repost it here today, mostly unedited as I want it to reflect my thinking of that time, for consumption once again.

Patriotism: Red, White, Black & Blue

“What to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? ... To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, and unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass- fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings; with all your religious parades and solemnity, are to him, mere bombasts, deceptions, and pious and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

Such were the words uttered by Frederick Douglas on the eve of the Civil War. They were the sentiments of a black man, escaped from slavery, who dedicated his life to championing the cause of his fellow race yet held in bondage. They are a stinging critique and seeming rebuke of America, denouncing it for its contradictions and falsehoods. Douglas words were militant. They were fiery. They speak with righteous indignation.

And yet, Douglas was a patriot. He openly denounced ideas, led mostly by whites, to colonize freed slaves in foreign lands. Douglas backed Abraham Lincoln in his bid for presidency, openly involving himself in the American political system. Douglas heartily welcomed and backed the Civil War, which to him represented a battle against slavery. He would strongly lobby and fight for black troops to be allowed into the Union ranks, to carry the red, white and blue. In newspapers he called "men of color to arms", urging blacks to "end in a day the bondage of centuries:" to fight for their equality, show their patriotism and take on the Union cause. His sons Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist for the cause of freedom.

(a.) Odd contradiction? (b.) A seeming dichotomy? (c.) Patriotic yet cynical? Yes to all of the above. To be red, white, blue, & black. It has been a recurring theme since the founding of the United States.

Revolutionary Patriots

It began in 1733 with the Molasses Act. Passed by England upon its American colonies, the law imposed high taxes on imported Spanish and French molasses and sugar. The colonists needed molasses from England's competitors, chiefly for making rum to be used in exchange for slaves on the West African coast. The colonies were heavily dependent on the Caribbean islands' slave-based sugar plantations for sustenance and economic prosperity. These industries were themselves dependent on the colonies to supply the ammunition and staples needed to feed themselves and to control the slave labor used to work the sugar plantations. The effects of the Molasses Act were felt from chief slave-ports like Providence and Medford to as far away as Charleston.

The colonies grew prosperous by using rum as a barter for slaves, ivory, gold and other products and were now a rival with England, who also depended on the trade of black bodies. Malachi Postlethway, an 18th century mercantilist theoretician, stated: “The African trade is the first principle and foundation of all the rest. The African trade is so very beneficial to Great Britain, so essentially necessary to the very being of her colonies, that without it neither could we flourish nor they long subsist ...”

Envious of the prosperity its colonies reaped (directly or indirectly) from the slave trade, England prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians and passed the Stamp Act. Whereas the Molasses and Sugar Acts directly involved the slave merchants and their commercial interests, the general colonial population of about 2 million had little or no concern for it. However, measures such as the Stamp Act of 1765 affected nearly everyone. Through skillful manipulation, slave traders, plantation owners and other slave-based interests used these laws to create discontent among the general populace.

These slave-mongers and/or ministers of propaganda were men like John Adams, who himself stated, "Molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence"; Thomas Jefferson, who believed black men were "void of mental endowment" and once stated “... that the orangutan preferred black women to those of his own species,” (an odd statement coming from a man who had children by his adolescent female slave); and George Washington, who once traded his slave for a barrel of rum.

This all culminated in the SECOND shot heard around the world and the start of the American Revolution. The FIRST shot lay buried in the chest of a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. What could better typify the glaring contradiction of black American life, than a runaway slave becoming the first martyr of a nation that declared it was fighting for "freedom?" Perhaps it could be said that when it comes to black America, and its dichotomous existence, Crispus Attacks is a "founding father".

There were many blacks that fought for the 13 colonies, proudly waving the new flag. When the Revolutionary war erupted numerous blacks joined the ranks of the Continental Army. Free blacks like Cuff Smith and Cesar Prince enlisted to fight the British. The founder of African American freemasonry Prince Hall is listed in military records of the Revolution. And it is said he fought at Bunker Hill. Pictures also show free black infantrymen in the first Rhode Island Regiment or speak of them among various troops. And yet even many of these blacks were not blind to the seeming contradiction they lived. A great deal of free blacks enlisted in the Continental army hoping their service would help the newly forming nation live up to its creed of freedom, and grant the same to their black brethren held in bondage. Like Douglas would do near a century later, they understood the hypocrisy of the US yet put their hope in its grand ideals.

Many enslaved blacks also attempted to join the Continental army, some of them successful and others returned to their masters. Quite a few offered to fight for the colonists, if they would be ensured freedom for themselves and their family in return. Blacks probably figured the greatest in the Continental forces within the navy, where sailors were not always restricted by color or race. The Continental Navy openly recruited both free and enslaved blacks, mostly sought after for their prior experiences on merchant and British military vessels. Numerous blacks, many of them slaves seeking escape and freedom, sought refuge in the navy where they served in battles against the British. A common practice among some white American slave owners was to in fact substitute a slave for military service rather than enlisting themselves. Thus even those blacks that may not have been feeling a patriotic fervor, were MADE patriots - for white draft dodgers. Taking on tasks such as pilots, laborers and more these blacks earned an impressive reputation for their invaluable skills. One of the most famous black seamen was James Forten, who enlisted on the privateer Royal Louis. Altogether, it is believed some 5,000 free black patriots served in the armies and navies of the Continental forces. The amount of slaves who served within is unknown. And one of the reasons this number is unknown is because of who they sided with. The black American dichotomy was in full swing.

Revolutionary Loyalists

While there were black patriots, many of them free, the majority of enslaved blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War did not side with the 13 colonies - they fought for and cheered on the British. These black Loyalists, as those who remained faithful to the British were called in the colonies, were quite numerous. Often promising freedom, the British eagerly enticed black slaves to join their side. Many of these blacks weighed their option between their masters and their masters' enemies, and quickly chose the latter. And here we have the other side of the looking glass. This is where the complex tangle of conflicting realities that is black American patriotism begins to unravel. For if the majority of blacks in the US during the American Revolution had gotten their way, the 13 rebellious colonies would have been crushed by the British; Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry and the rest would have been placed on trial for treason against the royal crown; and all would have been hung by the neck until they were declared dead.

One of the key methods of disrupting the Continental army that many enslaved blacks chose, was simply running away. During the Revolution an estimated 100,000 took advantage of the disruption caused by the war and escaped, many of them heading directly to join British forces - and asking to fight. Others fled to Canada, Florida, or Native American lands. Thomas Jefferson estimated that Virginia lost 30,000 slaves in just one year. Fugitive slave Boston King was one of these individuals, risking punishment or death to flee from bondage. He endured numerous harrowing adventures during his escape, finally making it to the British forces stationed in New York where most black runaways were gathered.

Many of these runaways joined the British armies and navies outright, becoming fighters who wreaked havoc on American forces. One of the most well known of these was Colonel Tye, an escaped slave who joined the British as a guerrilla fighter. In 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey Tye captured a captain of the American militia, earning a reputation and name among the British. Comprised of enslaved blacks and lower class white loyalists, Colonel Tye's rag-tag band became known as "cow-boys". They carried out daring militia attacks throughout New Jersey, often attacking military outposts, former masters' plantations and other Americans in rebellion against the British. During the brutal winter of 1779, Tye was among an elite group of twenty-four black Loyalists, known as the Black Brigade, who joined with the Queen's Rangers: a British guerrilla unit charged with protecting British held New York City and carrying out raids for supplies. By 1780 Tye and his band were feared by white American forces: capturing and killing Continental militia members, destroying their military equipment and more. As news of Colonel Tye's feats reached an excited slave community, the American governor of NJ in a desperate move invoked martial law - fearing many more slaves would eagerly go over to the British and pick up arms against the 13 colonies.

And not only the enslaved joined the British forces. Many free blacks, believing a win by the British would bring about the end of enslavement, urged blacks (slave and free) to join the redcoats as well. In 1775, Jeremiah Thomas, a pilot, fisherman, "and Free Negroe of considerable property", was hanged and burned in Charleston in an insurrection plot in which he enticed free and enslaved blacks to join the Royal British navy.

Of course at war's end, many black Loyalists would find the British only partially honorable to their word. Of the 100,000+ slaves who looked to the British as saviors, a minuscule 3,000+ would be allowed to evacuate with them - the rest returned to their American masters or left to fend for themselves. And in further betrayal, the British sold many of the slaves who served them right back into slavery in the Caribbean. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. Yet the role of blacks in the American Revolution illustrates well the dilemma that has faced the race with regards to patriotism, Americanism and love for a country that has not always returned the sentiment.

Double Consciousness

Long after Colonel Tye and Prince Hall and some decades after the Civil War and Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois pondered the dichotomy of black American existence. And he would deem it the double-consciousness. DuBois asserted that blacks were of America, yet not so--living in two worlds that could complement or be at war with each other. And like many before him, DuBois showed how this dichotomy could affect black American life so profoundly.

DuBois was born into a new and promising America. It was a land where blacks were now declared free by the 13th Amendment, and supposedly would get to share in the American pie they had helped create. DuBois understood well that the America that existed did not erupt sui genesis, and that it owed much to blacks. After all, if there were no slave trade to help create cash crops to help generate capital and commerce -there would have been no founding fathers to declare "independence" or carry out a revolution against the British. DuBois understood that slave money did not merely disappear. Profits from the slave trade had been invested to help found everything from Brown University to the Steam Engine, a key element in the Industrial Revolution. He knew that it was the black agitators for freedom during the era of slavery that had forced America to follow through with its ideals, thus becoming a freer place for all of its citizens. DuBois understood that America was as much his as anyone else's. And yet DuBois' patriotism was tempered by the reality of the world about him - the continued dichotomy of black existence.

A White Man's Government or a Negro's Cemetery

The end of the Civil War marked a new era for black America. Recently freed slaves tested the limits of freedom by daring to reach for what only a few years prior had been beyond imagination. Blanche Kelso Bruce, an ex-slave, was representing Mississippi in the United States Senate. In Louisiana a black man, P.B.S. Pinchback sat in the governor's mansion. A black face occupied a seat on the state supreme court in South Carolina. Blacks were superintendents of education, judges, state treasurers, solicitors and major generals of militia. Blacks and whites attended the same schools while an interracial board ran the University of South Carolina. But what seemed like a dream to blacks was a bitter nightmare to white southerners. They had lost everything. Once opulent plantations lay in ruins. The wealth of the South seemed depleted. And in their minds, the fault lay at the doorsteps of their former slaves - ironically the same ones who had helped them gain such wealth in the first place. Their coveted throne of white superiority was being eroded by what they saw as "ungrateful wretches" who desired the unfathomable - the American ideal of promised equality.

To maintain their dominance whites rallied together to strip blacks from any offices of power and prevent others from gaining such positions. They first declared black politicians either ignorant or corrupt, sweeping many from power. They next went after any whites, Radical Republicans at the time, who aided blacks. But in the end it was the power base of black politicians that had to be neutralized. This lay in the black masses and the black vote. Polling places were purposefully set up far away from black communities. Those who attempted to reach them found roads conveniently blocked or ferries out of repair. Sometimes the polling places were changed without warning or notice. Stuffing of ballots was so common that one smug Democrat stated, "black Republicans may outvote us, but we can out count them". Whites established laws that discriminated against illiterate blacks or those who had been slaves at one time. Every southern state had its own method. And when these did not work, violence became a type of "final solution".

It was called "whitecapping", the use of violence to remove blacks from political posts, drive them off their land and out of their businesses. North Carolina governor Daniel Russell would proclaim that for a black man "to get above his ordained station in life is to invite assassination". Democrat General John McEnery of Louisiana stated, “We shall carry the next election if we have to ride saddle-deep in blood to do it”. A South Carolinian newspaper declared, "We must render this a white man's government or convert the land into a Negro's cemetery". It was state sponsored terrorism, plain and simple. And it went on not in some far off land, but in the very one that declared itself the land of the brave and the free.

Blacks like DuBois held onto their patriotism while in Memphis white policemen, firemen and laborers rioted against black soldiers. Forty-six blacks were killed, some 80 wounded and five black women were raped; 12 black schools and 4 black churches were burned. Blacks clutched onto Old Glory as in Lake City, South Carolina a black postmaster, his wife and infant were shot and burned to death by an angry white mob. In Wilmington, North Carolina, Reverend Charles S. Morris recalled the carnage of an anti-black riot: “Nine Negroes massacred outright; one man ... was given the privilege of running the gauntlet up a broad street ... while crowds of men lined the sidewalks and riddled him with a pint of bullets ... thousands of men and women and children fleeing in terror from their humble homes in the darkness of night ... All this happened not in Turkey, nor in Russia ... but within three hundred miles of the White House”.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma a white mob began a riot resulting in the destruction of the city's prosperous black business and residential district. In Paducah, Kentucky, a black rape suspect was lynched by a mob which then murdered a black onlooker for "expressing sympathy" for the first. In Texas, a father and his three sons were lynched for the grand crime of harvesting the first cotton in the county that year. In Waco, a mob pulled a retarded black youth from a courtroom, burned him alive, and then sold his teeth as souvenirs. In Brooks County, Georgia a mob stormed the countryside for a week killing more than 10 blacks. This included a pregnant black woman, Mary Turner, who was hung by her ankles, doused with gasoline and set afire, but not before her unborn child was cut from her stomach and trampled to death.

And the terrorism of these white Christian extremists was not confined to the South. As early as 1829 a white Cincinnati mob drove more than half of the black population from the city. From 1832 to 1849 there were no less than five anti-black riots in Philadelphia. The most infamous of the day were the anti-draft riots of New York in 1863 during the Civil War. Enraged white citizenry, fearing the competition they were certain would come with a free skilled black work force, rioted for four days. Blacks were lynched from lampposts, raped, mutilated and shot in the streets of NY. Not even a black orphanage was spared the terrorism, being burned to the ground. In 1908 for six days a white mob rioted in Springfield, Illinois lynching, shooting, raping and mutilating scores of blacks and driving hundreds more from the city. The climax of these acts of terrorism occurred in the Red Summer of 1919, as 26 anti-black riots left an unknown number dead from Chicago to Omaha. It was an "Axis of Evil", a seeming alignment by terrorist thugs that made black life a daily nightmare and trampled on America's claimed ideals.

And where were the political parties, that today jockey for the black vote? Well it would seem that "freeing slaves" and extending equality to blacks were two separate matters entirely. The Democrats of our times may now be the self-proclaimed bastions of tolerance and racial justice, but back then they were the party of the South, Jim Crow and terrorism against blacks. Frederick Douglas himself would state, “The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the sea”. But that affair proved short-lived, as even the claimed allies of blacks turned a blind eye.

Where were the champions of the pledge that asked for "liberty and justice for all? Well the author of the pledge himself, white Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, actually sympathized with the black plight, wanting to add the word "equality" to it---but his idea was dismissed. Where were the American government and its executive in chief? President Woodrow Wilson was busy watching a private screening of Birth of a Nation, a movie depicting blacks as rapist savages and the KKK as gallant heroes, at none other than the "peoples" building - the White House. He is reported to have exclaimed of the movie that is still used as a recruitment film for the Klan, "It's like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true". The enemies of American freedom were both small and powerful, not needing to hide in a cave or conceal their actions. No crusades of justice or wars of enduring freedom were ever massed against them. In fact the vast majority were never brought to justice.

This was the America that blacks endured, as the words upon the Constitution they held seemed to grow dull and fade, while the double consciousness within them raged. Yet many continued to put forth their patriotism in the face of terrorism. They continued like Ida B. Wells to appeal to the moral conscience of the land to end lynching. Like Jesse Owens some ran against the claimed Aryan "supermen of the Third Reich for their country, delivering a shattering blow against German Nazism. Others became airmen at Tuskegee even as their government unknowingly used their brethren as guinea pigs. They held onto their patriotism, believing not in the America that daily terrorists tried to create, but rather the America that promised it could be so much more.

DuBois himself would exemplify the two feuding sides of this double consciousness, extolling America's ideals of freedom and justice yet breaking down in anger and emotion at seeing the severed knuckles of a black lynch victim displayed proudly on ice in a butcher shop window. DuBois would urge blacks to fight in America's great wars, and yet work hard to build a Pan-African political ideology. In the end DuBois patriotism was stretched to its limits, and the cynic won out. While in Peking in 1959 he told a large audience-"In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a NIGGER". By the time the U.S. press published the account, DuBois was residing in Ghana, West Africa: an expatriate in self-exile from the country of his birth. Even men of steel rust.

America or AmeriKKKa?

July 4th symbolizes an odd time for black America. It is the birthday of the US, red-white-and blue, apple pie, baseball and mom. Yet it is also the birthday of the black double consciousness: a ceaseless dichotomy that never seems to rest. It was there during the 1950s and 60s, as blacks marched holding flags to fight for rights promised to them a century prior. The terrorists responded to their patriotism with dogs, high-powered water hoses and bombs that killed little girls. In one instance angry whites, opposed to bussing, held a black man down and beat him with the US flag itself. None of this went unnoticed by the youths of the movement. They watched as Civil Rights leaders like Fanni Lou Hamer and D.U. Pullium were severely beaten. They watched as Herbert Lee and Louis Allen were beaten and eventually killed. As with DuBois, the cynicism over the hypocrisy finally burst forth and gave birth to the Black Power Movement.

Patriotism took a backseat to pent-up frustration at a nation that refused to live up to its lofty ideals. Malcolm X would tell the world that he and other blacks did not live the "American dream", but the "American nightmare". He declared to America that it had two choices: live up to its ideals and grant blacks equality by way of the ballot and freedom, or suffer the consequences of the bullet. The proclamation of Patrick Henry, one time slave owner turned minor abolitionist, against his own oppressor of near two centuries prior had been hardly very different: "Give me liberty or give me death".

In his intricate knowledge of the law and his battles against capitalism, exploitation and police brutality, Huey P. Newton in his own way was declaring his double consciousness - threatening to take by force what he viewed as his right as a citizen and a human being. The Civil Rights Movement may have wanted to work within the system while many in the Black Power Movement wanted to do away with it completely, but both used the grand ideals America touted to call out her hypocrisy and demanded she live up to them or suffer the consequence.

Objection to the title or not, blacks in the US are Americans. If you pay taxes you are an American. If you expect certain rights and benefits from the country you pay taxes to, you are an American. If you support or fight against politicians and policies, you are an American. If you use the school systems, numerous public services and such, you are an American. If you go off to enlist in a war or would rather get thrown in jail as a conscientious objector during draft time, you're an American. If you vote for a candidate or write in "HANDS OFF ASSATA" on the ballot, you're still an American.

Whether you stand up and proudly say the pledge or sit and turn your back at its seeming hypocrisy, you are an American. In fact the America that exists today, the one that questions itself about freedom and liberty, would not have existed if not for the constant struggles of black Americans who condemned the country for its glaring contradictions and challenged it to live up to its ideals. What would the America of today look like if not for the Frederick Douglass', Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther Kings, etc. of its history?

How many different peoples who enter its borders owe any success they gain in part to black bodies that have fought wars not only against foreign governments abroad, but pitched battles in the streets or courthouses against their own government right here at home? Would the word freedom, equality, liberty and such mean much of anything if not for black America? Even those blacks that only recently come to the country within the last few decades become black Americans, with all the hard fought privileges or lack-there-of that exists within. I know the philosophical argument about not being American. It speaks to powerful truths. Yet with all due respect to brother Malcolm's statement about kittens and ovens, the definition of an American still stands - full diner or not; love or disgust for the country or not. And when he challenged America to choose the ballot or the bullet, he understood that part of the double consciousness that made him an American as well.

Yet the other side of that consciousness exists, often turning the patriotic into cynical criticism. For when it comes to black America's history and Old Glory, there is a hypocrisy that cannot be swept away with one hundred tragic 9-11s. It makes it difficult or downright impossible for many to dress up in red-white-and-blue, get teary eyed at hearing the national anthem or slap hands over hearts and chant "with, liberty and justice for all" - "under God" or NOT "under God". Someone should take a poll of how many black parents yet tell their children to protest the pledge by omitting words they find hypocritical, clamping mouths shut during its recital or sitting down altogether.

One side of that double consciousness may admire Thomas Jefferson for his democratic ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet like his black contemporary Benjamin Banneker, the cynical side sees him as nothing more than an oppressive, slave holding tyrant who openly expressed ideas of black inferiority - with pedophilic predilections towards young black girls he called property. And even when many manage to lock much of the cynicism away through selective amnesia and revel in America anyway, a little bitterness lingers in the background - a small but violent storm created by what seems like an endless struggle.

It's why the likes of Baldwin and DuBois left to go elsewhere, why black America has had such a flirtatious affair with Castro's Cuba, and why we still smile in glee when somebody "sticks it to da' man". It's why we are apt to believe rumors about losing Voting Rights in 2000-something (it IS a HOAX folks!). It's why we are often some of the first to criticize American foreign policy or domestic limits upon freedom, having well seen what happens when government power goes unchecked (i.e., COINTELPRO and the CIA). We're the ones who will not allow crooked cops to hide behind badges of authority and threaten to burn it all down when they get off. We're the consciousness of America, the ones that always remind her she may have come a long way - but still got quite a few miles to go.

The Greatest Patriotism

The America on paper, the one with grand ideals and virtues of liberty and freedom, is not a bad idea. In fact black America has supported that paper ideal since America's inception. So it's not that black America's double consciousness is anti-democracy, anti-freedom, or anti-liberty. Rather it's often anti-exploitation, anti-hypocrisy and anti-oppression. The dichotomy that lay buried with the bullet in Crispus Attucks' chest created patriotism beyond anything most of white America has ever known. It does not shed tears because of the color of any flag or any founding father or cracked bell in Philadelphia. Men like Jefferson and Washington are conflicted figures moreso than idols.

Instead black patriotism stands up for the greatest ideals written into the American idea. Black patriotism is loyal to freedom and justice, not jingoism and the power of might. Black patriotism calls for America to follow democracy and fairness, not only in this land but also in its dealings abroad. And black patriotism does this not to glorify any nation it may or may not pledge allegiance to, but because these noble ideals exemplify what is moral, right and just. And that is the greatest patriotism anyone can have: not to some country in time and space destined to rise and fall as all nations do, but to a set of ideas that transcend fireworks and founding fathers and speaks to the essence of the human spirit.