Friday, August 28, 2009

A Black Doll Called Lil Monkey

This morning, I read an interesting article on one of my favorite blogs, Field Negro. This is another outrageous example of racism. Costco sold two different dolls. One is black. It is named Lil Monkey and includes stuffed monkeys. One is white. It is named Pretty Panda and includes stuffed pandas.
The Lil Monkey doll is blatantly racist. Similar to the New York Post cartoon of Obama, it equates African Americans with monkeys. I am glad that Costco pulled it from their shelves after receiving complaints. However, that is not enough. Action must be taken against the manufacturer, BrassKey Keepsake. Read the original story and watch the video.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No More Compromise

Earlier in his political career, Barack Obama supported single payer health care. A single payer system would provide free, universal and quality health care for all citizens. Every major industrialized democracy has some form of single payer health care.

It is a national disgrace that over 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Private health insurance companies’ primary objective is maximizing profits for shareholders. They actually increase profits by denying coverage. Many health insurance companies refuse to sell or renew policies due to a person’s health status. In addition, they deny coverage for treatment of certain pre-existing conditions. Moreover, due to escalating premium costs, fewer employees will be able to afford health insurance in the near future. According to a new Commonwealth Fund report, health insurance premiums increased “119 percent between 1999 and 2008, and could increase another 94 percent to an average of $23,842 per family by 2020 if cost growth continues on its current course.” [1]

To build a census to address this crisis, President Obama embraced a pragmatic approach. He has rejected the proposal of U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich for single payer legislation, United States National Health Care Act H.R. 676. In attempt to reach a compromise, the private companies would continue to provide health care insurance. However, under America’s Affordable Health Choices Act H.R. 3200, citizens would have an option to enroll in a public insurance program. H.R. 3200 would prevent companies from refusing to provide coverage based on an individual’s health status or pre-existing conditions. The legislation includes “new data collection efforts to identify and address racial health disparities.” Finally, people will receive credits to purchase private or public insurance.

Despite efforts to develop a bipartisan compromise, most Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats continue to oppose the President’s health care plan. The right wing critics have called President Obama a socialist. A lunatic fringe has even compared him to Adolf Hitler. Instead serving as a medium to convey a clear message to the American people, the town hall meetings have degenerated into chaos. Consequently, the President’s poll numbers are declining.

Under intense pressure, the Obama Administration has expressed a willingness to eliminate the public option, the cornerstone of any progressive legislation. The public option was designed to create competition in the market place. As the summary of H.R. 3200 states, the public option "will be a new choice in many areas of our country dominated by one or two private insurers today."

Eliminating the public option will allow insurance companies to continue to raise costs. Their monopoly over the market and the political process must be brought to an end. The President has already compromised by rejecting a single payer system and by proposing to establish credits to enable more citizens to purchase in private insurance.

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters[2] is correct. The time for bipartisan cooperation is over, no more compromise. The Obama Administration needs to enforce party discipline and start twisting arms to bring the Blue Dog Democrats in line with the President’s agenda. The President and progressive members of Congress should reject any proposal that does not include a public option and they should support the Kucinich Amendment. That amendment would allow states to establish their own state based single payer health care plans. Surrender is not an option.

[1] Commonwealth Fund, New Report: Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums Increase 119 Percent from 1999-2008; Project to Double Again by 2020 (August 20, 2009).

[2] Rong-Gong Lin II. “Rep. Maxine Water a hard liner for public health care option.” Los Angeles Times. 23 August 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reparations Now!

On June 18, 2009, 144 years after slavery, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. The measure is now pending before the United States House of Representatives.[1] This apology is very significant. It is a major step toward racial reconciliation. Words are important. They have the power to inspire, unite and heal. This reminds me of President Obama speech during the Democratic Primary. He said, “Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. I Have a Dream. Just words. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. Just words…just speeches.” I hope that this resolution passes in the House as well. However, as the resolution states, “an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustice cannot erase the past.” Without action, words are meaningless.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin said, “The real work lies ahead.” The real work is reparations. This resolution must be transformed into a launching pad for reparations. Although the resolution includes a disclaimer, it does not prevent future reparations legislation or litigation.

As Molefi Asante asserts in “The African American Warrant for Reparations,” this Nation has a moral obligation[2] to give reparations to the descendents of enslaved Africans. Our ancestors were kidnapped, shackled in chains, crammed into slave ships like sardines and forced to wallow in filth. As Eric Williams noted in Capitalism and Slavery, “The space allotted to each slave on the Atlantic crossing measured five and a half feet in length by sixteen inches in breadth. They were packed like “rows of books on shelves,”…chained two by two, right leg and left leg, right hand and left hand, each slave had less room than a man in a coffin.”[3] The “crowded conditions on the vessel increased the incidence of disease and epidemics during the voyage.” During the Middle Passage, many Africans were thrown overboard and devoured by sharks. Some scholars estimate that at least 10 to 12 million Africans died during the Middle Passage.[4] Other scholars estimate that over 100 million Africans died. [5] Slavery is our Holocaust, Our Great Catastrophe.

The Africans survivors of the Middle Passage were subjected to one of the most brutal forms of oppression and exploitation in human history. We were uprooted from our motherland and stripped of our culture, traditions and history. We were forced to adopt an alien culture. Consequently, unlike other immigrants, we do not know our original names, languages, tribes, cultures and religions. We were beat with whips, maimed, raped and murdered. We were completely dehumanized and reduced to property, bought and sold like cattle. As John Hope Franklin states in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans,

"A slave had no standing in the courts: he could not be a party to a suit at law; he could not offer testimony except against another slave or a free Negro; and his irresponsibility meant his oath was not binding. Thus, he could make no contract. The ownership of property was generally forbidden him, though some states permitted a slave to have certain types of personal property. A slave could not strike a white person, even in self-defense; but the killing of a slave, however malicious the act, was rarely regarded as murder…Slaves could not leave the plantation without authorization, and any white person finding a slave out without permission could take him up and turn him over to public officials. They could not possess firearms, and, in Mississippi, they could not beat drums or blow horns. They could not hire themselves out without permission or in any other way conduct themselves as free men. They could not buy or sell goods…They were never to assemble unless a white person as present."[6]

As the United States Supreme Court noted in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. John A. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), in describing the African,

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it."

After slavery ended, the African was subjected to a new phase of oppression, Jim Crow. Every aspect of life was segregated. The schools, hospitals, restaurants, transportation, sports, recreation, orphanages, prisons, funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries were segregated.[7]

In addition, lynching was a common occurrence. Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 4,742 African Americans were brutally lynched.[8] Many were hanged. Many were castrated. Some were decapitated. Many were burned alive. The lynch mobs referred to the burnings as Negro Barbecues.[9] Lynch mobs acted with impunity. With demented glee, they had the audacity to gather their friends and families and take photographs as if they were attending some grotesque sporting event. As documented in the book, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, the perpetrators actually used the photographs to make postcards. “Lynching occurred in all but four states in the contiguous United States, and less than 1 percent of the perpetrators were brought to justice.”[10] The federal government idly stood by and allowed these atrocities to continue for years. The U.S. Senate rejected three anti-lynching measures.[11] On June 14, 2005, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislations. Although that apology is a good gesture, it is inadequate. Justice demands that the families of the victims be compensated. The living perpetuators must be hunted down like the Nazis and the 911 terrorists.

Legal segregation ended with Brown v. the Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and other civil rights legislation. Such legislation was designed to end discrimination. It was prospective. It was not designed to compensate the victims of Jim Crow era for decades of suffering.

Lingering modern American racism and white privilege are the products of slavery and Jim Crow. The myths of white supremacy and black inferiority were created to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws. Centuries of slavery followed by decades of segregated schools and other conditions inflicted severe psychology damage, stunted our intellectual potential and human development. As a result of this legacy of oppression, many of us continue to hate ourselves. Many of us continue to hate our dark hue and natural hair texture. Adopting our oppressor’s language, we continue to refer to our brothers and sisters as niggers.

Although there was been great progress, racial disparities continue to exist in education, criminal justice, health care and economics. For example, according to the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2009, “African Americans remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated.”[12]

In addition to a moral obligation, U.S. and European governments, descendents of slave owners and corporations have an economic obligation[13] to pay reparations. They were unjustly enriched from our enslavement. Their wealth was build from centuries of free labor, our sweat, blood and tears. Not only did U.S. government pass the laws that made slavery possible, the government utilized slave labor to build the Nation’s Capital.[14] American finance, banking, insurance, manufacturing, publishing and other industries have ties to slavery. Some of the U.S. companies that have ties to slavery include Aetna, New York Life, AIG, JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, Brown Brothers, Harriman, Norfolk Southern CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, WestPoint Stevens, Knight Ridder, Tribune, Media General, Advance Publications, E.W. Scripps and Gannett.[15] The original benefactors of Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton and the University of Virginia were wealthy slave owners.[16] British banks, metallurgical industries, and insurance industries (including Lloyd’s of London) profited from the slave trade. [17] As Eric Williams states, “the triangular trade made an enormous contribution to Britain’s industrial development. The profits from this trade fertilized the entire productive system of the country.”[18]

Without profits from slave labor, those governments, corporations and families probably would not be as prosperous as they are today. They must disgorge their ill gotten gains and compensate the descendants of enslaved Africans.

As Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale said, we must seize the time. The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. We have a progressive African American President. The Democratic Party has a majority in the House and the Senate. Now is the time to push for the passage of Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) H.R. 40.[19] America’s debt is over 144 years past due and we must collect it. We have an obligation to ourselves and our ancestors. We must demand reparations now.

[1] Douglas, William. “In Congress, even trying to apologize stirs a fight.” Detroit Free Press. 5 July 2009.
[2] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:4.
[3] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 35.
[4] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:8.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980: 134-35.
[7] Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. New York: Oxford University, 1974: 7.
[8] Allen, James Hilton et al. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 200: 12.
[9] Ibid at 10.
[10] Thomas-Lester, Avis. “A Senate Apology for History on Lynching.” The Washington Post. 14 June 2005.
[11] Ibid.
[12] National Urban League, Executive Summary, State of Black America 2009 Message to the President with Equality Index.
[13] Asante, Molefi Kete, “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:5.
[14] Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Dutton, 2000:3-5.
[15] Cox, James. “Corporations challenged by reparations activists.” USA TODAY, 21 February 2002.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 98 -105.
[18] Ibid at 105.
[19] The purpose of the Bill is: “To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently dejure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes. “Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) Bill for a Study on the Impact of Slavery on African Americas HR40IH, 105 Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 40.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003: 332.