Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Marches, Two Visions: Are We Ready to Move this Nation Forward?

This past weekend marked the 47th anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The Nation’s Capitol hosted two major demonstrations, Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally and Rev. Al Sharpton’s Reclaim the Dream March.

Glenn Beck held his Restoring Honor rally on the Washington mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the same location where King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. For the most part, there were no political signs, no political speeches, and no guns. However, I noticed a few “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Making a thinly veiled swipe at the Obama Administration, Sarah Palin voiced opposition to efforts to "fundamentally transform" America. The rally was a strange mix of extreme patriotism and evangelical revivalism. To create the illusion of diversity, there were quite a few token African American speakers and singers. However, the overwhelming majority of the participants were white.

Despite Beck’s efforts to describe the date as a coincidence, according to Salt Lake City Tribune writer Leonard Pitts’s article titled Memo to Glenn Beck, Beck said, on this radio program three months ago,

“This is a moment that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement. It has been so distorted and so turned upside down. ... We are on the right side of history. We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties and damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement, because we were the people that did it in the first place!”

Consequently, Beck’s rally has generated a lot of controversy. The date and location are peculiar because Beck and his Tea Party comrades are opposed to most of aims and objectives of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King sought to unite all people regardless of race. Beck, Palin and other Tea Party public figures divide the people with their vitriolic rhetoric and incessant race baiting. For instance, Beck described President Obama as someone who has “a deep seated hatred for white people.” He also described America during this Obama era as “Planet of the Apes”. Sarah Palin has been at the forefront of the racist, Islamophobic opposition to the building of a Muslim cultural center two blocks away from ground zero. After Dr. Laura Schlissinger’s racist “N” word rant, Sarah Palin advised Schlissinger via Twitter “don’t retreat…reload!”

Dr. King urged the federal government to actively address the problems of racism and poverty. Beck and friends advocate for a limited government and support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. During his interview on Fox News Sunday, Glenn Beck acknowledged that he opposes the Civil Rights Movement’s economic agenda. Dr. King was a man of peace who opposed American imperialism and militarism. Beck and friends romanticize militarism and drape it in the garb of exaggerated patriotism. Dr. King advocated progressive liberation theology. Beck condemns such theology.

If King, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph and the other prominent 1963 March on Washington organizers were alive today, Beck and Palin would call them Marxists and socialists. As others have said, such civil rights heroes would be on Beck’s conspiracy chalk board.

Moreover, right wing conservatives like Glenn Beck have revised history to suit their political purposes. They have reduced Dr. King and the Movement down to a single phrase, “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The Right has attempted to neuter and, in the words of Cornel West, Santa Clausify Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Under the guise of creating a color blind society, some conservatives have used that "content of character" phrase to eviserate everything that King stood for. In their upside down bizarre world, white men are the victims and African Americans are the racists. Affirmative action and other measures designed to promote racial diversity are viewed as reverse discrimination.

Unfortunately, the Restoring Honor rally will legitimize Glenn Beck and the far right Tea Party movement. The crowd size speaks volumes. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the Restoring Honor rally. Like rapper Jay Z says, “man lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”

Now, to end on a more positive note, I also watched Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally. The central theme was: “We have made progress but we have not arrived yet.” Other speakers included National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Adrian Fenty, Warren Ballantine , Black Farmers Association leader John Boyd, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others.

The “Reclaim the Dream” speakers addressed a wide array of pertinent issues including poverty, inner city violence, mass incarceration, unemployment, educational and D.C. statehood. During the rally, John Boyd pointed out how approximately 80,000 black farmers filed race discrimination complaints against the United States Department of Agriculture and no one was fired. However, Shirley Sherrod was fired on the spot based on half-truths and distortions. Mr. Ballantine summed up my view the rally when said, “A dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.” As Sharpton stated during his speech, the Reclaim the Dream rally cannot just be a one day event.

Judging by the size of Beck's crowd, they are apparently ready and organized to “take the country back.” Commemorations are great, but the real question is “are we ready and sufficiently organized to move this country forward”?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Islamophobia: Mainstream Hate

The proposed construction of a Muslim community center two long blocks away from ground zero has exposed and unleashed a rabid new wave of anti-Muslim hatred. Without doubt, the opposition to the mosque is rooted in prejudice and hate. Essentially, the opposition views all Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists. That is primary reason why they oppose building a mosque near ground zero.

The opposition to building mosques is not confined to the area near ground zero. For instance, as noted in the New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein titled Across the Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Republican candidates have denounced plans for a large Muslim center proposed near a subdivision, and hundreds of protesters have turned out for a march and a county meeting.

In late June, in Temecula, Calif., members of a local Tea Party group took dogs and picket signs to Friday prayers at a mosque that is seeking to build a new worship center on a vacant lot nearby.

In Sheboygan, Wis., a few Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.

In addition to protests against the building of mosques, there are other examples of anti-Muslim hatred. For example, one church plans to hold a Quran burning ceremony on September 11, 2010. Moreover, as pointed out on the Rachel Maddow Show, the hate group Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) seeks to outlaw Islam in America.

This hatred is also reflected in polls. According to TIME magazine’s poll,

61% of respondents oppose the construction of the Park51/Cordoba House project, compared with 26% who support it. More than 70% concur with the premise that proceeding with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President....

The discussion centering around President Obama’s faith is another example of anti-Muslim hatred. Many view being a Muslim as a blot on one's character. For instance, President Obama has been forced to repeatedly explain that he is a Christian and not a Muslim. Nonetheless, many Americans remain unconvinced. Shortly after the President voiced support for building a mosque near ground zero, the Pew Research Center released the results of a national survey. According to the survey,

[N]early one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center. The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55%in March 2009.

Frankly, as Muslim, I find this anti-Muslim trend to be frightening because it is not just coming from the lunatic fringe. Mainstream politician politicians such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Republican Governor Sarah Palin and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio joined the hateful chorus. Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis. Some hypocritical politicians like Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio are actually pimping the 9/11 tragedy to score political points. Under pressure from the anti-Muslim right, feeble Democrats such as U.S. Senator Harry Reid and former Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean have capitulated and now oppose the building of the Muslim community center.

It is particularly disturbing to see victims of discrimination embrace this new form of antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a long and distinguished history of fighting discrimination. Yet, ADL issued a press statement opposing construction of the Muslim community center. I was shocked to learn that even some prominent black bloggers have jumped on the hate Muslims bandwagon.

It is time to stop the hate.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Ongoing Crisis in the Black Community

In his New York Times Op-Ed titled Too Long Ignored, Bob Herbert writes:

The Schott Foundation for Public Education tells us in a new report that the on-time high school graduation rate for black males in 2008 was an abysmal 47 percent, and even worse in several major urban areas — for example, 28 percent in New York City.

The astronomical jobless rates for black men in inner-city neighborhoods are both mind-boggling and heartbreaking. There are many areas where virtually no one has a legitimate job.

More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. And I’ve been hearing more and more lately from community leaders in poor areas that moms are absent for one reason or another and the children are being raised by a grandparent or some other relative — or they end up in foster care.

Black men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, have nearly a one-third chance of being incarcerated at some point in their lives. By the time they hit their mid-30s, a solid majority of black men without a high school diploma have spent time in prison.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men, with the murderous wounds in most cases inflicted by other young black men.

White families are typically five times as wealthy as black families. More than a third of all black children are growing up in poverty. In Ohio, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the percentage is more than half.

The aspect of this crisis that is probably the most important and simultaneously the most difficult to recognize is that the heroic efforts needed to alleviate it will not come from the government or the wider American society. This is a job that will require a campaign on the scale of the civil rights movement, and it will have to be initiated by the black community.

During the Civil Rights Movement, the problem was easier to identify and target. Through sustained demonstrations, litigation and legislation, we were able to break the chains of the oppressive Jim Crow era. Similarly, today, it is easy to demonstrate against high profile incidents of police brutality. It is easy to boycott or condemn modern manifestations of blatant racism such as the rantings of Don Imus, Glenn Beck or Dr. Laura Schlissinger.

However, Bob Herbert's call to action is a far greater challenge. Every weekend, I hear about another shooting in Baltimore. Such violence is the norm in Baltimore, D.C., Detroit, Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, Gary and other major inner cities. The other weekend, 12 young African Americans were shot by other African Americans in Baltimore. We can march in the streets until our feet fall off. Will that stop the drugs and guns from flooding the inner cities? Will marches and prayer vigils ever stop young brothers and sisters from shooting and killing each other? Will lawsuits increase the black high school graduation rates? Will legislation force fathers to raise and guide their own children? Of course not.

To address these problems, some activists have advocated for more mentoring programs. Others have urged religious institutions to play a more significant role in community. Unfortunately, such efforts alone will not remedy our myriad of problems. Such problems stem from entrenched, institutionalized racism and structural inequality.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Riddance Dr. Laura!

Yesterday, Dr. Laura Schlissinger announced on Larry King Live that she is ending her radio show because she "wants to regain her First Amendment rights." Dr. Laura said that she wants to be able to say what is on her mind and in her heart without someone getting angry and attacking her affiliates and sponsors. She went on to whine about how her First Amendment rights are being usurped by angry groups that want to eliminate and not debate. Although she acknowledged that she was wrong for repeatedly using the "n" word, Dr. Laura attempted to justify her actions by claiming that she "wasn't dissing anyone".

During the show, Dr. Laura admitted that her sponsors Netflix, Motel 6, Onstar and Advance Auto Parts withdrew their support from the program following her "n" word rant. However, she claimed that her program gained sponsors as well. Who are they?

It is worth noting that renown African American linguist and conservative John McWhorter essentially supports Dr. Laura. In his article on the Root, he actually wishes that Dr. Laura did not apologize. Mr. McWhorter contends that Dr. Laura's African American critics failed to make the distinction between an assertion and a quotation. Contrary to Mr. McWhorter's claims, Dr. Laura was not simply quoting the "n" word. She said the "n" word over 11 times. Her racial insensitivity was on full display. Throughout her conversation with the caller, Dr. Laura repeatedly and dismissively described African Americans as "hypersensitive". She went on to say that maybe such "hypersensitive" people should not marry outside of their own race. She further asserted that African Americans voted for Barack Obama solely based on his race and not based on the issues. Clearly, she was expressing racial animus.

For those reasons, I salute Media Matters for launching the boycott. I commend Dr. Laura's sponsors for pulling from the program. Although Dr. Laura has a First Amendment right to use offensive and racist words, her critics have the same First Amendment right and responsibility to express their outrage. Good riddance Dr. Laura! At least for now.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Portraits of Self Hatred

“Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of skin to such extent that you bleach to get like the white man? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate your self from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” Malcolm X

In the historic Brown v. the Board of Education case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that:

'Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to (retard) the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial(ly) integrated school system.’

The Brown court cited several studies to support the above assertions. One of the studies cited was Kenneth B. Clark’s study. In 1947, Dr. Clark conducted a doll test with a group of African American children. Using for two brown dolls and two white dolls, Dr. Clark asked the children to: “(1) give me the doll that you would like to play with; (2) give me the doll that is a nice doll; (3) give me the doll that looks bad; (4) give me the doll that has a nice color…” The majority of children decided to play with the white dolls. The majority of the children selected the white dolls as the nice dolls. The majority of the children selected the white dolls as the dolls with the nice color. The majority of the children picked that the brown dolls as the dolls that look bad. Fast forward over 60 year later.

Last week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper re-aired segments of Black and White Kids on Race and provided updates. Similar to Dr. Clark’s doll test, CNN assembled a team of experts to conduct a pilot study of black and white children. Experts showed the African American and white subjects a picture of five children ranging in complexion from dark brown to white. The experts asked the children the following questions:

(1) Which child is the dumb child?
(2) Which child is the nice child?
(3) Which child is the mean child?
(4) Which skin color do you want as your own?

According to Anderson Cooper, white children and, to a lesser degree, black children showed substantial white bias. White bias is the tendency to view lighter skin positively and darker skin negatively. White bias is simply a euphemism for white supremacy.

Here, we are over 50 years after Brown. For the most part, America is no longer a segregated society. In many ways, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream is now a reality. As Dr. King said, black and white children are able to join hands as sisters and brothers. We have been told that children do not see race. That makes it even more heart breaking to see these beautiful African American children in the above CNN videos express such self hatred.

We experienced the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights and the Black Power movements. However, black and white children are still programmed to embrace the myth of white supremacy. Years later, many of us continue to hate ourselves. Years later, many of us continue to think that white people are more beautiful than black people. Many of us continue to think that white people are more intelligent than black people. We continue to believe in the myth of white supremacy. Years later, many of us continue to idolize white people and despise black people. Apparently, integration is not a panacea.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama Supports Building of a Mosque Near Ground Zero

During his speech regarding Ramadan, President Barack Obama announced that he supports the building of a mosque near ground zero. He said, "This is America. Our commitment to freedom of religion must be unshakeable." That's right Mr. President!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dr. Laura's "Nigger" Rant: "Don't N Double A CP me!"

This audio speaks for itself. On her August 10, 2010 show, Dr. Laura said the word "nigger" at least 11 times. When an African American caller condemned her usage of the "n" word, Dr. Laura described the caller as "hypersensitive".

We need to put pressure on Dr. Laura's advertisers. No decent, respectable company should endorse such racism.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Wyclef Jean Enters the Arena

On Thursday, rap star Wyclef Jean announced on CNN's Larry King Live that he is running for President of Haiti. Shortly after Wyclef made the announcement, former fellow Fugee member Pras stated that he is supporting Wyclef's opponent, Michel Martell. It gets worst. Actor Sean Penn gave a scathing critique of Wyclef Jean's candidacy. See the video clip below. Ouch! Politics is truly a blood sport!

Wyclef issued the following response:

"It is unfortunate that Sean Penn is unaware of Wyclef's magnificent commitment to the people of Haiti and his independence. His campaign has nothing to do with corporate or special interests and everything to do with his calling and belief he can lead and make a difference. Some of Mr. Penn's comments seemed so out of sorts that those close to Wyclef worried about Mr. Penn, who has also done important, life-saving, inspirational work for the people of Haiti. This is a time to think productively about solutions and long-term strategies to rebuild, not to insult anyone who dares to care. Haiti needs everyone to collaborate for a 21st century safe, productive nation.."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tolerance Prevails in New York

On Tuesday, August 3, 2010, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission approved the building of a mosque two blocks away from ground zero. According to New York Times, the Commission voted 9 to 0 to deny historic protection to the building in Lower Manhattan where the mosque will be built. I commend New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Commission for promoting freedom of religion.

When the 9/11 terror attacks occurred nine years ago, I was working in Washington, D.C. I was horrified and frightened. I, like all Americans, deeply mourn the tragic loss of thousands innocence lives and strongly sympathize with the victims' families.

As we all know, the criminals who committed those senseless atrocities were members of a fanatical, foreign fringe terrorist group, Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda terrorists do not represent most Muslims throughout the world. They certainly do not represent peaceful, law abiding American Muslims.

It is morally wrong and unconstitutional to punish all Muslims for the crimes of a small deviant minority. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Denying Muslims the right to build a mosque violates freedom of speech and religion. Innuendo and unsubstantiated generalizations are not an adequate basis to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights.

Allowing the mosque to built is a triumph for democracy and the United States Constitution. Healing cannot be rooted in prejudice and bigotry.