Should blacks join political parties?

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Should blacks join political parties?

 By Elizabeth Wright

September 1, 2008

 

Of course, lots of people got it right about the implications of what we all saw during the New Orleans hurricane disaster. In the predicament of the flood victims, we all got a view of the welfare state writ large. From the plaintive calls for rescue, water and food, as if these were all due by right, to the bungling of those Keystone Cops known as government bureaucrats, beginning with the New Orleans Mayor and working its way to the top of the Feds -- we witnessed scenes that we hope will never be repeated.It's also clear that, instead of this being an opportunity to expose blacks to the reasons for the destitute circumstances in which so many are mired and the conditions that make escape so difficult, black leaders are going to make sure that it's business as usual. There will be no attempts at enlightenment coming from this crew.

Days into the disaster, a gaggle of prominent blacks lined up to spew forth their orthodox rationalizations to explain why thousands of blacks found themselves in such a helpless quandary, totally at the mercy not only of Nature's fury, but of a government system on whom many of them depend for sustenance from cradle to grave. There came the cream of the Talented Tenth, repeating the kinds of dogmas that young blacks do not need to hear from authority figures. Front and center was New York Congressman Charles Rangel, telling blacks, in effect, that if they're poor, they might as well be dead: The storm, he said, showed that "if you're black in this country, and you're poor in this country, it's not an inconvenience; it's a death sentence."

Of course, Al Sharpton was not far behind Rangel, as he concurred with co-host Michael Hardy, on Sharpton's New York City radio show, that nothing was done over the years to fix the levees, because New Orleans is majority black. There is "clear proof," declared Hardy, that "deliberate indifference" to blacks was at the heart of why the levees were never repaired.In sync with Rangel and Sharpton was the irrepressible Louis Farrakhan, and, like a blast from the rhetorical past, came author Randall Robinson, regurgitating propaganda reminiscent of a 1970s diatribe. Here was yet another financially well-off black urging ordinary blacks to look upon their lot as though they were "slaves in chains."

Of course, there is an agenda at work here. These men and others of the black "intelligentsia," along with sycophants of the black clergy, have their eyes on the long-term prize of "Reparations." Their only justification in calling for billions more dollars in money and services for blacks is that such funds be used to alleviate the existing social dysfunctions among the poor, which, claim these deceitful elites, are the direct "residual effects" of slavery. Since this claim is the heart of their case for reparations, it stands to reason that these worthies would hope to nurture said residual effects for as long as possible -- or, at least, until the first bundles of funding begin rolling in.

After Katrina, while some prominent figures were grandstanding and stoking race resentment, wiser heads were helping to clarify the implications of what we had seen of Louisiana's fragile bottom classes over our TV screens.
The distraught women, children and elderly, who had no place to go and no means to get there prior to the storm's landing, were more than just symbols of generations of poverty. As social researcher Charles Murray puts it, through those impromptu TV images, Americans "rediscovered the underclass." In "The Hallmark of the Underclass" (American Enterprise Institute, 9/29/05), Murray writes that the middle and upper classes "haven't had to deal with the underclass for many years," since, in most towns and cities, the homeless have been taken off the streets, while those in higher income brackets are protected in safe enclaves.

The general observer might believe that much has changed among the black poor since the 1980s, when the word "underclass" was a common term. But those recent images of the impoverished appealing for rescue ought to dispel such beliefs. What we saw primarily were women and children. But where were the able-bodied men? Forty years after the prophetic wisdom of the Moynihan Report, [officially entitled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action] and after all the evidence that has been accumulated since, among the black poor there continues to be a scarcity of adult males engaging in their roles as husbands and fathers. Back in 2000, when social observers were lauding the plunging welfare rolls and falling crime rates, Murray grimly warned "nothing has really changed." Right now, in 2005, he writes, "The deteriorating socialization of young males, concentrated in low income groups, is overwhelming."

Young black males, of course, are being socialized, and they do have role models. Among these models are the community "activists" -- a unique class of blacks who came into their own as credible "leaders" in the 1960s. Since then, almost every black neighborhood has incubated its own Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson wannabes, all posturing braggarts whom the mainstream society rewards, as they exploit the very poverty they decry. Thanks to such dignitaries, young blacks learn early that profitable, "respectable" livelihoods can be achieved, which require little more than verbal bluster attached to nothing of significance.Youths also have models among another set of men, i.e., their relatives -- brothers, uncles, cousins and fathers -- who intermittently are incarcerated in the penal system. As these men periodically come and go from their neighborhoods, they leave behind young people with little foundation to build upon. Where positive socialization has failed, a negative conditioning fills the vacuum, and continues to produce an intransigent underclass.

Murray offers this reality: "Most members of the underclass have low incomes, but its distinguishing characteristics are not poverty and unmet physical needs, but social disorganization, a poverty of social networks and valued roles, and a Hobbesian kind of individualism in which trust and cooperation are hard to come by and isolation is common." He cites a 1950s statistic, which shows that "80% of black children were born to married parents." While the qualities of trust and cooperation still existed among blacks in those stable two-parent neighborhoods, what was needed most was the continuance of the factors that made such stability possible. Not forced integration, and not even the vote. In fact, it could be argued that it was the distraction of forced integration that led to the social and economic downward spiral.

Above all else, continued economic development was the greatest urgency. Even before blacks had wider freedoms, thousands of them were well on their way towards making something of the communities in which they lived. Long before slavery was over, scores of freed blacks had already figured out the capitalist ropes and were putting their entrepreneurial skills to use. By living in their own enclaves, they were doing what all immigrant groups did -- developing capital among themselves and creating businesses.

A great many black businessmen had a clear understanding of whether the horse of economics or the cart of integration should come first. People like S.B. Fuller, for example, beginning in the 1930s and lasting into the 1960s, created companies that provided employment to a multitude of blacks (as well as whites), while A.G. Gaston, in the 1950s, was the major employer of blacks in Alabama. These men were representative of the many enterprising blacks who, by the 1940s, owned 843 businesses in Atlanta, 506 in Memphis, 252 in New Orleans and 694 in Washington, DC. Before the crash and the 1930s Depression, blacks were the owners of banks that provided capital for thousands of enterprises. In cities and towns throughout the country, wherever a black population began to grow, it gave birth to a middle class whose behavior patterns, moral standards and attitudes towards thrift became models for emulation.

In Chicago, in 1917, a group of black realtors devised a systematic plan to create a city district, by buying apartment buildings between 31st and 63rd streets, which would rent primarily to blacks. At the time, this district was predominantly white. These realtors managed to acquire some capital, but needed more.When they were turned down for loans by various Chicago bankers, who, in attempts to undermine the plan, also refused to renew mortgages on property already purchased, these black entrepreneurs did not whine and scream "discrimination." Instead, they took themselves to places where they could borrow money, namely, to black-owned banks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Richmond, Virginia. On returning to Chicago, they set about moving one Negro family into each apartment house purchased. As whites gradually began to move out of the neighborhood, no one set up a wail about "white flight," since this was the objective.

A newspaper report of the events (Cleveland Advocate, April 14, 1917) quoted Eugene Manns, president of the South State Street Business Men's Association, explaining, "The Negro population is increasing so rapidly that we must have a larger section of the city to live in. More than 20,000 Negroes have come from the South this winter, and they are still arriving, at the rate of about 3,500 a week." The Black Belt district of Chicago eventually gave birth to hundreds of businesses, including several black-owned newspapers with national distribution, a couple of film production companies, insurance firms, hotels, and a plethora of restaurants and stores. In later years, such communities would be dismantled by blacks themselves, as if they possessed no inherent value. The contempt that would be shown towards the indigenous achievements of blacks was expressed earlier and succinctly by a foreign visitor to the United States. In 1899, the Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin (who billed himself a "communist anarchist") was informed of the dissident factions among the leaders of this country's Negro population. When told that Booker T. Washington was considered a "conservative" leader, Kropotkin scoffed and sarcastically asked, "And what do they have to conserve?" His derisive question reflected the spirit of many, both blacks and whites, who believed that the former slaves held nothing of value among themselves.

What Blacks needed most in the 1950s was the removal of those unconstitutional Jim Crow laws, many of which prevented them from expanding economic mobility for themselves. They did not need a movement to tear them away from their familiar institutions and intimate associations. What blacks did not need were the selfish goals as established by a grasping middle class, eager to ride the wave of forced integration, in order to use the coercive power of government to guarantee entry into more lucrative occupations and to acquire prestige in mainstream white society. When the doors of segregation were opened and the black middle class abandoned their home communities, where their standards and economic resources were the indispensable glue that held things in place, all bets were off for the poor. And when thousands of these privileged ones, in concert with white liberals, contrived an entire poverty industry off which to feed, the ongoing demise of the poor, rather than their uplift, proved to be in the best interests of these elites. The needs of the bourgeoisie, many of whose families had been middle class for generations, in no way matched the needs of the poor.

Black schools should have remained intact, thereby keeping stable black neighborhoods intact, thereby keeping intact that 80% marriage rate cited by Murray, and thus helping to sustain black responsibility. It was the disruption, or call it the premature demolition, of those close-knit communities, the kind in which new immigrants are nurtured before entering the mainstream, that is the root of why things might never get better.

There is, however, a small, but growing cadre of blacks who believe they have a handle on how to resolve the predicament of the masses. They call themselves "conservatives," but, more accurately, should be described as flaming Republicans. As with most of today's Republicans, their commitment to true conservative ideals is open to question. For blacks to escape their present quagmire, according to these partisans, more politics should be applied, only now it's time for politics to be practiced on the Republican side of the fence. For at least the past few years, as their numbers have grown, we've all been exposed to the bombast of these pundits and proselytizers. They are syndicated columnists, book authors, pamphleteers and bloggers. And they are everywhere. Many of them take as one of their major mentors the man who, before mutating into a born-again Republican apologist himself, was the loudest voice preaching against political involvement as a path out of poverty. That man is economist Thomas Sowell, who used to advise blacks to take their cues from the ethnic groups whose members disdain politics, while they climb the economic ladder of success.

Since the Democrats are correctly castigated for creating the "wrong" government policies to deal with the poor, Sowell seems to be suggesting that now it's time to count on the Republicans to create the "right" policies. This, from the scholar who, in Markets and Minorities, praised Chinese-American leaders for making a "deliberate decision to keep out of the political arena, while concentrating on economic progress." He agreed with such a stance, "in view of the historic unpredictability of government policy toward ethnic minorities."

Elsewhere, Sowell warned blacks to be careful of the fickleness of the political pendulum, which, he claimed, swings back and forth, from left to right, in unpredictable ways. He never failed to ruthlessly castigate black leaders for misleading blacks down the path of politics and, in Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? he accused them of politicizing race "despite the unpromising record of politics as a means of raising a group from poverty to affluence." He charged such leaders with feathering their own nests at the expense of their people. "However catastrophic the politicization of race may be in the long run, from the point of view of individual leaders it is a highly successful way to rise from obscurity to prominence and power." Sowell made clear that political activism will not lead the poor to where they need to be, and benefits only ethnic leaders. "It would perhaps be easier to find an inverse correlation between political activity and economic success than a direct correlation," he wrote. Nowadays, along with the mini-crusade of black Republican pundits and talk show circuit riders, with whom he seems to be in harmony, Sowell sings the praises of the Republican camp, while urging blacks (and whoever else is listening) to consciously join its ranks. In addition, he has strong feelings about just who should be in his party.

In one of his columns, he expresses concern when a Republican of whom he approves loses points in Congress to other members of the party, who are not deemed by Sowell as true torchbearers of the conservative cause. It seems that the party does not belong to John McCain, Arlen Specter or Olympia Snowe, all of whom he has characterized as lacking "party loyalty." They, obviously, are not "real" Republicans. It makes you wonder what liberal Republicans like Jacob Javits would have made of such reasoning. Today, might Javits be deemed disloyal or even a traitor? Of course, he served as Senator, when the Republican party still possessed two wings and a center. All of which raises the question, What are most blacks missing by not being Republicans? Just what is it that they might achieve through involvement with the Republican Party that they cannot achieve as registered Democrats or Libertarians, or as members of any number of independent "third" parties, or as members of no party at all?

Might some of the benefits lie in the excessively ballyhooed "Faith-Based and Community Initiatives," a program of grants promoted by the White House, which promises $40 billion in handouts to religious organizations and churches? Is this the ultimate in cynical political strategies, designed to seduce influential leaders, like black preachers, for instance? As many blacks can attest, the preacher class often can be bought at a moderate cost. It was not long ago that a score of black clergy wound up in legal troubles, and some in jail, due to the temptations brought on from the money that flowed during the heady days of the Great Society. The Reverend Bacons of the land, undoubtedly, are paying close attention and are salivating over the prospect of faith-based Great Society II.

Do blacks really need another layer of crafty "Reverends" and others peddling yet more programs funded by the U.S. government? The "faith-based" advocates have already begun setting up agencies in various states, which will result in another vast network of lobbyists with an interest in keeping the Republicans in power forever. We are told that these faith-based programs are needed to "unleash armies of compassion." But isn't it more likely that such armies will fill up with predators and varying shades of con-men? Or maybe the benefits of Republicanism lie in the party's impact on the judicial system. Many Americans have not forgotten the crime waves of the 1960s-80s. During that period of mayhem, New York and other cities became notorious for a form of "turnstile justice," whereby arrested criminals, thanks to obliging, lenient judges, were often out the door of the courtroom and back on the streets, before the arresting officers had finished their paper work. In New York City, the tabloids dubbed one such judge "Turn 'em loose" Bruce.

Then, after years of permissive treatment of felons, the justice system bounded off in another direction -- to the present extreme of presumption of guilt. Courtroom power shifted away from glib, superstar defense attorneys to rule by prosecutors, who often stack the deck against defendants. Even more pernicious than prosecutors who suborn perjury, reward false testimony and withhold exculpatory evidence is the intrusion of mandatory minimum prison sentences. This means that, for certain crimes, judges no longer have the discretion to weigh the role played by a defendant in a particular case, but is forced to impose a fixed mandated sentence, without possibility of parole.

Thanks to this excessive reaction to the earlier permissiveness, we have first-time offenders serving 10-year prison sentences for "crimes" that in a saner America were considered pranks worthy of a severe reprimand and/or 60 days in the county jail. We have families torn apart when mothers of young children act as minor participants, sometimes unwittingly, in the distribution of a small amount of drugs, or for the personal use of a drug. Such people can serve as much as 15 years, even though they have never been involved in any previous illegal activity.

Economist and author Paul Craig Roberts tells of misdemeanor crimes that have been ratcheted up to felonies by an overzealous, punitive system of justice, where the careers of ambitious prosecutors are tied to their conviction rates. Roberts writes, "Most of the almost two million people currently in U.S. prisons are there because they violated one of the hundreds of thousands of federal and state regulations that increasingly govern our lives." Today, the criminalizing of civil infractions is slowly becoming a norm. Paul Rosenzweig of the Heritage Foundation describes this phenomenon as "overcriminalizing law." It is probably fruitless to expect the self-described "anti-regulation" Republicans to call for a review of these deplorable statutes, in a quest for fairness. Don't wait around for such a response, especially from a party that now brazenly stands for internment of American citizens without trial.

You would think that removing discretionary power from judges was enough perversion of constitutional principles, but in 2003, along came Republican Congressman Tom Feeney with an amendment to make sentencing regulations even more stringent. Among other things, Feeney's amendment, which had the blessing of Attorney General Ashcroft, placed further restrictions on judges, to insure that there are no "downward" departures from the current sentencing mandates. Woe to the judge who tries to limit prison time for, say, a young mother, because he does not want to see her incarcerated for the span of her children's youth.

Like others, Thomas Sowell reflects the punitive mindset shared by Feeney and so many of his fellow Republicans. In one of his syndicated columns, he complains about a Supreme Court ruling that set aside the execution order of a convicted murderer, who would instead spend the rest of his life in prison. It seems that the world is thrown off kilter, if even just one soul escapes the noose. Among this vindictive clan, few appear to have heard the admonition to temper justice with mercy. So, is it for reasons of "law and order" that blacks should become Republicans? Are there benefits to be derived from membership in a party that is eager to punish not only the bad guys for serious crimes, but anyone else who can be ensnared by duplicitous laws as well? Society must possess the power to punish its incorrigible lawbreakers, but gratuitous meanness, which is actively promoted through law, should be relegated to totalitarian societies.

On the immigration front, of what benefit to blacks is the ongoing stream of cheap laborers who cross our borders every day? As it is, black politicians, as represented by such luminaries as John Conyers, Maxine Waters and Sheila Jackson-Lee, refuse to stand against this illegal flood, which is detrimental to the employment prospects of poor blacks, as well as other Americans. Along with their counterparts among white politicians, members of various black caucuses fear political backlash and the changing racial demographics of their own districts. Why would blacks foolishly support a political party whose chief scorns patriotic citizens as "vigilantes," for acting as watchmen on our borders, a task that ought to be performed by our National Guard? And, speaking of the Guard, it's hardly necessary to ask of what value to blacks is participation in a political party that contemplates a series of wars around the world, as it hypes fear and plays on the average American's current desire for security at any price.

Is there anything different in the Republicans' approach to the race issue? Or do they milk and exploit civil rights symbols and icons in the same manner of the Democrats? It appears that those on the right have appropriated the civil rights cause in its unadulterated leftwing form. They are as likely to engage in the language of racial smear as the leftist masters of the genre. For the right, even "hate" has become a catch-all word of denigration -- the term originally applied by liberals, back in the late 1980s, to all rightwing talk show hosts.

Since the goal is to win over the black masses from the opposition, whatever works for the Democrats is fair game -- even to the point of handing out ATM cards to hurricane victims. By becoming enthusiastic riders on the "diversity" bandwagon, as well as indulging in an unprecedented form of cronyism, Republicans prove that merit means no more to them than to the people they so vigorously disparage.

For all their bluster to the contrary, Republicans have internalized the liberals' orthodox views on race and culture, including the notion that these views only should have a place in our society. As we have witnessed, like politically correct liberals, Republicans will eagerly throw a white man to the wolves (a la Trent Lott), if they think such pandering will win them political capital with the "minorities." Have you noticed that today's Republicans relate just about everything to whatever Democrats do, or did, or never did, or might do? Most of the rationalizations for their own actions appear to be wrapped around the aura of Bill Clinton. If they cannot draw a parallel to some Clintonesque action, policy or remark, they seem lost. It has long been said that, if you wait long enough, Republicans eventually adopt the platforms and agendas that the Democrats initiate. Whoever coined that cliché knew whereof he spoke. Do blacks need a rehash of the same old story, with a Republican twist?

No subject is considered more urgent to the progress of blacks than that of education. In the misguided crusade for "equal education," this nation was sent into social turmoil, from which it has not recovered. After all the years of experimental curricula inspired by politically correct liberals, are black children to be set back further by school systems that succumb to the demands of ardent crusaders harboring ideological beliefs that go counter to centuries of accumulated knowledge?

In other words, is it wise to affiliate with a political party full of hide-bound ideologues who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old? For the sake of black youth, many of whom presently teeter in an educational wasteland, shouldn't we be anxious that they receive the kind of educational training that will prepare them for future competition among the world's brightest minds? Vouchers are worthless, if children are to be offered a steady diet of pet doctrines, this time generated on the right, instead of being solidly grounded in basic secular studies, which, needless to say, include the hard sciences. Is the school curriculum now to be shifted from the sometimes strange and even perverse academic innovations formulated by particular liberal educators in the recent past (think "whole language"), to a perhaps even weirder form of social engineering espoused by their ideological opponents?

Finally, the political party that is most vociferous about its adherence to the Constitution now shows its true colors in the treatment of American citizen José Padilla. Although they would bitterly deny it, Republicans could not make it clearer that "we don't need no stinking Constitution." What more is there to glean from a party whose members posed no challenges to the Executive branch that has usurped the power to declare American citizens as "enemy combatants," in order to lock them away forever without due process of law? How can there be respect for a party that has allowed its leaders to shamefully set up quarters abroad where, in the name of the United States, they cage and torment human beings?

So, what is it that blacks need to do? They need to come to their senses and extricate themselves from their intense commitment to politics. They need to turn all that energy now spent on building the careers of politicians and other opportunists to the economic development of every predominantly black neighborhood. Their concentrated focus should be on bringing wealth to those neighborhoods and keeping it there. They need to reach back in time, to those "bad, old days" when blacks were forced to cooperate with one another, and take their cues from practical, wise men like Fuller and Gaston and those Chicago realtors. By building wealth, blacks could no longer be the pawns of manipulative leaders, whose only assurance of power comes through maintenance of the status quo.

Blacks need to be more than conscientious voting citizens. Leaving the world of racial politics behind, they must pay attention to the meanings beneath the platitudes and propaganda. However, becoming alert voters will mean nothing, if there is no serious campaign to track with certainty how their votes are counted and who gets to count them. Masses of blacks should join the campaign with other Americans to take the initiative in overseeing the development of infallible, fool-proof voting methods, so that we never again experience the singular blunders of the year 2000 or undergo the electoral confusions of 2004. This is a civic duty and should not be tied to partisan political factions.

Most importantly, however, blacks need to take to heart Thomas Sowell's truism uttered in his earlier incarnation: "Groups that have the skills for other things seldom concentrate in politics."

 

Elizabeth Wright is an African-American writer and editor of the Issues & Views Magazine and blog. Her articles were also published in Issues & Views.

Publié dans African diaspora

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