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What Kind of Progress is Black Progress in America?

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink

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Mr. Obama's black media Czar, his black media spokesman in Chief, MSNBC's Reverend Al Sharpton, of Tawana Brawley fame, hosted a very familiar and much oft repeated Oprah-like spectacle: an MSNBC program called "Continuing the Dream." Ostensibly it was in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. But is it fair not to ask: was celebration of Dr. King its real purpose? I saw much darker motives involved behind this slick production.

Too, it was to have been a celebration of the spectacular progress America has made in race relations over the past fifty years -- with exhibit number one being our first mulatto president, Mr. Obama himself. As we already know, Obama's election is the standing symbol that all racism in America has suddenly evaporated, right? However, by the reckoning of many blacks, myself included, what little progress that has been made over the last 50 years, has been a Pyrrhic victory, including especially Mr. Obama's presidency. 

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And while everybody's mantra during this 50th anniversary season has been that there has been such lavish black progress over the past 50 years, it begs the question of what exactly are they talking about when they say "black progress?" And indeed, how are "they" defining this "so-called" progress? Is it only Congressman John Lewis who gets to define what black progress has been since his sacrifices in the "freedom rides?" There are others of us who made sacrifices too.

Sure, it is true that the "White Only" signs have been taken down, and we can now eat at lunch counters that no longer exist, and we do have a few highly placed but very impotent executives, much like our impotent President himself, scattered above the glass ceiling. Beyond that however, arguably, there is very little evidence of progress and thus, arguably, we have very little to celebrate?
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Taking 50 years to get rid of the racist signs on water fountains and to be able to sit at lunch counters that no longer exist -- while during that same time period marriage rates, college graduation rates, overall income rates, and black wealth, have all dropped dramatically; at the same time that the median incomes between white and black families have since 1945 remained steady (at around 55%), as has the unemployment rate, which has consistently remained twice that of whites; and when there are over one million black men in American prisons, college has been priced out of our range, and jobs are all moving overseas, this is not progress to celebrate by any sensible standards that I know of?  In fact, who are we kidding here, it is such precipitous decline that it is very much one to be lamented!

Real progress in the American social system, is the amount of advancement that "the white women's movement" has made since it was officially kicked-off in the early 1970s, a full decade later than the King speech. Today, by all but the most obscure indicators white women in a single generation, have easily pulled even with white men! In fact, if you subtract out minority women from their movement, white women have "pulled ahead of white men" -- especially in important categories like college graduation rates.  

And while it is true that we are still waiting for Hillary to be elected as the first woman president, even without her that is "real" progress by any definition. There is no need to split hairs when we are talking about white women progress. In 2016, when Hillary's Coronation will take place, there will be no need for white women to celebrate their success, as their progress, as it is continuously being translated into active and functional power, will by then speak for itself. Arguably, it is the power behind the Obama throne even today.
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This is certainly not in my view the same kind of progress that Reverend Al and his "hand picked crew" was celebrating last night. Nor could the meager progress of dropping "White Only" signs, sitting at lunch counters that no longer exist, and electing an impotent mulatto president, in any way be compared to the spectacular progress that white women have made over the last forty years. 

If we really want to celebrate progress since Dr. King's speech, I say lets have a good old-fashion Baptist Revival for white women, amen!

Thus, no one was fooled by this Obama/Oprah/Tyler Perry orchestrated spectacle. As it was little more than a Baptist religious revival to lift Obama's sagging poll numbers with a group that voted for him at the 95% level and yet they still "had nothing coming." And thus, as far as blacks are concerned, the Obama presidency has shown nothing but a stream of insults combined with cheap political tricks and spin. Period. End of the Obama black legacy. 

In exchange for the kind of progress that white women have made, I would trade Barack, Oprah, Tyler and Reverend Al all in, in a heartbeat. 


On the other hand, with the backdrop of this spectacle being the new blockbuster Oprah-Tyler Perry movie appropriately entitled "The Butler," and with Reverend Al, of Tywana Brawley fame, presiding, it at least raises the question as to whether blacks are moving forward, sideways or decidedly backwards under the Obama/Oprah administration? I believe this "feel good" rendition of a 1960s Baptist Church Revival hijacking Dr. King's legacy and directed primarily at soothing black disgust with Mr. Obama, is proof that under his administration, as a people, we are decidedly sliding backwards.

The real purpose and subtext of the Obama/Oprah/Tyler Perry 50th Anniversary Baptist revival Celebration was to reset black expectations downwards and away from such spectacularly successful programs as Affirmative Action(AA). Arguably, that is the only reason for Reverend Al's rapid promotion to daily news reporter and the only reason for the slickly produced anti-King celebration. I also believe it was the reason Condoleeza Rice was there instead of General Powell, who has made it clear that he believes strongly in continuing Affirmative Action.

The Oprah/Obama/Perry trick is the same trick the old racist Southern politicians used in the South to reset black expectations downwards and away from thinking that they deserved any more than what the politicians were already giving them: which then, as is the case with Mr. Obama today, was nothing: end of the Obama legacy to those who most energetically pulled the voting lever for him twice and who arguably are most responsible for him having been elected.

The Subtext of this "so-called" Celebration was: No more need for Affirmative Action because there is no more racism: As Stevie Wonder began to croon towards the end: we have (already) overcome (racism) ... (Sing with feelings)

Arguably, the American middle class, both for whites and for blacks, arose as a result of the Affirmation Action program (AA) "called veteran preferences." Since veterans had been disadvantaged from having been drafted to serve in WW-II, upon returning home, they were sent to the front of the line to help them recoup those loses. As a result, they were awarded a package of preferences on par with the disadvantages that they had suffered, preferences that helped them get jobs, go to college, get cheap loans, buy homes, and otherwise return to normal civilian life. 

The Richard Nixon administration decided that a similar but greatly reduced set of preferences might also work to offset the damage suffered by blacks after 300 years of slavery, followed by a century of legal segregation and a half century of illegal segregation. And he was right, however, despite being the law of the land, and despite (and arguably because of) the fact that the program was working so well towards the same success that the veteran preferences had received before it, majority racist white resistance, racist subterfuge and racist undermining of the program, resulted in its reversal. 

The alternative to this reversal, has been to reset black expectations for success in America downwards through so called celebrations like the one Reverend Al hosted last night. This show was a part of this cynical process of resetting black expectations downwards. For it said to blacks, that in the absence of AA, you too can be as successful as the handful of athletes, entertainers and CEOs, Reverend Al paraded on his show. The message is: since these blacks were successful based on individual effort, why can't you also be equally successful without AA? 

I do not believe it is cynical to point out that the theme and message to blacks of this revival/celebration was the same message that was conveyed to blacks by racist whites during the days of legal segregation: If you are not already a "holy black superstar," then it only means that you are a part of the only other remaining category left for blacks: a deadbeat, a person not working hard enough; and therefore nothing is left for you but drugs, jail, or being on welfare with lots of illegitimate babies. That's it. 

What about all those men who returned from WW-II and readily accepted "veteran preferences?" What about the fact that white women are still the greatest beneficiaries of AA even today? Neither of them are holy superstars either, but they are just ordinary men and women who have used their preferences to make America better. 

The soldiers took those preferences and built the American middle class. White women have used them to move ahead of white men. In a similar way, the military which is about as equatable and non-racist as any institution in America, is producing black successes in line with our proportions in the populations. 

The message of the military is where there is racial fairness, blacks will excel: they do not all have to be either "holy superstar athletes" or "gifted entertainers." Where there is fairness, they do not drop out, go to jail,or end up on drugs; they just succeed as other ordinary people do. Where there is unfairness, which is still rampage with present day Racism 2.0," some form of Affirmative Action is still needed. 




 

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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
 

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