YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 18, 2010

White elite enabling of Black Power

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Christopher Edley debates affirmative action with Charles Fried, Harvard Law Bulletin (Spring 2004)

These materials are taken from my unpublished ms. “Eros and the Middle Manager.” Some of the quotes have already been posted in my memoir of Pacifica Radio and also in Rough Ride Through The Culture Wars, but the material from Yale is new to the website. For an index to all my black power blogs, see http://clarespark.com/2010/07/15/index-to-black-power-blogs/. But also see a recent blog that shows how the moderate men demonized pioneers and frontiersmen as the worst racists, whose legacy haunts us today: http://clarespark.com/2014/01/08/the-frontiersmansettler-as-all-purpose-scapegoat/.

[From Black Studies in the University: A Symposium, edited by Armstead Robinson et al (Yale U.P., 1969), a transcript of papers presented at a conference organized by the Black Student Alliance at Yale, late spring 1968, and featuring among its speakers Harold Cruse and Ron Karenga, two prominent spokesmen for cultural nationalism (an irrationalist ideology); they and other speakers hold up urban and campus violence as a warning, noting that time is running out for the advancement of social peace.

Harold Cruse defines cultural nationalism, Q&A (26-27):  …in a society such as America, in which you have the ideas and achievements of black people constantly de-emphasized, “overlooked,” unrecorded, or excluded in the general realm of ideas, any attempt to re-emphasize these ideas must take the form of cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalism is nothing but the attempt of a group or nation or minority to express what is indigenous to its own historical background in order to enhance its public image--social image--in the eyes of the world. Unless there is a spirit of cultural nationalism, you would not have any national or ethnic group resurgence on any level, in any sphere. In America, where it is difficult for the white outlook, and often the black outlook, to accept the fact that the black group exists in many ways in a world separate from the whites, it is difficult to accept the validity of cultural nationalism on the part of the Negro as a group in American society because this is not the way we have been conditioned, educated, or trained to see this particular aspect of social reality. Cultural nationalism is nothing but an attempt to prevent the cultural particularism of the dominant white group from continuing to overshadow and submerge the essence of the black experience in America. If you examine this society as a whole, you will notice that all American groupings and sub-groupings have resorted in the past to the cultivation of their cultural nationalism in their attempt to adjust and gain recognition in American society. Without this impetus, there cannot be a concerted drive or thrust toward the creation and perpetuation of a course of black studies in the university.  You have to have this as a motivation, or else the whole idea of the institution of a black studies program becomes very meaningless.

[Ron Karenga explains his separatist educational philosophy  (Q&A, 44-45)]: I feel that black people should communicate black things. Why? We teach that methodology is very important in instruction, but unless one understands that education is more than just the communication of ideas for political effect, we’ll never see that education is basically two things: the provision of inspiration and the provision of information.  Now, we put inspiration first, because black people are an emotional people and our first commitment is an emotional one. Quite a few times myself I have been extremely rational, and blacks have no counter to it, but they disagree–either out of a false sense of Socratic tradition, which says that it is intelligent to disagree even if someone is right, or because he has been emotionally estranged from me.  We teach that the first commitment is an emotional one.  I cannot become emotionally committed to a white person, no matter what he says: I can laugh at what he does if it’s ridiculous enough, but I cannot become emotionally committed to him. I must have an image to identify with and that image must be personified in the man who’s communicating that thing to me or the image he projects. I’m saying that education is basically an inspirational thing and that methodology should take into consideration inspiration before information….

[Gerald A. McWorter introduces a theme that others amplify: there is very little scholarship available on “the black experience” or “the black community” so Yale and the other preserves of white financial power will have to develop curricula and scholars almost de novo. (Karenga offers his services as a consultant during the question period.)  This is how McWorter, a sociologist teaching at Spelman College, characterizes the worthless work of Gunnar Myrdal and his nameless black collaborators (after criticizing the work of the Chicago sociologists around Robert Park as overly focused on race relations):]

[McWorter:]  One must also mention in this concern with “race relations” the book by Gunnar Myrdal, AN AMERICAN DILEMMA, which to black people contains the white Myrdalian dilemma, not the dilemma of black people. Here I want specifically to note the whole question of “race relations,” because in the beginning period of empirical inquiry, it was race relations that was a concern–that is, people were concerned about the relationship of black people and white people and not, not, the life within the black community.  I suppose that’s natural, since these people were concerned about the survival of the society which was white. Now, the Myrdalian dilemma essentially is that, even though he had tremendous contact with a significant number of black scholars, he saw black people basically the same way as William Faulkner, the white racist novelist of the South. That is, he said that white people presented all of the alternatives available to black people, and if one ever wanted to understand black people, you merely had to look at white people who were around them, calculate the obverse of what you saw and you’d come up with what black people are about. There was no inkling in his mind that over a period of time black people could create a community, a culture, that would be functionally autonomous from the white oppressors who raped them from Africa.  Again, it seems to me that this should be clear to anyone with knowledge of recent research who is listening to voices coming from the black community.

[From a small conference “to explore the role of education in combating racial discrimination,” Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, published as Racism and American Education: A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Foreward by Averell Harriman, Harper and Row, 1970:]  

[Kenneth Clark (President of the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, Inc. Member of the New York State Board of Regents, and Professor of Psychology at City College of New York):]…I don’t see how we can avoid coming to the conclusion that teachers, who are supposed to be professionals with confidence in the potential of human  beings, are deficient in areas in which higher education is supposed to provide knowledge.  In some research among teachers selected by their principals to discuss teaching with us, the common denominator, interestingly enough true of Negro teachers as well as white teachers, was a profound illiteracy on what you would consider critical areas of knowledge.  I mean the attitudes, well not just the attitudes, but the knowledge of cultural anthropology or modern and contemporary knowledge about race and racial differences and racial potentialities or social psychology...They were really illiterate…in areas of social science that were relevant to their jobs (52).

[C. Van Woodward (Sterling Professor of History at Yale University):]…Americans in the early phases of nationalism did really foolish things.  In order to establish what they would now call their identity, Americans denigrated everything European in culture, and at the same time exalted everything American.  If it was American, it was beautiful, and if it was European, it was not.  Of course, that resulted in a lot of third-rate art and letters and sculpture and so forth.  I think we have recovered from our earlier excesses of nationalism in this respect, but by no means are we free from nationalism as a country.  The black nationalism, I think, will manifest many of these same excesses.  I think this is inevitable, and I think we are going to have to live with it in the colleges, in the public schools, all down the line.  We’re going to have to adjust to it.  I think we must think about it with as much dispassionate wisdom as we can muster, because it’s likely to get out of hand (64-65; see Kenneth Clark rejecting tolerance of black nationalism, 68).

[Christopher Edley (Program Officer in charge of the Government and Law Program at the Ford Foundation):]…I’m convinced that the way you eliminate prejudice and racism in America is not by talking and education and explanation.  I think you have to start with a simple cliché‚ like God, motherhood, or country.  You have to have something that has a noble ring.  And it seems to me that what this country needs is a movement, and I don’t know that this is the appropriate group to sponsor it.  This country needs a movement.  The way to eliminate prejudice is to smother it.  If we could bring about a climate in this country where no one could express a prejuducial viewpoint without being challenged, we would begin to drive prejudice underground.  And I submit to you that prejudice unexpressed and unacted upon dies–it doesn’t fester and grow–it dies.  Now this is high sounding, and I don’t expect people to agree with such a simplistic solution.  But I really believe that you can stamp it out.  And if you look at our national figures today, there are certain people who cannot make a prejudicial remark.  Many of our Governors, the President, many responsible Senators are precluded in their public lives from ever making a prejudiced public statement, and if they make a statement that sounds like it’s prejudicial, they’re called on it and the next day, as General de Gaulle found, it was necessary to recant.  So we don’t allow them to get away with anything.  But at the lower levels, over the dinner table…[ellipsis in original, Edley is an African-American now teaching at Harvard Law School.]

[Franklin Roosevelt (Former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Congressman from the Twentieth Congressional District in New York during the eighty-first to the eight-third Congresses):]  The citizen level…[ellipsis in orig.]

[Christopher Edley:]  At the citizen level, we say it’s perfectly all right for a bigot to express his bigoted thoughts.  If you’re anti-Negro you can speak out against the Negro at supper.  The simplicity of the idea I submit to you is the thing that gives it some national potential for changing the climate (145).  [Identifications as published, xiii-xv].

[Ed Goodman, Manager of New York City Pacifica Station WBAI, report 1972:]  The tension between access and quality appears to me to be inevitable.  The tension is now more pronounced due to the heightened consciousness of various disenfranchised groups such as gay people, blacks, women, etc.  The problem is particularly acute within the context of the electronic media where the opportunities are limited by the numbers of hours in the day, and the licensing prerequisites.  These limitations are absent in the theater, print journalism, and other areas of expression.  Though the assertion that we should hire talented people and the hell with other considerations is, on the face, appealing, it is much too simplistic and ultimately self-limiting and suicidal.  It denies the contention that there are unique points of view and perspectives that are reflective of one’s ethnic background, sex, sexual proclivity, life style, and economic status.  The station is therefore enriched if its staff can reflect the diversity of the listening audience.  Of course, if diversity of this kind is sought for political expediency to the exclusion of talent and intelligence, this course too is limiting and destructive. [end, Goodman excerpt]

Erasing “class” as an analytic category.  The maturing academics who entered the professoriate after their baptism in tumultuous 1960s social movements, movements without linkage to the disorganized and quiescent working class whose members were often understandably resentful of privileged “draft dodgers” and “anti-Americans,” responded indignantly to the claims of “equal opportunity,” the pride of upwardly mobile urban ethnics embracing the tradition of Jackson and Lincoln.  Since women and non-whites were so obviously underrepresented in university faculties and curricula, and since many 1960s veterans were sympathetic to black power and other national liberation movements (viewed as responding to internal colonialism and imperialism), some insurgents accounted for the absence of women and non-whites in leadership positions as symptoms of “white male” or “patriarchal” intolerance/hegemony.  The “multiculturalists” did not argue that the position of women/non-whites in the family and labor force precluded the lengthy period of leisure, privacy, travel and acculturation anyone (including working-class white males) needed to become a scholar; rather their “difference” made their cultures of “the Other” unfathomable to transparently obtuse white males.  The new pluralists settled into ghettoized ethnic studies and women’s studies programs which, by virtue of their particular institutionalization in response to the 1960s black power and radical feminist movements suggested ethnic and gender difference as the most relevant variables, the engines of history for non-whites and women (however often “class” might be dropped into the mix of “class, race, and gender”).  As was feared by the conservative liberals at Martha’s Vineyard promoting the coöptation of black nationalism, race (and gender) had virtually erased class as an objective category.  Not surprisingly the dissenting individual also went the way of all flesh, collapsed into a notion of “individuality” as a feature of groups (race or ethnicity).

Fitting neatly into the idealist counter-Enlightenment which had promoted the concepts of racial, ethnic and national character, many theorizing young scholars, adopting a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Freudian rhetoric and, following the subjectivism, irrationalism, and group-think of Herder, Kant and Max Weber, defined themselves as revolutionary postmodernists, declaring that the categories of race, class, and gender, like literary taste, were all “socially constructed,” historically rooted, and thus “radically Other,” i.e., resistant to empathic readings or universal standards of truth and craft. [I understand that my characterizations of Kant and Weber are controversial.]  These anti-pluralist pluralists, champions of diversity and tolerance, have not been promulgating “hegemonic” Enlightenment or Victorian notions of species-unity (other than Herder’s international yet localist crazy quilt); they have mostly attempted to demolish the rationalism and universalist ethics spawned by the radical Reformation and scientific revolution then born by the philosophes, “Old Jewry”–radicals like Price and Priestley as they were characterized by a hostile Edmund Burke–liberal feminists, abolitionists, English Chartists, the independent labor movement, and the civil rights movement.

The underlying unity between apparently warring generations (authoritarian liberals and Stalinists versus the New Left generation) is illustrated by their common periodization of Cold War-style repression of civil liberties in “McCarthyism.” Little attention is paid to centuries-old élite resistance to mass literacy and numeracy and the torrent of democratic ideas that followed.  After the brief hiatus of the Nazi-Stalin Pact (1939-1941), American Stalinists dropped that short-lived campaign against American warmongers, once more supporting corporatist New Deal policies against the assaults of “fascist Republicans” or “monopoly capital.”  The prolific Carey McWilliams, editor of The Nation and foe to racism and censorship, was impressed by the methodology of Talcott Parsons and other “moderate” top-down planners who, after the war, opposed the arms race as an excessive drain on the welfare state.  Like many of the other corporatist thinkers described here, McWilliams was a regionalist and a populist; whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party as charged, he was certainly never a materialist Marxist.  His papers from the 1930s (at UCLA) suggest that he was following the Communist line, switching from a view of the New Deal as “social fascism” to best friend of the working class during the Popular Front (1935-1939).  Like other New Deal social democrats, he wanted to strengthen capitalism by bringing good labor unions and racial minorities into the system to stabilize the base.  After the war, “McCarthyism” was bad because it confused conservative reformers like himself with real communists.

Writing in the late 1960s, political scientist Michael Rogin denied that populists were antisemites, as neoconservative Richard Hoftstadter had charged in his Age of Reform (1957).  McCarthy was not a populist, Rogin argued, but a spokesman for traditional conservative élites, the selfish laissez-faire crowd of materialists participating in the (bad) American Lockean consensus.  Denouncing white supremacy (hitherto an emblem for Wall Street and the power of Jewish money), New Left radicals like McWilliams and Rogin internalized the Soviet-Tory terror-gothic scenario for the history of the last five centuries: Frankenstein monsters, the unique progeny of crazy scientists, Victorian prudery, and “the culture of narcissism” i.e., the ever unitary [Jewish] West, have produced genocide, exploitation of the Third World and the colonization of domestic minorities, mind-control by the mass media and CIA, urban snobbery, reification, commodification, luxury, and consumerism.  The radical scholars apparently hate money (commercialism) more than they love the creative, questing individual.  Do these populists resist the market as a coercive, brutal mechanism or, like displaced feudal clerics and aristocrats, would they ban the site of judgment by upstart “consumers” they cannot control?  Or, as anticapitalists and anti-imperialists, have they carved out their own super-moral niche on the market while apparently rejecting it?

More from the Martha’s Vineyard conference.

 [Kenneth Boulding:] Suppose we do something like this: We go to a voucher plan.  You give every child $500 to $1000 a year, and he can spend it any way he wants.  And give every Negro child $1500.

[Jerome Wiesner:] But that’s racism.

[Kenneth Boulding:] But I mean I am in favor of racism.  I think racism is important.  Well, they call it discrimination–not the same thing as racism at all.  These are two quite different subjects.  If you want to introduce some kind of counterweight to discrimination, this is where the federal government comes in.  We may see the federal government, the whole taxing-and-subsidizing business, as a total picture weighted toward correcting some of these ills of society.  This seems to me to be its major function (32).

[Christopher Edley, explaining that his support of black power in the 1950s and 60s did not entail a belief in racism:]  Now some excesses have come to the fore.  There is a danger of black nationalism, there is a danger of black separatism that goes beyond the temporary withdrawal to recoup our strength, to regroup and to seek out the powers that we want–the economic and social powers that seem to be attainable for us as a group only through the use of black identity.  Now I think there are roles that Negroes have to play.  It seems to me that the power structure has only responded to the excessive demands that have been made in the Negro community, and that there are certain Negroes who because they are bold and courageous, because they have little to lose, must demand things of the power structure which are excessive.  And I think that if we–the Ken Clarks and the Chris Edleys and perhaps the Lisle Carters–have a role to play, it is to capitalize on the softening up process that results from the excessive demands… [Black identity and race pride] will enable [students] to band together to overcome the obstacles.  I think that subconsciously they are seeking to get into the melting pot and the mainstream of American life.  I don’t believe that black nationalism will be the major thread…I don’t think that we need condemn [black-power studies], and I think many of us get caught in the situation where we have to think as Americans, as Negroes, and perhaps as something in between.  And I think it is possible to identify rationally the roles that people are playing and to realize that really in the long run they complement each other rather than being antagonistic to each other (71-72).*

So much for checks and balances.  In all cases, the Romantic Wandering Jew (the Byronic hero, Ahab, Peer Gynt as historian, myself) and our critical apparatus curse the strange diagnostics of democratic pluralists and anti-pluralist multiculturalists alike; s/he totes “the melting pot”[1] that jams Durkheimian solidarities too close to bad Jews, the latter identified in the nineteenth century by one republican theorist with “the moral nature of Anglo-Saxondom, with its virile instincts of right, freedom, and humanity, defending our cause against all comers, with indomitable courage and constancy of faith.”[2] Such troubling figures were revising and reconfiguring the past and present to produce what the “pluralists” regard as protofascist anomie, the alarming switch from homey, heimlich Gemeinschaft to intrusive and alienating, unheimlich Gesellschaft. [3]

[Untitled poem submitted to London Mercury by an Englishman, Lawrence Binyon (a William Blake reviver of the 1920s):]

From the howl of the wind/ As I opened the door/ And entered, the firelight/ Was soft on the floor;/ And mute in their places/ Were table and chair/ The white wall, the shadows,/ Awaiting me there./ All was strange on a sudden!/ From the stillness a spell,/ A fear or a fancy,/ Across my heart fell./ Were they awaiting another/ To sit by the hearth?/ Was it I saw them newly/ A stranger on earth?    [4]

*Christopher Edley, Jr. rose quickly to powerful positions in academe. For twenty-three years he was a professor at Harvard Law School, later becoming Dean of the UC Berkeley Law School, Boalt Hall.  He was an informal adviser to Barack Obama. In the illustration, he was debating the Solicitor General in the Reagan Administration, Charles Fried. The latter argued that affirmative action had done its job and should be phased out. Edley strongly disagreed according to the “Brief” in the Harvard Law Bulletin.

Postscript. This week (July 19-23) was largely devoted to shoddy reporting of the Shirley Sherrod tape of her NAACP talk, a snippet of which was revealed by Andrew Breitbart, who has since been held up to ridicule by the MSM, howling in unison. One of the few accurate reports I have seen was Andy McCarthy’s Corner piece in NRO. http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=YjVmMjg3MDZlNDBmOGY1ZmQyOWNmNmM4MGNiZDdjZDM%3D. I watched the entire tape, took notes, and discerned a clever propaganda ploy, in which Sherrod laid claim to the heritage of the integrationist civil rights movement while actually reiterating the main tropes and story lines of black nationalism. It is interesting to note that Fox News Channel has been unable to describe the actual content of the Sherrod talk; either its pundits do not recognize the narrative, or are afraid to appear guilty of accusing black people as “racists” (it is the claim of black nationalists that the oppressed are incapable of racism; as victims of white supremacy they are simply freedom fighters on behalf of suffering humanity).

Ms. Sherrod’s line can be summarized as follows: Just as her father was murdered by whites (who were never punished) and just as the Klan burnt a cross on her lawn as she involved herself in civil rights (they too, though recognized, went unprosecuted), “mean-spirited” Republicans are resisting health care reform: i.e., powerful whites have been killing blacks  and getting away with it, but this may change with this administration or the election of a second black president. But most astonishingly, she invents an even longer heritage for white racism. There was once a golden age of race relations in colonial America, when black and white indentured servants intermarried. Wealthy whites, appalled by miscegenation (analogous to the black-white unity in the service of social justice she was calling for in her talk), invented slavery and racism. Thus she established the narrative: (wealthy, hate-ridden) whites will continue destroying black people until reparations are instituted and whites experience a change of heart, demonstrated by a statism and redistributive policies implemented by savvy blacks like herself. In other words, she represents the chief tenets of black liberation theology. For my numerous blogs on black power see http://clarespark.com/2010/07/15/index-to-black-power-blogs/. And don’t miss the ones on Arne Duncan.

NOTES.

[1] The particular menace of the melting pot is made explicit by the Catholic, Irish Nationalist, pro-Nazi James Murphy, Adolf Hitler, The Drama of His Career (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934): 120-121.  Catholic Centre coalitions with godless Prussians and socialists promoting a secularising Jewish press were similarly disasters for the simple, insightful peasants Murphy defends throughout.  He cites and recommends Hans Ehrenberg, Deutschland im Schmelzhofen (“Germany in the Melting Pot”).

[2]See Charles Sumner: An Essay by Carl Schurz, ed. Arthur  Reed Hogue (U.of Illinois Press, 1951):97. Schurz was referring to the Englishman John Bright, linking his character to Sumner’s.

[3] See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, ed. Jose Harris, transl. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Originally published in 1887, Tönnies’s book is considered to be a classic work of sociology, but not until after the first world war (xxviii-xxviii) was it canonized. At first seen as a “communist tract,” it was taken up by German “ultra-nationalists,” and in America during the 1930s was read as “an essay in consensual structural functionalism.” The editor of this edition seems favorably disposed to this elusive and mysterious work. Tönnies was the son of a merchant banker, and given his hostility to modernity, one wonders how much of his disgust with the modern world was intertwined with his feelings about his father. In 1892 he “helped found Society for Ethical Culture, the vehicle for his life-long involvement in various co-operative, social reform, and self-improvement movements.” (xxxi-xxxii)

[4] Lawrence Binyan was an English Blake scholar, and a key figure in the William Blake promotion that followed World War I; the poem is in the J.C. Squire Papers, UCLA Special Collections.

July 15, 2010

Index to Black Power blogs

Judith Bernstein’s allusion to Black Power

Illustrated is an invitation to feminist artist Judith Bernstein’s new exhibition of work not seen since 1973. Her work was famously censored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art because it was seen as incendiary and a representation of black (phallic) power.

What follows is an index to blogs dealing with source materials that demonstrate the upper-class enabling of the black power movement, thus co-opting the integrationist civil rights movement. It is worth noting that when Ralph Bunche was on the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation, he suggested a pilot program that would begin to break up urban ghettoes by gradually integrating them into small towns and cities. If memory serves (I refer to Sir Brian Urquhart’s biography), the Rockefeller Foundation did nothing and Bunche resigned.

It is also important that the Bunche Center at UCLA has predictably become an advocate of separatism, with Charles Henry, UC Berkeley professor and keynote speaker at the conference I participated in (2004), insisting that Bunche had converted to black power at the end of his life. There is no evidence for that in Bunche’s papers: quite the contrary. Was he angry at the slow pace of progress? Yes. Did he renounce integrationism? No. Would he approved of the term “African American”? No way: he was a proud American who believed that blacks had helped build this country and wanted no other label than that of  “American.” His biographer understood this and subtitled his life of Bunche with this: “An American Life.”

http://clarespark.com/2009/08/18/storming-pacifica-revising-my-view-of-pacifica-history-july-22-1999/

http://clarespark.com/2009/08/13/my-life-at-pacifica-radio-a-memoir-part-one/

http://clarespark.com/2009/08/14/my-life-at-pacifica-part-two-with-gory-details-and-more-on-identity/

http://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/

http://clarespark.com/2011/02/11/undoing-multiculturalism/

http://clarespark.com/2009/09/26/nea-neh-and-cultural-freedom-not/

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-one/.

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/arne-duncans-statism-part-two/

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/09/conflict-resolution-ralph-bunches-nobel-prize-3/.

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/19/finians-rainbow-washes-out-red/.

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/22/identity-and-race/

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/26/answer-to-a-comment-from-a-pacifica-producer/

http://clarespark.com/2009/10/31/the-offing-of-martin-luther-king-jr-and-ralph-bunche/

http://clarespark.com/2009/11/02/a-ride-through-the-culture-wars-in-academe/

http://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/pacifica-radio-and-the-progressive-movement/.

http://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/

http://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/

http://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/

October 31, 2009

Was Martin Luther King Jr. ever a black nationalist?

Image (80)

Stanford U. demonstration, 1980s

During the presidential campaign of 2008, I wrote an essay for History News Network http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html. I am posting the unedited version, which is also slightly updated and retitled. Two recent events have prompted this move: 1. David Plouffe’s memoir of the campaign will be released on November 3, and 2. the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a poll concluding that antisemitism in America has declined. I am wondering about the veracity of Plouffe (could he not have been aware of how black politics have moved away from integrationist to nationalist tactics)? I also doubt that the ADL sampled enough of the black population (a powerful force in both local and national politics when it is unified), nor do I believe that the pollsters were sufficiently skeptical of the tendency to deny bigotry when persons are asked such loaded questions by pollsters. So I am presenting this blog to remind visitors that black liberation theology annexed Martin Luther King, Jr. in a frightening synthesis that is undoubtedly appealing to much of the anti-imperialist Left, long famous for its view on “internal colonialism” and also “multiculturalism” (in my view, a resegregation of minorities who either were moving into the middle-class, or who participated in urban riots in the 1960s, prompting their co-option by major universities).  (On multiculturalism and its origins, see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.) [added 8-27-13: for more on James Cone and the conception of the Black Jesus see http://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

My article follows, with a quote from the Plouffe book as first item.

[From David Plouffe’s upcoming book, as quoted by George Stephanopolous on his blog, 10-31- 09:] “The incident [the news about Reverend Wright and his parishioner BHO] should have prompted an immediate scouring of the Reverend Wright and all he has said over the years….it’s worth noting that our systemic failure to deal with this issue properly started the day before Obama’s announcement.  I still kick myself for how terribly we mishandled our internal Wright work.” [Added 11-5: Plouffe was queried about the Rev. Wright relationship by Terri Gross on NPR, 11-4, and stated flat out that Obama had joined Wright's church not because of its leader but mostly because of the strong community it attracted. This was exactly the line during the campaign, during damage control time as Wright's politics were revealed.]

Is Reverend Wright a Black Liberationist?
By Clare L. Spark

Ralph Luker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3-18-08

“The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, ‘I love you, Israel.’ He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: ‘Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power, and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.”

Those words sound like something by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s minister. He was much quoted over the weekend as having said: “God damn America.” But the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words. … ‘G-d damn, America,’ indeed. It should have more men like him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12-5-55

“The Almighty God himself is not only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God (Yeah), that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” (That’s right) Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation. (Yeah) [applause]”

It is puzzling to me that Ralph Luker can partially excerpt a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. to link King’s prophetic voice to the pastor of black liberation theology who shouted “God damn America,” for it was the separatist black power movement (derived from black supremacist Pan-Africanism and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, and later Christianized by James Cone) that saw “white supremacist” America as irrevocably damned, whereas the integrationist King, speaking at the inception of the Montgomery bus boycott movement, protested the failure of American democracy to live up to its stated ideals, and proposed legal, non-violent means to rectify a shameful lapse: moral suasion and legislation. King did not present a damned America, but one with promise if, as a Christian and democratic nation, its professed universal brotherhood, signifying equality before the law, was to be addressed: “And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That’s right) [applause].”

One of my areas of research is black history, particularly the ideas of Ralph Bunche, both before he collaborated with Gunnar Myrdal in the research for An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) and during the years he worked for the United Nations. Bunche, despite his interest in the 1930s Left, was always an integrationist with a strong commitment to the welfare of “my people,” and who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, distanced himself from separatist movements until the end of his life, despite efforts of Malcolm X and others to enlist his participation in an “umbrella movement,” or, in the case of UC Berkeley professor Charles P. Henry, to claim Bunche for “black power” in a late-life conversion. Bunche’s biographer Sir Brian Urquhart put a special emphasis on Bunche’s as “an American life,” not the life of a hyphenated American, and that was Bunche’s line as well. It was most probably he who gave Myrdal the idea of “an American Creed” of rationalism, democracy, and egalitarianism, to which even Southern whites gave at least lip service. In a 1941 speech urging black participation in the resistance to Nazism, he reiterated the American Creed, and, referring to Southern white laggards, memorably concluded, “Democracy, to be realized, must be lived broadly.”

I can also say that the cultural nationalists who are now the primary black voices on the Pacifica Radio network are frequently just as paranoid as Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bunche, in his memoranda to Myrdal, observed that ghettoes produce parochialism: the self-destructive suspicion of outsiders that cannot distinguish friends from enemies. Bunche’s analysis has been vindicated. Listening to Wright’s claim that government programs originated the AIDS virus to destroy blacks reminded me of “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend,” a notorious series of radio broadcasts on Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK in the early 1990s, that virtually damned “the ice people.” The financial support emanating from black listeners was intense. Such irrationalism was not part of the American Creed as formulated by Bunche, who died in 1971; on the contrary he was ever wary of incendiary language and populist revolts that released pent-up hatred and resentment along with fantastic longings for an idealized past or utopian future. Unfortunately several trends in American life in the last several decades have marginalized Bunche’s vision of an imperfect America that was yet capable of equal treatment for minorities, especially the right of equal opportunity to “get ahead,” universally applied to all its citizens.

Some months ago, a prominent libertarian commentator predicted that the 2008 presidential campaign could profitably facilitate a national discussion on the appropriate role of the state in the economy, a prediction based on the assumption that Republicans and libertarians generally favor free markets and limited government, while Democrats and leftists look to statist remedies conferring “social justice” in order to correct a bogus and skewed “free market”:  For some “progressives” Adam Smith was dead wrong: free trade and market economies do not promote peace or create wealth and an ever rising standard of living for ordinary people, but rather imperialist war, accelerating inequality, and the destruction of nature. This could be a productive conversation for all Americans, and would engage such books as Jonah Goldberg’s popular polemic Liberal Fascism (2008) and the more nuanced, historically grounded examination of the role of the state in a market economy, Jerry Z. Muller’s The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (2002). Sadly, that debate is not the one we are having, although it may underlie the current controversy regarding Obama’s true beliefs with respect to “black liberation theology.” On the surface the political class wonders, does Barack Obama silently agree while he publicly disagrees with his ex-pastor and mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Moreover, there are questions about Wright’s place within American black history: is he a separatist in the tradition of Malcolm X and other cultural nationalists, or are his Afro-centric “jeremiads” and his “African Christianity” a legitimate offspring of the postwar civil rights movement, peacefully opposing “segregation, separatism, sectarianism and superiority” as Martin Marty has argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education (4-11-08)?

What I find shocking is the erasure of historical memory and analytic precision that seems to exist inside those ostensibly liberal institutions that affect public opinion.  The vague and undefined buzz words—not just “change” or “hope” but “the black community,” “diversity,” “social justice”– that pervade media commentary were partly produced or ratified by leading universities as their administrations incorporated and co-opted 1960s social movements. Writing in the late 1930s, Bunche and his colleagues had demanded an integrated political, social, and economic history of blacks in America with investigators approaching the problem from diverse antiracist perspectives, but cooperatively developing a scientifically collected knowledge base of use to all reformers. By contrast, in response to the urban riots of the middle and late 1960s, college administrators shoved the often class-based grievances of blacks and other protestors, for instance, women and Latinos, into separate departments defined by gender or race/ethnicity, and eventually taught by members of their racial or gender group. Simultaneously, fields of study bloomed in departments of English and cultural studies that disavowed [WASP-Jewish] Euro-centric white male supremacy and racism, while, oddly, perpetuating a racial and communitarian discourse of “diversity.” “Educational” (tax-exempt) public media, supported by the federal government, the liberal foundations, and listener-sponsors quickly followed suit. Disappeared was the concept of American society as a collection of free-standing individuals whose civil rights were (or should be) guaranteed by the liberal state; taking its place were autonomous racial or ethnic communities whose distinctive “cultures” (each with its own particular Zeitgeist and heroes, unrecognized or indecipherable to other races or ethnicities) would be celebrated as the antidote to debilitating “negative images” supposedly dispensed by rich white males and their white  supremacist lackeys. Also deseparecido was the 18th century concept of the melting pot, which was now seen as a conspiracy against the regnant “cultural pluralism.” Israel Zangwill had explicated “The Melting Pot” in his popular play of 1908; his was a syncretic view of the unprecedented enriched and enriching American culture-in-formation that would leave European blood feuds behind, but such clarifications were soon viewed as apologetics for a manipulative pseudo-objective “science” that dissolved precious ancestral ties, leaving deracinated immigrants and ex-slaves victims of either [Jewishly-inspired] proletarian internationalism, or of urban anomie, hence newly susceptible to a debasing jewified mass culture, and consigned to slugging it out in the war of all against all that was the legacy of Locke, Hobbes, and their atomizing doctrines of “possessive individualism.”  That “identity politics” retains its salience is demonstrated by The New York Times in its report of Obama’s speech on race, 3-19-08: “Mr. Obama stayed up well into the night writing much of the speech himself, aides said. His words carried familiar strains of the biography he wrote more than a decade ago about his search for racial identity.”

There were other casualties in the post-60s process of co-opting the movements of women and minorities as they had existed since the entwined Protestant-led reform movements of the antebellum period, including abolitionism and feminism. I have mentioned above the denigration of the Enlightenment concept of individuality and universal civil rights as the individual, dissenting or otherwise, was melted into “community” (das Volk or “integral nationalism” as understood by German Romantics). The postmodern revolt against science (science as just another “story”) jettisoned the notion of free speech also central to the Enlightenment: Free speech was not an excuse for slander and libel or loose talk in general, but that which enabled the no-holds-barred search for truth, that is, a search that would ultimately yield a working consensus on social policy and reform, arrived at through collective deliberation based on universally observable facts, not site-specific group facts.  But there are no universally observable facts, nor are there objective histories of conflict, according to those literary theorists who have annexed history and anthropology to their projects of advancing moral and cultural relativism, God or Goddess damning the bigoted imperialist, patriarchal, and ecocidal “Amerika”/“the hypocritical West,” and justifying “terror” as a legitimate weapon against predatory Eurocentric scientific method as wielded by mad scientists and Romantic Wandering Jews. Hence, James Cone, originator of “black liberation theology” could state in 1971 with conviction (and future support): “If the oppressed are to attain their freedom, they must begin to create a new style of communication which is consistent with their struggle for liberation. In part they must deny the accepted canons of logic, allowing the liberation struggle alone to be the logical test for meaningful discourse. Logical consistency, as defined by the oppressors, is irrelevant.”  

Without understanding the recent submergence of the rational argumentation that sustains productive democratic participation in our “progressive” institutions, it is difficult to see the scandal of the Obama-Wright controversy and the shallow analysis in some quarters that has accompanied the dissemination of Wright’s sermons and Obama’s speech on race. Think of the learned political debates of the 1930s or the pre-60s postwar civil rights movement that, in retrospect, were oases of scholarship and empiricism. The very concept of “racial diversity” as currently deployed was dissected by anti-Nazis, for example Julian Huxley in We Europeans (1936), or by such proponents of an educated and unified industrial union movement as political scientist Bunche and his mentor and colleague at Howard University, the economist Abram L. Harris. Throw in their friend, the anthropologist Melville Herskovits who challenged “the myth of the Negro past” (i.e., that there were no African survivals in the U.S.) by arguing for cultural syncretism. These materialists were keenly aware of clashing interests and strategies among blacks, and Bunche, for one, not only challenged the concept of “race” tout court in his well-known pamphlet A World View of Race (1936) but lamented the fiasco of the 1935 National Negro Congress that he and his mentor Abram L. Harris had helped to organize, for he understood that no agreement over tactics could be achieved where black integrationists and black nationalists, or capitalists and labor union bureaucrats oblivious to the needs of rank and file workers, sat at the same table. As he bitterly noted in his memoranda, “There is no such thing as “the Negro.” For Bunche at that time, there could be no institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified (black-white) class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. But taking his writings as a whole, “integration” for Bunche signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

Whether or not Marxist postulations of irreconcilable structural antagonisms between capital and labor are still relevant and helpful, the Bunche cohort’s disdain for the toothless strategies of upper-class white foundations who were advocating interracial understanding and enhanced communication, i.e., [Christian] love not [Jewish] hate, as the primary solution to black poverty and political powerlessness, remains apposite. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.) So much for “the black community” as posited by today’s pundits, dutifully echoing the histrionic cultural nationalists who dominate the public square, claiming to speak for all members of their “race”, while hoping to mobilize mass (and liberal upper-class) support for the advancement of their own very particular careers. As long as we allow color and an antiquated discourse of the organic [black] community to define the political divisions that matter, we ignore the urgent question that begs to be addressed: In an era of globalization, what role should government intervention and regulation play in an advanced market economy, and how well have prior interventions and regulations served their purported objectives? The “civil rights movements” (feminism, gay rights, etc.) that piggy-backed on the black movement (one that was always internally divided between integrationist and separatist strategies) may have exacerbated already existing divisions in the democratic polity, diverting attention from the bigger picture, which is the long-standing polarization over the role of the state in regulating a free market economy. Questions of remedies for exclusion—of women, minorities, and gays– are properly subsumed under this larger problem of government, especially since we are federalists in an enormous nation with diverse and often conflicting belief systems. Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., could and should have made that the focus of “the ferocious urgency of now.”

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