A faithful reader sent me a link to an opinion piece on the CNN website by Peniel Joseph, who is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Political Values and Ethics and the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. Mr. Joseph is the author of several books, most recently Stokely: A Life.
As a side note, Stokely Carmichael was active in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and advocated Pan-Africanism, which aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent.
Pan-Africanism is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to unify and uplift people of African descent. The ideology asserts that the fate of all African peoples and countries are intertwined. At its core, Pan-Africanism is a belief that African peoples, both on the continent and in the diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny.
While hardly anyone would disagree with these common sense beliefs, simply replacing “African” with “European” suddenly makes the whole proposition racist. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Carmichael wasn’t all that bad, though. In his memoirs, he proclaimed “I have never admired a white man, but the greatest of them, to my mind, was Hitler.”
The CNN article written by Mr. Joseph is a petty critique of Kanye West’s decision to meet Donald Trump this week. For the record, I have never listened to any of Kanye West’s music, and when I heard that he considers himself to be the greatest artistic genius of all time, I knew I wasn’t missing anything.
There are so many absurd and bogus claims in this article that it makes you wonder what kind of damage this guy is doing to the minds of the precious snowflakes who take his classes and think they are actually going to learn something.
By Peniel Joseph
Kanye West’s meeting with president-elect Donald Trump suggests that, symbolically at least, black people did not just lose the presidential election — we’ve lost our damn minds.
No matter that West’s actions stand in stark contrast to the feelings of hip-hop artists, black voters and civil rights advocates. His very presence at Trump Tower offers a dramatic symbol of the racial bait-and-switch that the president-elect has perfected as entertainment: a 21st -century minstrel-meets-reality-show, starring disgraced rap stars, aging sports icons and an assortment of other rogues.
In saying that Black people lost the presidential election, Mr. Joseph assumes that no Black Americans supported Trump, which is patently false. He prioritizes “feelings” over principles, characterizes West’s willingness to meet and talk with Trump as a “racial bait-and-switch” and condemns all Blacks who dare to give Trump a chance.
West is mercurial and his entertaining mixture of talent, ego and unpredictability has a long narrative in popular culture. His meeting with Trump represents a dénouement of sorts, the closing of a political circle begun over a decade ago in the aftermath of his comment that “George Bush does not care about black people” during a live fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina victims.
But Yeezy’s participation in the president-elect’s traveling reality show comes at great cost to the black community.
Mr. Joseph implies that West simply meeting with Trump has somehow caused irreparable damage to the Black community. Yet Blacks have fared worse under Obama than any other president in modern history. They have lost more wealth under Obama than under any president since the Great Depression and lost ground in every major economic category. How is Kanye West reaching out to Trump worse than all that?
When it comes to Trump, we are always better off following his political actions rather than spending time on photo-ops. His interaction with West, whom he called a “good friend,” has gone predictably viral. But it dangerously overshadows actions that carry political weight, such as his choice of Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Senator and notable enemy of racial justice, for Attorney General.
Trump’s cabinet — staffed with the most white males of any since 1989 — tells the true story about his views on race far more clearly than any photo-op with Kanye West ever could.
America is a country built by White men from Europe. When I was born, America was 90% White. In 1989, the population was about 80% White. Why then, should anyone be surprised that White men are proportionately represented, particularly when Jews (about 2% of the U.S. population) are disproportionately represented in government (a fact that makes you anti-Semitic just for pointing it out)? Clearly, Mr. Joseph is of the opinion that Blacks are a monolithic group with common concerns and goals—so why is it a bad thing for White people to view themselves in the same way?
Unfortunately, West is far from the only black celebrity engaged in ad-hoc negotiations in the pop culture arena with Trump.
Jim Brown, legendary NFL running back and civil rights activist, claimed to have fallen “in love” with the president-elect after a recent meeting in Trump Tower.
No one should question Brown’s sincerity and support for racial and economic justice for the African-American community. He has a long history of working to end gang violence in big cities like Los Angeles and to create jobs for black youth who are disproportionately unemployed.
But, certainly, we might now question his judgment.
The meeting between West and Trump, two titans of Twitter, raises the question: Have celebrities become the new black political leaders in the Age of Trump?
The answer is not really, but the president-elect would sure like to make it so. It is certainly much simpler to discuss pressing matters related to racial justice in America with Kanye West and Jim Brown rather than elected officials, community organizers, policy experts or ordinary African Americans.
Mr. Joseph praises Jim Brown’s efforts toward racial and economic justice in Black communities, then invalidates them by lumping him into the “aging sports icons and other rogues” category, dismissing his support for Trump as mere racial-bait-and-switch. Where were these elected officials, community organizers and policy experts for the past eight years in the Obama administration? Why didn’t they do something about the worsening conditions in Black communities under America’s first Black president?
Although you would never know this if you only watched mainstream media news coverage, those “ordinary African Americans” are responsible for the majority of violent crime in America. According to The Color of Crime (2016 Edition), Blacks are six times more likely than a non-Blacks to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race. In 2013, of the approximately 660,000 crimes of interracial violence that involved Blacks and Whites, Blacks were the perpetrators 85 percent of the time. This meant a Black person was 27 times more likely to attack a white person than vice versa. Check out Colin Flaherty’s YouTube channel for all the news the mainstream media has been hiding from you.
Frederick Douglass, legendary black abolitionist and one of the 19th century’s most famous Americans, met three times with Abraham Lincoln, who cited Douglass’ intellectual excellence as bolstering his belief in the necessity for blacks to have voting rights.
Booker T. Washington, head of the historically black Tuskegee Institute, conferred with Theodore Roosevelt about race relations at the White House in a meeting that scandalized the white press.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enjoyed intimate access to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, pushing at least three US presidents to find common cause with the national struggle for black dignity during the civil rights era.
All of these black leaders, despite ideological and political differences, sought to press the occupant of the White House to expand the scope and vision of American democracy.
The descent from these lofty, historical and political heights is staggering. Trump’s meetings with black celebrities do not evoke King’s summits with LBJ. Rather, they are more reminiscent of the embarrassing spectacle of singer Sammy Davis Jr. embracing President Richard Nixon.
Davis, a stalwart Democrat and civil rights advocate who had previously supported John F. Kennedy, upset many in the African-American community by hugging Nixon on stage at the Republican National Convention in 1972.
Like Brown, Davis was lulled by Nixon’s siren song of black empowerment and self-determination, a decision he later came to regret.
Sure, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King and Sammy Davis Jr. were A-list guests at the White House, but were any of them considered to be the greatest artistic genius of all time? And let’s be honest: in today’s America, where the Discovery Channel is considered intellectual and most people can only focus their mind to read 140 characters at a time, isn’t it possible that Kanye West actually is the modern day equivalent of those famous Black Americans?
This goes beyond the realm of wishful thinking. Their folly crosses the line into the darker world of pandering, racial accommodation, and identifying so strongly with white power as to be blinded by its destructive impact on the community they profess to defend and support.
They have both, unintentionally or not, pandered to perhaps the most dangerous racial demagogue of our time, one whose actions — the substance of which will be extraordinarily damaging to African Americans — speak more loudly than his words.
Trump’s personal friendships with famous black people will not mitigate the chaos, damage and misery that his political appointees, racially charged rhetoric and policy choices will inflict on the black community.
I am not sure how many other Black Americans have met with Trump and taken the time to actually talk to him besides Kanye West and Jim Brown, but it seems to me that, as people tend to fear what they don’t understand, it might be a good idea to at least make an attempt to achieve mutual understanding rather than giving up without ever trying. Based on the opinions expressed in this article, I doubt Mr. Joseph will be asked to visit Trump Tower any time soon. Do I detect a hint of jealousy? Probably not. Mr. Joseph would seem to prefer to denigrate and shun from afar, as opposed to meeting face to face and engaging in an open dialogue.
Donald Trump is many things, but he does not shy away from speaking his mind, and he certainly is no panderer. That would be Hillary Clinton, whose accent changes based on which demographic group she is addressing. And racial demagogue? President Obama has done more to encourage racial disharmony through propaganda than any president in my lifetime. At the end of the day, all Mr. Joseph is concerned about is how a Trump presidency will be “extraordinarily damaging to African Americans.” Never mind the concerns of White Americans, the majority of the population, nor the concerns of all the non-Whites who voted for Trump. The Black community, which is the most self-destructive of all racial communities in the United States, is the only one that matters.
A secretary of state whose oil company has wreaked environmental damage suffered most disproportionately by African Americans and people of color, check.
A chief political strategist whose ascent is fueled by white nationalism and the demonization of people of color, check.
What next? Stay tuned.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is the title of one of West’s best albums. It might also characterize the state of mind that convinces well-intentioned celebrities that political symbols can overwhelm policy substance and that the mind of an anti-black leader can be changed through gregarious small talk, well-timed photo ops and the shared intimacy of celebrity.
I would like to see some evidence of the environmental damage caused by ExxonMobil that disproportionately affects Black people in America. Including the 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska, ExxonMobil has had a total of six accidents in 27 years. That’s not a great record, but it could be worse. And, of those six accidents, only a naphtha leak in Baton Rouge, LA, resulted in reports of adverse health impacts including severe headaches and respiratory difficulties. Living near a naphtha refinery in Baton Rouge probably says more about your socioeconomic status than it does about your race.
Mr. Joseph questions the state of mind of any Black American attempting to find common ground with Trump, who he accuses of being an anti-Black leader, without providing any supporting evidence. He dismisses political symbols, small-talk, photo-ops and celebrity, yet isn’t this largely what the Obama presidency has consisted of? Have you seen the videos of Obama with his selfie stick? Or singing Marvin Gaye? Or reading tweets on late night talk shows? Not to mention the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-chief has prolonged Bush’s wars and started new ones of his own, causing untold misery and death for millions of people of color.
These were things that Obama actually did. Eight years later, Black Americans are worse off than they were in 2008. Yet Mr. Joseph is already up in arms about what he presumes Trump might do. For a history professor, Mr. Joseph has a suspiciously selective memory.
Mr. Joseph conflates White nationalism with the demonization of people of color, as if the two go hand-in-hand. As Justin Garcia of the Pressure Project says, “just because I like me, doesn’t mean I hate you.”
In the article Water-Cooler White Nationalism, John Ingram sums up the basic position of White nationalists:
“Races are inherently different. These differences make any multiracial society an ungovernable mess. We’d all be better off living separately, or at least acknowledging racial differences and allowing for them in public policy. Open immigration, affirmative action, color-blindness, forced diversity, heavy government spending–all these policies are bound to fail, because equality can’t be legislated…Whites are a bona fide group with the right to associate among themselves in all aspects of life (including governance), to exclude others, and to determine their own destiny.”
A bona fide group with the right to associate among themselves in all aspects of life, to exclude others, and to determine their own destiny—doesn’t that sound like something Pan-Africanists like Stokely Carmichael would agree to, if it were referring to Black people?
And isn’t Mr. Joseph all about Blacks associating among themselves (to strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Black Americans), excluding others (anyone he perceives as a pandering racial demogogue) and determining their own destiny (matters related to racial justice in America)?
Mr. Joseph clearly believes in the imperative of racial solidarity for Blacks. But not for White people.