Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Huxtables: The 1st Black 1st Family?

This scene from the "Cosby Show" is rated as one of the best TV moments of all time. How much impact did the Huxtable Family have on the willingness of Americans to put a black family into the White House?

During the many years of its run as one of the most watched programs on television, race was never an issue nor was class. Never was heard a disparaging word, and not at any time did one of the Huxtable children come home and report that the "N" word had been uttered in their presence much less hurled at him or her in anger or as an act of hostility.
Are the Obamas an extension or product of the Huxtable fantasy? Has white America created or adopted a new myth regarding race relations?

Ten Things To Know About Judge Sonia Sotomayor

1. Judge Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the bench than any Supreme Court justice in 100 years. Over her three-decade career, she has served in a wide variety of legal roles, including as a prosecutor, litigator, and judge.

2. Judge Sotomayor is a trailblazer. She was the first Latina to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and was the youngest member of the court when appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York. If confirmed, she will be the first Hispanic to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

3. While on the bench, Judge Sotomayor has consistently protected the rights of working Americans, ruling in favor of health benefits and fair wages for workers in several cases.

4. Judge Sotomayor has shown strong support for First Amendment rights, including in cases of religious expression and the rights to assembly and free speech.

5. Judge Sotomayor has a strong record on civil rights cases, ruling for plaintiffs who had been discriminated against based on disability, sex and race.

6. Judge Sotomayor embodies the American dream. Born to Puerto Rican parents, she grew up in a South Bronx housing project and was raised from age nine by a single mother, excelling in school and working her way to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and to become an editor of the Law Journal at Yale Law School.

7. In 1995, Judge Sotomayor "saved baseball" when she stopped the owners from illegally changing their bargaining agreement with the players, thereby ending the longest professional sports walk-out in history.

8. Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of the environment and against business interests in 2007 in a case of protecting aquatic life in the vicinity of power plants, a decision that was overturned by the Roberts Supreme Court.

9. In 1992, Judge Sotomayor was confirmed by the Senate without opposition after being appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush.

10. Judge Sotomayor is a widely respected legal figure, having been described as "...an outstanding colleague with a keen legal mind," "highly qualified for any position in which wisdom, intelligence, collegiality and good character would be assets," and "a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Souter Resignation: Replacing Thurgood Marshall: Update



Sonia Sotomayor (born June 25, 1954) is a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On May 26, 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sotomayor for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice David Souter. In doing so he appears to have found a replacement for Thurgood Marshall.

Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, to Puerto Rican parents. She grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx, a short walk from Yankee Stadium. She was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at age eight. Her father, a tool-and-die worker with a third-grade education, died the following year. Her mother, Selena Sotomayor, a nurse, raised Sotomayor and her younger brother, Juan Sotomayor, who is now a doctor. Sotomayor has often stated that her mother is her life inspiration. In 1976, Sotomayor married while a student at Princeton University. She and her husband divorced in 1983; they did not have children.

Sotomayor graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. She earned her A.B. from Princeton University, graduating summa cum laude in 1976. Sotomayor obtained her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. Sotomayor then served as an Assistant District Attorney under prominent New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, prosecuting robberies, assaults, murders, police brutality, and child pornography cases. In 1984, she entered private practice, making partner at the commercial litigation firm of Pavia & Harcourt, where she specialized in intellectual property litigation.



Considered a political centrist by the American Bar Association Journal and others, Sotomayor was nominated on November 27, 1991, by President George H. W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by John M. Walker, Jr. She became the youngest judge in the Southern District and the first Hispanic federal judge anywhere in New York State.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Colin Powell Responds





In his May 24 appearance on CBS' "Face The Nation", Colin Powell reacts and responds to questions and assertions about his loyalty to the Republican Party. He also comments on the closing of "Gitmo", national security, and waterboarding.





Saturday, May 23, 2009

KEITH OLBERMAN ON DICK CHENEY

THE PLOT THICKENS....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Food For Thought

Food For Thought
By Ron Powell

There isn't, and never really was, a "middle class". The “middle class” is the fictional socio-economic "group" created by sociologists for purposes of quantifying certain findings in studies that nobody really cares about or rarely, if ever, uses. The “middle class” is nothing more than poor people living on credit.

Historically the majority of white people in America have voted for Republican candidates in the belief that the economically, politically and socially conservative republicans would see to it that black progress would not encroach upon white lives, white livelihoods, and white life styles. Since the advent of the Civil Rights Movement more than forty years ago, the expectation was that the Republicans would keep black people at bay economically, politically, and socially, to ensure that blacks would not take away all to which whites felt entitled, or all for which whites felt that they had worked and thus earned. Now the country has turned to a black man in the hope that he will do for them precisely what many whites had repeatedly voted for, and elected, Republicans to not do for black people.

Why are the ‘Right to Lifers’ also in favor of capital punishment?

Anyone who believes that water-boarding isn’t torture, should be required to answer the question while they're being water-boarded.

The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments. The phrases employed are taken from the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

Very similar words ('No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment') appear in Article Five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/217, December 10, 1948). The right, under a different formulation ('No one shall be subjected to [...] inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.') is found in Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) also contains this fundamental right in section 12 and it is to be found again in Article Four (quoting the European Convention verbatim) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000). It is also found in Article 16 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

You lost your job but not your skills, experience, and expertise. It’s good to have faith and hope but develop and execute a plan. In doing so, be clear, concise, compelling, consistent, and committed. Find your passion and be persistent in the pursuit of getting paid for doing that which you would do for free. Always remember that there is a difference between being broke and being poor.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Code Words, Symbols, Stereotypes, & Myths

Code Words, Symbols, Stereotypes, & Myths
by Ron Powell

Code words, symbols, stereotypes, & myths are the means by which institutions and individuals transmit, maintain and reinforce racial prejudice and racial discrimination between groups and from generation to generation.


During the presidential caimpaign, in referring to Barack Obama, Kentucky Rep. Geoff Davis stated:
“I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button.” Yes, Rep. Geoff Davis—you couldn’t make this stuff up.

I won’t go into a long historical dissertation of how the word “boy” has been employed. Suffice to say that it was a signal to any “uppity” black during Jim Crow to not challenge the white power structure or suffer dire consequences. The word was/is also a signal to whites reminding them of and reinforcing their role in maintaining the power structure.

I won't yield to the temptation of reciting a litany of what the code words,symbols, stereotypes, and myths are, becasuse, I believe, that most of us know what they are, or at least understand that they exist. This is about being able to talk openly about what we do in our lives, our daily discourse, to address those things that tear at the fabric of our society, and diminish the value and the quality of life for others.


During one of his recent radio rants Rush Limbaugh said of President Obama's economic policies: "The objective is more food-stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the nation's wealth and return to it to the nation's, quote, 'rightful owners.' Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on."

Clearly, Limbaugh is attempting to use the politics of racial fear to appeal to the lowest common denominator of racial anxiety in this country. The terms welfare, food stamps, and reparations are all CODE for "undeserving black people."

In politics, symbols matter, and in a nation with a history of racialized chattel slavery, government sanctioned discrimination, and an anti-black racialist and racist culture, political symbols of racial progress matter tremendously.

It is in this context where the effusive praise of the ascendancy of Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States must be understood. By winning, Senator Obama stands as a potent symbol of progress for the American experiment with democracy that continues to be plagued by its racial past that is still very much a part of its present.

To equate the symbolic dimension of Barack Obama’s becoming president with the substantive standing and status of all black people, or of all racial minorities, in American political, social, economic, and cultural life is to commit a serious error.

When we critically examine this moment in American political and social development, we should pause in light of several deep and disturbing trends that have become prominent since the decline of the Black Freedom struggles of the 1960s. Since Barack Obama has won and assumed the office of President, we are at the intersection of symbol and substance where we should confront the problem of racial justice and racial equlity in America.

We are at a juncture in the political and social history of the country where we can either create and perpetrate a new myth based on the symbolism of the Obama Presidency, or use the fact of his winning the election and taking office, as the basis for attacking and dispelling old ones. Although the Obama presidency represents yet another first in American political life, it is far from being a fundamental transformative event in the core of the political, economic, and social institutions and structures in America. That is why these conversations, discussions, and debates about race in America will continue to be important for some time to come.

The following narrative illustrates, to a degree, what I am about here:

"There's a condition in combat - most people know it by now. It occurs when a soldier's nervous system has reached the breaking point. In World War I it was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language.
That was 1917. A generation passed. Then, during the Second World War, the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. It takes a little longer to say, stretches it out. The words don't seem to hurt as much. And fatigue is a softer word than shock. Shell Shock. Battle Fatigue. The condition was being euphemized.

"More time passed and we got to Korea, 1950. By that time, Madison Avenue had learned well how to manipulate the language, and the same combat condition became operational exhaustion. It had been stretched out to eight syllables. It took longer to say, so the impact was reduced, and the humanity was completely squeezed out of the term. It was now absolutely sterile: operational exhaustion. It sounded like something that might happen to your car.

"And then, finally, we got to Vietnam. Given the dishonesty surrounding that war, I guess it's not surprising that, at the time, the very same condition was renamed post-traumatic stress disorder. It was still eight syllables, but a hyphen had been added, and, at last, the pain had been completely buried under psycho-jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I'd be willing to bet anything that if we were still calling it Shell Shock, Vietnam veterans might have received the attention they needed, at the time they needed it. But it didn't happen, and I'm convinced one of the reasons is the softer language we now prefer: The New Language. The language that takes the life out of life. " --- George Carlin

That's what happens when we euphaemize the hurtful, harmful, destructive or damaging code words or symbols. We terminate our capacity to effectively and properly deal with the consequences or impact.

We engage in the sterilization of the language of racial predjudice, and racial discrimination, without addressing the underlying causes of bigotry and hatred and then wonder why racism persists even in a world where Barack Obama can become President of the United States.

Television is the most powerful instrument of mass communication yet developed. The internet has increased our ability to communicate without doing much in the way of improving our communicative skills. The capacity of those who control the airwaves, or access to the internet, to produce and then manipulate the code words and symbols that affect how and what people think and feel, is beyond description and the subject of yet another dialogue.

It is one thing for advertisers, sports franchises, corporate entities and the like to attempt to influence our thoughts and emotions when in competition with one another for our attention and our dollars. It is quite another when the government or other powerful sepcial interest entity, such as a political party, attempts to do so by manipulating code words and symbols, which evoke stereotypes and myths that produce certain reactions and behaviors that result in people becoming distrustful or hateful or even violent toward each other at the group or individual level.

Suffice to say here that, we must be ever diligent in identifying the potential for misuse and abuse of the power that is being concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people. This can be done primarily by each of us becoming aware of how and when attempts are being made to manipulate or influence our thoughts and emotions with code words and symbols. We must have the courage to stand up and say no to the off color joke or remark, even when there is no "victim" present. Becasue to let it go is to become both the perpetrator and the victim.

We do this by listening to one another. For it is in hearing the complaint of the adversely affected, or the victim of the slight, slur or the epithet that we develop the sensitivity needed to understand how to effectively deal with the impact that it has on our collective selves.

We must speak up and speak out against the harmful language and the perpetrator whenever and where ever it is necessary to do so. It won't be easy, it never is, but it cannot be avoided if we are truly to protect and maintain the freedom of thought and expression we so deeply cherish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Buchanan, Cheney, and Limbaugh Attack Colin Powell

Buchanan, Cheney, and Limbaugh Attack Colin Powell
by Ron Powell

Are the statements of Pat Buchanan, Dick Cheney, and Rush Limbaugh regarding Colin Powell, evidence of the Republican party choosing to be the party of rich, white, privileged, and powerful racists?


Racism is not about color; it is about power. Prejudice by itself does not constitute racism, however. Neither does power by itself.

But when people use their position of power, be it political or institutional, to reinforce their prejudices and to enforce them so that as a result of their racial prejudices the life chances, rights and opportunities of others are limited, the result is racism. Thus, the simplest definition of racism then is: Racism is prejudice plus power.

On the basis of this definition, it can be said that while all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power can be identified racist. Once one understands that racism, at its core, has to do with power, one can then recognize that racism has been employed (particularly by the Republican Party in recent times) as a means to gain, maintain, and exercise power.

During the last election their tactics failed. They lost, they're hurting, and it shows. They are now without a cogent message, or an acceptable leader, and they have no 'plan B' upon which to base meaningful political activity.

Miss California? by Ron Powell

Should Carrie Prejean be stripped of her "Miss California" title and crown because of her answer to a question about gay marriage?

Should she be removed because of these and other racy photos?

Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn........

and I don't understand why anyone else should........................

Monday, May 11, 2009

Update: First Do No Harm........Health Care Reform


Update: First Do No Harm........Health Care Reform
by Ron Powell

AP - Hospitals, insurance companies, drug makers and doctors are planning to tell President Barack Obama today that they'll voluntarily slow their rate increases in coming years in a move that government economists say would create breathing room to help provide health insurance to an estimated 50 million Americans who now go without it.

In my post regarding profit and the profit motive and the health care system, 22 April, I started out with the following:

"First, do no harm...." is the primary moral and/or ethical imperative of the medical profession. It means that the interests and needs of the patient are to be placed above the interests and needs of the physician or caregiver. Profit driven corporate medicine has taken over American medical practice. Corporate models and methods of industrial competition have eliminated clinical expertise and the notion of care in the delivery of medical services. The result is that corporate profits are more important than patient prognosis. This is not only tragic and mistaken, but also unethical and immoral.

Here is an update on the subject which makes my post appear to be somewhat prophetic:

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writers Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar And Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON - When President Bill Clinton took on health care reform, industry leaders fought back, killing the White House proposal before it could gain any traction.

Now those industry leaders are trying to help President Barack Obama find a solution to the problem of uninsured Americans, offering $2 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years.

Hospitals, insurance companies, drug makers and doctors planned to tell Obama on Monday they'll voluntarily slow their rate increases in coming years in a move that government economists say would create breathing room to help provide health insurance to an estimated 50 million Americans who now go without it.

Although the offer from the industry groups doesn't resolve thorny details of a new health care system, it does offer the prospect of freeing a large chunk of money to help pay for coverage. And it puts the private-sector groups in a good position to influence the bill Congress is writing.

Six major groups plan to deliver a letter to Obama and pledge to cut the growth rate for health care by 1.5 percentage points each year, senior administration officials said Sunday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to sketch the offer before full details are revealed at a White House event scheduled for Monday.

The industry groups are trying to get on the administration bandwagon for expanded coverage now in the hope they can steer Congress away from legislation that would restrict their profitability in future years.

Insurers, for example, want to avoid the creation of a government health plan that would directly compete with them to enroll middle-class workers and their families. Drug makers worry that in the future, new medications might have to pass a cost-benefit test before they can win approval. And hospitals and doctors are concerned the government could dictate what they get paid to care for any patient, not only the elderly and the poor.

Obama has courted industry and provider groups, inviting their representatives to the White House. There's a sense among some of the groups that now may be the best time to act before public opinion, fueled by anger over costs, turns against them.

It's unclear whether the proposed savings will prove decisive in pushing a health care overhaul through Congress. There's no detail on how the savings pledge would be enforced. And, critically, the promised savings in private health care costs would accrue to society as a whole, not just the federal government. That's a crucial distinction because specific federal savings are needed to help pay for the cost of expanding coverage.

Costs have emerged as the most serious obstacle to Obama's plan. The estimated federal costs range from $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, and so far Obama has only spelled out how to get about half of that.

Apparently even leaders in the health care industry recognize the simple truth: Health care reform requrires a reduction, if not an elimination, of profits in the equation. It is clear from the AP report that the health care industry is trying to get out in front of what even they see as inevitable, by offering a proposal that 'voluntarily' limits or reduces profits over the next ten years. Evidently they've made so much in the past ten years that they feel that they can afford this "generous" proposition. What they seem to be doing is attempting to head off full government control or participation in the delivery of health care by taking a 'half a loaf is better than none' approach to "reform" of the system.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Playing For Change / Peace Through Music

Playing For Change /

Peace Through Music Explained

Stand By Me

One Love

Monday, May 4, 2009

Guest Post: Brian Butler, TPM-DC

Senator Who Praised Segregationist Judges Will Lead Opposition To Obama Nominees
By Brian Beutler -TPM-DC May 4, 2009

As I noted below, it looks like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will be, at least for a time, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee.

That's an interesting role for a man with Sessions'...history. In a 2002 New Republic article, Sarah Wildman detailed the Alabama senator's rise through the ranks of politics in Alabama and in Republican Washington.

Sessions first appeared on the scene in 1986 D.C. when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to serve on the U.S. District Court in Alabama. At the time, the Judiciary Committee was controlled by Republicans, but his appointment nonetheless went absolutely nowhere--a fact that may have had a thing or two to do with stories like this:

Senate Democrats tracked down a career Justice Department employee named J. Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU ) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people." In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as "un-American" when "they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions" in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions acknowledged making many of the statements attributed to him but claimed that most of the time he had been joking, saying he was sometimes "loose with [his] tongue." He further admitted to calling the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation," a phrase he stood behind even in his confirmation hearings....

Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American." Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.


The committee ultimately voted 10-8 against reporting his nomination on to the floor. In a perverse form of poetic justice, Sessions will soon be that committee's most powerful Republican. And in that position, he'll no doubt be leading the charge (such as it is) against whomever President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court--or any court, really. Having been given the Robert Bork treatment in the past, it's hard to imagine Sessions treating Obama's picks all that genially.

As Wildman wrote, "it has been on judicial nominees that Sessions has really made a name for himself."

When Sessions grabbed Heflin's Senate seat in 1996, he also nabbed a spot on the Judiciary Committee. Serving on the committee alongside some of the senators who had dismissed him 16 years earlier, Sessions has become a cheerleader for the Bush administration's judicial picks, defending such dubious nominees as Charles Pickering, who in 1959 wrote a paper defending Mississippi's anti-miscegenation law, and Judge Dennis Shedd, who dismissed nearly every fair-employment civil rights case brought before him as a federal district court judge. Sessions called Pickering "a leader for racial harmony" and a "courageous," "quality individual" who was being used as a "political pawn." Regarding Shedd, he pooh-poohed the criticism, announcing that the judge "should have been commended for the rulings he has made," not chastised.

And after carefully reviewing Sessions' record, Republicans in Washington took appropriate measures to limit his influence gave him an extremely influential position in the Senate. It'll be...enlightening...to hear conservatives defend the move, or, better yet, excuse it on the grounds that the GOP's only giving these views special prominence for about a year and a half.

The Souter Resignation: Replacing Thurgood Marshall

The Souter Resignation: Replacing Thurgood Marshall
by Ron Powell
Justice Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993),



graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore in 1926 and from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930. Afterward, Marshall wanted to apply to his hometown law school, the University of Maryland School of Law, but the dean told him that he would not be accepted due to the school's segregation policy. Later, as a civil rights litigator, he successfully sued the school for this policy in the case of Murray v. Pearson. As he could not attend the University of Maryland, Marshall sought admission and was accepted at Howard University. He was influenced by its new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. Marshall was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Black Greek-letter fraternity, established by African American students in 1906.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1961. A group of Democratic Party Senators led by Mississippi's James Eastland held up his confirmation, so he served for the first several months under a recess appointment. Marshall remained on that court until 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him Solicitor General.

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American elevated to U.S. Supreme Court. He sreved for 24 years until he retired in 1991.

No one has been a more ardent supporter of President Obama than I. However, I do believe that he has developed a blind spot when it comes to the 'average' or 'regular person'. There are no "middle class" people appointed to serve on The Task Force on the Middle Class, or anywhere else in his administration. All of his Cabinet appointments have been Ivy League graduates, or graduates of other "elite" academic institutions. I believe that he has left himself open to criticism and charges of being elitist.




Using the criteria being applied by Obama's search and vetting teams, would Thurgood Marshall get an appointment to the Obama cabinet, or be an Obama choice for the Supreme Court? Would career achievement alone be sufficient to merit more than a superficial or perfunctory designation and/or assignment?

Clearly, President Obama stands on the shoulders of Thurgood Marshall, and others like him, who's legacy made his candidacy and election possible. I would like to think that the candidate who ran on "Change we can believe in", would seek to avoid old style patronage and cronyism which can cause tunnel vision and thus create the blind spot of which I speak. The danger in having a blind spot is that you can get blind-sided as a consequence.

The resignation of Justice Souter gives President Obama an opportunity to widen his field of vision regarding his key appointments. He can show that he does indeed have a complete grasp of his place in the history of African-American progress in American political and social life. He can lay a marker to ensure that the path he followed does not close behind him. He can fill the seat soon to be vacated by Justice Souter by replacing Thurgood Marshall.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Guest Blog: Racial Identity In America

by Noahvose
From Open Salon, April 30, 2009


In the United States, people were considered black if they had even one drop of African blood, while Native Americans had to prove that they were Indian enough to be federally recognized. One couldn’t escape their race even if they wanted to, while the other has to sufficiently prove it. Why? At the beginning of every year, I ask this question to my students. By the end of the year, they know and understand the answer, and for better or worse they come to see the history of this country in a different light.
Those in power shaped the history and circumstances of Native and African Americans. And the differences in their identities can be understood by tracing the government policies that pulled their strings. It’s quite simple, really. It all came down to resources…property. With the growing reliance of cotton in the South, and the desire for free labor, whites “needed” more slaves. Slave importation had already been made illegal, and so slave owners had to rely on domestic trade and natural reproduction. The One Drop Law simply provided a greater number of slaves (giving a different meaning to the saying “once you go black, you never go back”).
For Native Americans, the desire by whites was different. They didn’t want the Indians; they wanted their land. The Allotment Act outlawed tribal ownership and divided reservations into family plots. Any land left over was sold to white speculators. Furthermore, treaties had promised permanent care for these wards of the nation.
The answer, again, was simple. The desire for resources was the same, but they had to change the strategy to acquire it. Now, they would require Indians to meet a specific blood quantum in order to receive the plots of land and annuities. The notion was that after time, and after enough racial mixing, Indians would disappear. And so would their claim to the land.


Both strategies worked brilliantly. But what about the unintended consequences? Like a pebble in a pond, we’re still feeling the ripples.
These different racial policies resulted in two very different struggles. For blacks, the final goal has been inclusion. So long denied entrance into white society, African Americans marched, fought, and died for their right to integrate. For natives, it has been the opposite. Encouraged, then forced, to assimilate into white society, Native Americans, instead, fought for their right to remain separate and unique.
In the book “Lakota Woman” Mary Crow Dog recounts her experiences in the 1970s as a member of the American Indian Movement. She puts it like this: “The blacks want what the whites have, which is understandable. They want in. We Indians want out!” “If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans; in my heart he put other and different desires. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.” –Sitting Bull vs "I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law." – Martin Luther King Jr.
The ambiguous treatment of these groups reached an almost comical level during WWII, if many of the results weren’t so tragic. Black troops were still segregated in the military. They were forced into all-black units, always commanded by a white officer. On the ships going to Europe, blacks were required to stay on the lowest decks near the engine room and weren’t allowed on the upper deck at the same time as whites, if at all. The French govt. even petitioned the U.S. to send black prostitutes for the war effort, to spare their white prostitutes from sleeping with black soldiers.
On the other hand, despite repeated requests to have separate Native American units, natives were forced to integrate with white troops. The official policy predicted it would help them assimilate into the greater society when the war was over. However, if an Indian belonged to a tribe that was not yet federally recognized, he was placed in the all-black units (it’s usually here when my students finally laugh at the absurdity of this logic…they’ve looked behind the curtain, and they’re starting to get it.)
As a history teacher, I have wondered how much these policies have even affected how we are asked to teach our students. The Civil War lasted five years. The textbook my school uses dedicates three entire chapters to the war and the abolition of slavery, besides two additional sections in previous chapters that focus on the African American experience and condition in the South. The Indian Wars lasted approximately 25 years (if you believe the argument that the “Indian Wars” only started after the Civil War). In comparison, the textbook dedicates only 2 ½ pages in one section of a greater chapter called The Trans-Mississippi West.
Why the difference? I believe the answer is easily understood, though very unintentional. We can look back at the Civil War and be proud that America, in the end, did what was morally right. Not so with the Indian Wars. They were always seen, and perhaps still are, as unpleasant…but necessary. There was no happy ending, no celebration of final justice. So, we grant it a small section…and move on.
I believe we can even see the effects of these racial policies in the identities of the average American, today. The truth is, blacks and whites have mixed more than any other two races in this country. Indians and whites have mixed the least. Yet, I’ve never heard anyone brag, “You know, I’m part black.” If they’re not telling me about their distant claim to Indian ancestry, then they’re telling me how they wish they had some. I am no exception, having always identified more with my mother’s ancestry than my father’s. Why? Because she is Cheyenne, and he is German; because most of us would rather identify with the oppressed than with the oppressor. And so I dance at pow wows rather than Octoberfest. There’s not the same “need” to claim African descent, because the right thing was eventually done (though not completed).

They pulled the strings, and we’re still dancing.

Well…at least they gave us mascots.