THINK TWICEThe Official Blog of Dr. Jeremy Levitt
(Chicago Sun-Times) How do we as African Americans define selling out? Is it dating outside of our race? Is it the shuck- and-jive entertainers? Is it the black Republican? Is it the overly ambitious, material-driven civil rights activist? Or, is it the well-spoken and studious black child?
I believe we need a new paradigm of selling out. Today’s sellouts are blacks who perpetuate violence and destruction in the black community and participate in the globalization of negative stereotypes and images of African Americans.
Not long ago, I was eating lunch at a restaurant near downtown Chicago, and a young black man walked in with a scantily dressed white woman on his arm. They were both in their early 20s and dressed the part. I saw a few ”sisters” sigh as they entered. Yes, the brother — smiley gold teeth and all — looked really proud to have ”Becky,” and she seemed even prouder to be on a safari with her African guide. They sat down near me and spoke very loudly, apparently wanting all to hear. I overheard a young black woman say, ”It’s bad enough that he is a sellout, but do they have to be so ignorant, too?” I gave her a nod of approval.
Then, as I gazed at the local newspaper, I read an interesting story about hip-hop and its alleged misogynistic and materialistic culture. This caused me to ask: What is selling out? According to Wikipedia, it refers to ”compromising one’s integrity, morality and principles in exchange for money, success or other personal gain. It is commonly associated with attempts to increase mass appeal or acceptability to mainstream society. A person who does this is labeled a sellout. Selling out may be seen as gaining success at the cost of credibility.” This is a pretty good definition. In the context of race relations, sellouts compromise racial solidarity and group identity and integrity for perceived societal acceptance, adventure or mere escape by dating outside of their race or ethnic genre. To many, love gives no amnesty to selling out.
However, given the poor state of black America, I believe we should redefine if not expand the term. African Americans rank at the bottom of nearly every social, political, economic and health indicator in the country. We are among America’s poorest, financially in debt and illiterate. Proportionate to the population, we comprise the single largest racial group in prison and are disproportionately the unhealthiest.
Based on this reality, perhaps we need to redefine selling out to castigate blacks who enable this condition. I mean blacks who are destroying our communities: the real terrorists. I mean those who murder, rape and molest, sell drugs, and gang-bang; those who keep our communities looking pillaged. I mean blacks who perpetuate and celebrate violent and destructive culture. I mean blacks who reinforce the global pathology of violence against black women. I mean black entertainers and athletes who sell out to corporate America and consciously pimp a materialistic, misogynistic and violent culture to our youth. I mean black media that are raising a generation of young dummies on a diet of racially disparaging and sleazy reality television.
Today’s sellouts are individuals who wreak havoc in the black community through various forms of violence, including degrading imagery, and those black-owned institutions and corporations that exploit the consumer strength of African Americans by overfeeding us with niggardly products.
It’s time to quit blaming others; to call a spade a spade, not a role model.
(Chicago Sun-Times) As Black History Month comes to a close, ask yourself if you celebrated it. Isn’t Black History Month really ”White History Month,” too?
While the aim of Black History Month is to acquire and share knowledge about the innumerable contributions of black civilizations and peoples from ancient history to the present, doing so is virtually impossible without also examining the role of other nations and peoples in the making of black history. From the great civilizations of Egypt, Kush and Nubia to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery, emancipation, segregation and integration, Caucasians, Latinos, Indians, Arabs, Asians and so forth have played a critical role in the history of persons of African descent, as both oppressors and liberators.
In the United States, white Americans have shaped the course of black history and the lives of African Americans more than any other group. In fact, the creation of Black History Month was a reaction to the widely held belief among white Americans in the early 20th century that blacks made no significant or viable contribution to human civilization — let alone America.
The formal celebration of black history in the United States began in 1926 as ”Negro History Week.” Carter G. Woodson, the grandfather of modern black history, selected the second week in February for Negro History Week because it marked the birthdays of two of the most influential figures in American politics: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Other significant events that took place in February make it an ideal time to celebrate black history, including the birth of W.E.B. DuBois, the famed intellectual, civil rights and pan-Africanist leader and co-founder of the NAACP (Feb. 23, 1868); the passage in Congress of the 15th Amendment giving blacks the right to vote (Feb. 3, 1870); the taking of the oath of office of the first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels, a Republican from Mississippi (Feb. 25, 1870); founding of the NAACP (Feb. 12, 1909); the historical civil rights lunch counter sit-in at the segregated Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C. (Feb. 1, 1960), and the murder of Malcolm X (Feb. 21, 1965). I might add that it is also the month that Tony Dungy, coach of the Indianapolis Colts, became the first African American to win a Super Bowl and Barack Obama the first mulatto to declare his candidacy for the American presidency.
Black History Month is not a monthlong affirmative holiday for African Americans, but rather a time for all Americans to learn about and celebrate the rich culture, heritage and achievements of blacks from Chicago to Cairo and Los Angeles to Lagos. It’s a time to remember the sacrifices of the unknown millions of enslaved blacks who were murdered in the Middle Passage and millions more whose blood and labor in bondage provided the economic impetus for America to become the most powerful country in the world. It’s a time to honor the legacy of those unnamed blacks who served as the backbone of the black power and civil rights movements. The black struggle for freedom in America has come at a very high cost to African-Americans — yet all Americans have enormously benefitted from black liberation. What would America be without the innumerable sacrifices and contributions of African Americans?
(Chicago Sun-Times) It’s official: Sen. Barack Obama announced that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee. His candidacy will undoubtedly test America’s consciousness. An Obama bid for president raises two critical questions: Is America really ready for Obama? And is Obama ready for America?
Perhaps all of the racial, ethnic, gender and religious diversity featured in the new 110th Congress is the best indicator that America is more open than ever to having an African-American president. Obama has leaped from relative obscurity to national icon almost overnight, and while he has vital and unyielding support from blacks, his largest constituency is whites.
Blacks, particularly Chicagoans, view Obama as a loyal member of their community, having witnessed his evolution as a lawyer, community activist, law professor, state senator and national statesman. While some African Americans believe that Obama has yet to prove himself as a U.S. senator — let alone the president — others believe he can do no wrong. What’s unique about black discourse concerning Obama is that his expected candidacy has blacks and others contemplating issues important to their existence beyond race.
This is also the case for many white Americans who view Obama as a moderate Democrat and advocate for a new America. T their perceptions of him do not seem to be shaped by his race or a careful examination of his politics or even his voting record, but by his carefully crafted image as a bridge builder and his message of national unity, which implicitly offers a type of racial amnesty for a legacy of discrimination and disenfranchisement. Unlike Tennessee Democrat Harold Ford Jr., Obama is so popular that attack ads featuring white temptresses might work in his favor.
To many Americans, Obama seemingly offers the perfect combination of intelligence, charisma, sincerity, humility, diversity and unity wrapped in a pleasant appearance that radiates hope.
But the hard reality is that whether Democrat or Republican, white voters generally do not support black candidates. Whether this is because of overt racial bias or other prejudice is uncertain; however, the outcome remains the same: White men rule. With all of its new diversity, the 110th Congress includes only one black U.S. senator and a measly 42 blacks in the House of Representatives — predominantly from majority-black districts. If America is ready for a black president, why have only three black U.S. senators been elected since Reconstruction?
I question whether a nation 42 years out of Jim Crow segregation and one year removed from Hurricane Katrina has the political and psychological maturity to have a color-blind election. If the most recent national elections are any indicator, race is as divisive an issue as ever. In order for Obama to be elected president, whites must be ready to overturn the racially exclusive tradition of the American body politic.
This unlikely scenario is compounded by the question of whether the Democratic party is ready to be led by Obama and whether he is ready to lead America.
The Democratic party does not have a strong record of supporting African-American candidates, particularly in majority-white districts. Consequently, it has silently reinforced racially based voting while its leaders fervently sing ”We Shall Overcome.” There is a dearth of expertise in the party that truly understands how to make African Americans viable candidates in white areas — a reality that Obama must confront head-on.
Obama will need to campaign in hostile terrain on a platform that can redirect the consciousness of the nation in the areas of national security and accountable governance while simultaneously refocusing party priorities to deal with critical issues that white Democrats conveniently ignore, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic in minority communities; rebuilding New Orleans; rampant homelessness and poverty; inadequate access to health care; protecting affirmative action, and revamping the public education sector. Whether he can do all of this is secondary to the question of whether 54 years after the lynching of Emmett T ill, white America is ready to have a black man hug white women and kiss white babies.
(Chicago Sun-Times) Homegrown terrorism is a reality in the United States, and as one of America’s largest and most famous cities, Chicago will inevitably be a popular target among evil-doers.
The latest alleged terrorist plot, exposed by federal authorities in Miami last week, resulted in seven members of a group called the “Seas of David” being arrested for allegedly seeking funding and support from al-Qaida. The group, supposedly led by Narseal Batiste, sought boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios and vehicles. In return for these items, they allegedly ”pledged an oath to al- Qaida” and conspired to, among other things, support the network knowing that it has and is engaged in terrorist activities against the United States, work under al-Qaida’s control and direction, conceal and disguise materials for terrorist acts and carry out acts of terrorism. The federal indictment alleges that they plotted to ”maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive” an FBI field office in Miami and the Sears Tower in Chicago. It also contends that the group intended to ”levy war against the government of the United States” and ”oppose by force” its authority.
What makes this homegrown plot unique is that it was allegedly orchestrated by seven working- class blacks — a group more concerned with being gainfully employed than terrorism. Five of the suspects are Americans of African-American and African-Caribbean ancestry, one was an illegal alien from Haiti with an expired visa and the other was a resident alien. Hence, the latest alleged case of homegrown terrorism targeted the city that produced Jeff Fort and other El Rukn gang members who in 1986 were the first Americans convicted of plotting to commit terrorist acts against the United States on behalf of a foreign government, Libya, for money.
What distinguishes the El Rukns from the Miami suspects is that the former seemed to be apolitical and religious and only interested in money; the Miami suspects appear to have been politically motivated and belong to a cultish group that mixes pseudo-black nationalism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The indictment also seems to indicate that they lacked the organization, capacity or sophistication to conceive of a credible terrorist plot, whereas the El Rukns were organized, influential and powerful in Chicago, and actually received weapons including hand grenades.
What makes the indictment problematic is that the suspects never met with a genuine al-Qaida operative, but rather an FBI agent posing as one, and never acquired the means to carry out an attack. Perhaps, this new form of “anticipatory law enforcement” is warranted, but the accused will certainly argue that they were entrapped and that the government fashioned the environment that birthed the plot.
This case raises the question whether we need to rethink what we mean by homegrown terrorists. We need to ask why average Americans are becoming homegrown terrorists. What are we doing to cultivate them? Why would five Americans and two immigrants seek to commit acts of terrorism against the United States? Why would seven young black men — historically the least likely to engage in terrorism — become terrorists? We are way beyond the angry black man paradigm.
In the past year, there have been three other alleged cases of homegrown terrorism: in Torrance and Lodi, Calif., and Atlanta. Anticipatory law enforcement may be necessary to combat terrorists, but until we balance this approach with prescriptions that address why and how homegrown terrorists are being bred in the United States, we will not be able to stop it.
(Chicago Sun-Times) Wake up world! Wake up America! Wake up Illinois and, damn it, wake up Chicago! There are several holocausts taking place right now in Africa. Put down your burgers, fries and apple pie, chicken, ribs and sweet potato pie, turn off your televisions, radios, cell phones and please pick up a newspaper or a keyboard and become educated about what is happening in Africa. America’s ignorance and apathy toward the “Dark Continent” must stop if we are to hold ourselves out to be a moral nation.
Millions of Africans, including women and children, have been killed by deadly conflict in Sudan (2.5 million), Rwanda (1 million), Burundi (300,000), Liberia (250,000), Sierra Leone (75,000) and Uganda (40,000). Besides these huge fatalities, warfare also has affected democratization and human, social and economic development; has led to the breakdown of the rule of law and allowed the catastrophic effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic to wreak havoc on Africa’s human architecture.
Nowhere is the scourge of killing and anarchy more apparent than in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. Since 1998, about 4 million people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Africa’s largest war involving eight African countries and egged on by a host of others with economic interests in the mineral-rich state, the second largest country in Africa and nearly 10 times the size of Texas.
Today, African men, women and children are being massacred; sadistically and ritually tortured, and systematically raped. People’s bodies are being disemboweled and body parts taken for fetishes or for ritualistic cannibalism. The perpetrators of beheadings have placed heads on sticks to line village streets.
The history and geopolitical dynamics of the war in Congo are complex and multifaceted. A simple Internet search or trip to the local library will reveal volumes of information. While there is certainly a causal connection between the current crises and the country’s legacy of being the private possession of King Leopold II of Belgium — whose agents murdered 10 million Congolese — and a Belgium colony until 1960, the conflict is really a by-product of your garden variety of conflict causes in Africa, including: perpetual authoritarianism; violent regime change; ethnic strife; competition over political and economic power, especially natural resources; foreign exploitation and intervention; persistent insecurity; rapid corruption; acute poverty, and sheer evil.
The United Nations mission in Congo is the largest in the world, boasting nearly 16,700 military personnel from more than 50 countries, 17 of which are from Africa. Nevertheless, to be truly effective at restoring peace and security to the country, at least 3,000 more troops are needed along with hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the U.N. has had some success in brokering a weak peace agreement among the warring factions and hunting, arresting and killing rebels, it lacks the human and resource capacity to be truly effective — not to mention that the “rape for prostitution” scandals have permanently damaged its reputation. U.N. forces from France, Morocco, Russia, Ukraine, Uruguay and Canada, among others, are alleged to have raped and even made pornographic videos and pictures of their abuse and exploitation of girls and women.
(Chicago Sun-Times) Charles Taylor, Liberia’s notorious warlord-turned-president who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has become the new hot topic in international criminal justice. International attention has switched to Taylor since the recent death of Slobodan Milosevic, who was being prosecuted for war crimes and other atrocities before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. In 2003, while still president of Liberia, Taylor was indicted by the U.N.- backed Sierra Leone Special Court for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the territory of Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002. The 11-count indictment alleges that Taylor assisted and directed the commission of crimes such as acts of terrorism, unlawful killings, sexual and physical violence, forced enlistment and abduction of child soldiers, forced labor and looting. Most of the victims were women and children. Taylor’s notoriety dates back to 1983, when he was accused of embezzling nearly $1 million in Liberia and fled to the United States. He was detained here on a Liberian arrest warrant, but while awaiting deportation back to Liberia, he escaped from a Massachusetts jail in 1985 by cutting through bars with a hacksaw. Taylor eventually returned to Liberia and launched an insurgency to overthrow Liberia’s brutal dictator, Samuel K. Doe. Taylor’s brutal campaign for power led to more than 250,000 deaths and displaced nearly half of the country’s population of 3.5 million. Proportionately, this would amount to the killing of all African Americans, or 40 million Americans.
From 1989 to 1997, Taylor and his cohorts fought their way into the presidency with brutal violence and viciousness, and in doing so destabilized not only Liberia but nearly all of West Africa. Sierra Leone was perhaps the worst affected because Taylor allegedly supported the Revolutionary United Front, the notorious rebel group infamous for hacking off the limbs of civilians, including children, and killing tens of thousands of people. Taylor also has been identified as a key figure in Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds trade and is said to have given an economic haven to al-Qaida. After being ousted from power by a popular insurgency in 2003 and forced into exile in Nigeria, Liberia’s civil war ended and a new transitional government was established in November 2005, when the people of Liberia democratically elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president. Two weeks ago, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria extradited Taylor to Liberia, but not before the warlord escaped, only to be later arrested by Nigerian border guards while trying to cross into Cameroon. Taylor was immediately extradited to Sierra Leone to face his charges. Given that he has been the central figure in the destabilization of West Africa for more than a decade, and based on the security threat he poses to the region, the Sierra Leone Special Court has requested that the U.N. Security Council move his trial to the Hague, the world’s judicial capital. The council is expected to consider a United Kingdom- sponsored resolution on this issue next week. If Taylor’s trial is held in the Netherlands, there are questions on whether his next stop should be the newly founded Hague-based International Criminal Court for committing atrocities in Liberia. One thing is certain: Whatever crimes Taylor may have committed in Sierra Leone, they pale in comparison to his crimes against Liberians. Most Liberians seem pleased with his arrest and pending prosecution for war crimes in Sierra Leone, but do not understand why the international community has yet to hold him accountable for committing atrocities against Liberians. With Milosevic’s death, Taylor’s trial will likely be the most important international criminal prosecution of the 21st century. However, we should not underestimate his ability to escape or overestimate the strength of the Special Court’s case against him. Until he is held accountable for committing atrocities against Liberians, it will be difficult to claim that Taylor has really been brought to justice.
(Chicago Sun-Times) During March, every citizen and resident of the United States should celebrate the innumerable contributions of women in this country and beyond.
On March 8, women all over the world celebrated International Women’s Day. For the past 95 years, in one form or another, the day has been celebrated by women beginning with feminist socialists in Germany, Austria, Denmark and other European states who led strikes and marches to advance women’s rights in Europe. Today, it is a United Nations-sponsored event taking place all over the world. From Chicago to Kinshasa and Calcutta to Jakarta, International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world in various cultural contexts — from scholarly women’s rights programs to protests against gender discrimination — as women continue to strive for fundamental civil, political and economic rights.
In the United States, March has been designated as Women’s History Month, honoring the contributions of women in American society and beyond. It began in 1978 and derives from Women’s History Week, which started in Sonoma County, Calif., to give impetus to International Women’s Day the same year. In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) sponsored a congressional resolution that created Women’s History Week, and in 1987, Congress expanded the week to a month. But I question whether Women’s History Month is celebrated or even recognized by most Americans. Perhaps we don’t see the value in seriously honoring the contributions of women in American society.
If this is true, it is a bad omen, given that there would not be human history without women’s history. No group or class has done more to advance humanity than women. In the United States, women have been pioneers in every conceivable field, including Susan Picotte, the first American Indian woman (Omaha tribe in northeastern Nebraska) to become a physician, who earned her medical degree from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1889; Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress (R-Mont.), and serving from 1917 to 1919, and Mae Jemison, astronaut and physician, who in September 1992 became the first African-American woman to travel in space. Women have been at the forefront of human achievement in the United States, and these women represent a small number of American pathbreakers.
Women are arguably also the single largest identifiable group in the world irrespective of race, religion and ethnicity, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the female population of the United States exceeds 150 million — just over 50 percent. Nearly 216,000 women serve in the U.S. armed forces, and the country is home to more than 1.7 million female veterans. About 3 million women hold professional degrees, and almost 20.4 million women work and serve as the backbone to the education, health and social services industries.
Yet, despite their immeasurable and unmistakable contribution to the country, women have been among the most abused, exploited and discriminated against. Women are disproportionately affected by rape, physical assault and stalking. The latest National Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control reveals that nearly 25 percent of surveyed women had been ”raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, co-habiting partner, or date.” Women also suffer systematic gender discrimination in the workplace, earning about 77 cents for every $1 men earn. One could go on and on about the relegated position of women in America, but the fact remains that we must do more to honor and uplift them. They have been uplifting themselves and humanity for far too long. Every American needs to reflect on the many contributions of women to our society — contributions in which all citizens and residents, past and present, have benefitted — and once and for all realize that society will never reach its full potential until it first maximizes the potential of women.
(Chicago Sun-Times) Like many blacks in the United States, Oprah Winfrey is proud of her African ancestry. Within every African American lies a pure African — one whose blood lines are not ”diluted” by interracial integration or rape committed by whites during slavery — a DNA signature strong enough to link African Americans back to their specific ancestral home in Africa.
According to the brilliant PBS documentary ”African American Lives” hosted by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., Winfrey — one of the richest, most influential and most popular people in the world — originally descends from Liberia, one of the poorest and most war-torn countries on Earth. She purportedly originates from the Kpelle ethnic group, one of 16 of Liberia’s major ethno- linguistic groups.
Liberia was unwittingly created in the early 19th century by the U.S. government and the American Colonization Society, a private association of Southern slave owners and so-called abolitionist elements to rid the United States of free blacks who were deemed ”idle, useless and mischievous.” It was not a country founded by freed slaves, as has been popularly reported, but rather initially populated by them under the authoritarian rule of the ACS. These blacks later declared independence from the ACS in 1847, creating the Liberian state.
The four-hour multipart series investigates and reconstructs African-American history through genealogy and DNA testing. The show’s subjects included several other black notables, including Quincy Jones, Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Tucker.
Assuming that Winfrey’s DNA testing is correct, there are a few issues that Gates and his team of investigators did not consider. First, most Liberians have mixed blood lines and are of indigenous Liberian and Americo-Liberian stock. Hence, Oprah’s DNA match may come from a DNA strand that was drawn from an Americo-Liberian rather than a ”purely” indigenous Liberian, particularly because some of the original Americo-Liberian settlements were on Kpelle land. Second, since many blacks who ”migrated” to Liberia — many from Mississippi — originally came from Liberia, where they were taken away as slaves, Winfrey may have double roots in Liberia. Third, Winfrey’s Liberian lineage may be traced to those black Mississippians who were descendants of slaves from other West Africa locales and were sent back to Africa/Liberia by the Mississippi Colonization Society. That group in 1838 established an independent territorial-government called Mississippi in Africa that later joined the Commonwealth of Liberia in 1841. Whatever the case may be, Winfrey has roots in Africa’s oldest Republican-style state, Liberia.
It is ironic that during the same period that Winfrey learned of her Liberian ancestry, Liberia became the first African country to elect a woman as president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I would savor the opportunity to witness Winfrey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazier and Johnson-Sirleaf, a descendant of African Americans, work together to rebuild Liberia.
What does it mean for Liberia that Forbes magazine’s most powerful celebrity in the world, descends from the country, and what impact will it have on Winfrey?
Because Winfrey openly embraces her Liberian ancestry, it will give renewed inspiration and hope to Liberians, particularly women and children, who were brutalized by nearly 14 years of civil war (1989-2003). Also, Winfrey could serve as a U.N. goodwill ambassador to Liberia or otherwise lobby the United States to provide more development aid and foreign investment opportunities to Liberia. No matter what Winfrey does or does not do, Liberians will embrace her and give her what every conscious African American dreams of: a loving connection to their original homeland.
(Chicago Sun-Times) I already miss Coretta Scott King. She was a history maker whose contributions to American society and the world deserve close study. I first met Mrs. King when I was in 12th grade and she was giving a lecture on civil rights at a university in my home city of Los Angeles. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was simply excited to be in the same building as her. She was a living legend whose face I knew and legacy I studied. When she walked onstage, I was struck by her natural beauty and sophistication. She was graceful and debonair, and her energy radiated throughout the room. Her voice was soft yet powerful, and she was divinely articulate.
To paraphrase, Mrs. King’s message centered on taking principled stances against unruly authority using the weapon of non-violence as the sword and faith in God as the shield. I left her presentation ready to save the world. On my way home from her lecture, I was pulled over by the Los Angeles police for no apparent reason — something that most black men in L.A. were quite accustomed to. Rather than get angry or sass with the officer who readily pointed his 9mm gun at my head while asking me for my driver’s license and registration, I simply smiled and said, “No problem, officer.” Although my heart was racing, I could not restrain myself from breaking into thunderous laughter — not only was the officer funny-looking in a dopey way, but I could not overlook the irony of being racially profiled after attending Mrs. King’s talk. Her words had a calming effect on my spirit and hence reaction; soon after, the officer begrudgingly let me go.
About six years later, I met Mrs. King in Gabon, West Africa, while attending the second of several African/African-American Summit meetings organized by the late and great Rev. Leon Sullivan. Several black dignitary types attended the conference, and it was at that time I introduced myself to black America’s first lady. Her demeanor was as warm and classy as I remembered. She still had a priceless smile and graceful spirit. She was pleasant and said very little, but her radiant glare and slight nod communicated plenty. I knew then that I was in the presence of a queenly soul. It was at that very moment that I understood why and how her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., became so prominent and powerful. Mrs. King did not exemplify the cliche ”behind every great man is a great woman,” but rather epitomized the notion that ”behind every great man is a greater woman.”
She supported Dr. King before he was a known quantity. She was the pillar that kept the King family together and Dr. King’s backbone strong during the tumultuous civil rights era by juggling the roles of wife, mother, adviser, nurturer, psychologist and secretary. She stood by his side when he was cursed at, spat on, beaten and had their family’s lives threatened. She was there when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and marched with him on numerous occasions, most notably in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Mrs. King even successfully lobbied for a national holiday in his honor in 1986. After his death, she raised four children alone and honored his legacy by supporting an untold number of causes and initiatives, including the founding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. Without her resolute support of Dr. King, the civil rights movement would have taken on a different shape and character and America would not have advanced as it did. America owes Mrs. King a debt of gratitude. Although Congress recently made provision for a statue of Rosa Parks to be erected on Capitol Hill, the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Rotunda is presently the only figure of an African American in Congress. I believe Congress should erect one of Coretta Scott King next to her husband, because her contribution to American society was just as significant, if not more so. She was a history maker in her own right.
(Chicago Sun-Times) As 2005 meets her inevitable end, I cannot remember any other year when so many African-American history makers have made their transition. From internationally recognized political activists, businessmen and entertainers to famous lawyers, in 2005 the world has lost some of its most precious human gems.
The list is long and includes, among others, Shirley Chisholm, Johnnie Cochran, Ossie Davis, John H. Johnson, Constance Baker Motley, Rosa Parks, Richard Pryor, C. Delores Tucker, August Wilson and Luther Vandross. With the passing of these irreplaceable great men and women pioneers one wonders whether the strong and dignified black pioneers of yesteryear can be replaced by today’s young black baby boomers (i.e., those born in the late 1950s and early 1960s) and indelibly unconscious Generations X (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) and Y (mid-1970s to 1990s). If you do not know who these great Americans are, I encourage you to educate yourself.
My concerns lie not only in the fact that there are few replacements for these history makers, particularly in the political and business realms, but that very few of the small number of possible replacements cherish the values and commitment to black advancement to which these path breakers were so dedicated. This may in part be because the often-quoted cliche, “There is no progress without struggle,” has proved itself all so true among today’s young “Negroes.”
African Americans rank the lowest in nearly all social and health indicators yet consume more depreciable products than any other group in America and perhaps the world. Black Generation Yers, part of a population of about 70 million and an exuberant consumer spending base unlike any generations before them, have been mollycoddled and systematically programmed by baby boomers to embrace and value a culture of materialism, self-centeredness and entitlement rather than the long-held African-American values of hard work, self-sufficiency, excellence in education and black unity.
What is more disconcerting is that young African Americans are becoming more ignorant about their history and culture and seemingly have no concept of civic responsibility and duty? In fact, it is not far-fetched to assert that more Black Generation Yers than not can more accurately recite the lyrics of rap artist 50 Cent than the names of African-American history makers. Ironically, America’s proliferation of Eminem-type Yers seemingly have a greater grasp of black history than their black homeys.
Still worse, many Xers and Yers seem to have fallen victim to a strategic state of subliminal fiction that places a premium on ignorance and a phony and derogatory “gangsta pimp” lifestyle that is demeaning to black existence and propagated by far too many rappers and their corporate sponsors. For your information, Tookie Williams was gangster and Young Buck and Keith Murray are presumably gangsta; but none of them are “black history makers.”
We can attribute the troubled state of black Xers and Yers to numerous phenomena including the crumbling of black family structures; inept public-school systems; America’s trashy culture of reality TV that promotes immoral and unproductive thinking and living, and yes, even classic poverty rationale.