Linn Washington Jr. is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
The Other Afrik - United States - Panafrica - Racism - Governance - Black history
Unlikely backers legitimize Black History Month observance
Black History Month observances seek to correct factual inaccuracies that continue oozing across America perpetuating a litany of misunderstandings that fuel racial discord in the US where the majority constantly chides minorities about their criticizing race-based inequities.
Michele Bachmann and Haley Barbour, two right-wing Republicans eyeing presidential campaigns in 2012, provided a big boost for Black History Month recently with remarks challenging contentions that this recognition of ignored contributions is an irrelevant relic in this post-racial ‘Age of Obama.’
Although conservative dogma considers this annual observance during the month of February an anathema neither Bachmann nor Barbour face censure for heresy from their ideological confederates.
Far from ringing endorsement, the offensive utterances of Bachmann and Barbour highlight the importance of Black History Month founded in the early 20th Century to counter factual inaccuracies about blacks then rampant across America’s racially segregated society.
Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party maven, said America’s Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery.
Bachmann’s statement grossly distorts historic fact easily evident in the life of George Washington, America’s first President and Revolutionary War leader who was born in the month of February.
Washington owned slaves. While serving as president Washington signed the federal Fugitive Slave Act mandating return of slaves who fled their owners seeking freedom. That Act did not attempt to end slavery contrary to Bachmann’s claim.
Further, Washington spent the waning years of his life diligently working to recapture two favored slaves who fled his executive mansion according to the new book “The Black History of the White House” by Clarence Lusane.
Bachmann’s failure to check facts is not inadvertent said Professor Ewuare Osayande during a recent lecture entitled “Why Black History Month Still Matters” at the Camden, NJ campus of Rutgers University.
“Why does a national figure not check her claims? She does and she doesn’t care about the truth,” Osayande charged saying Bachmann’s Founding Fathers assertion is the type of “willful falsehood that becomes patriotic truth” in America.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s recent refusal to even question efforts in his state for issuing a license plate honoring a Confederate Army general who served as the first national leader of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan embraces a rancid practice in America’s roiling racial caldron: the denial dynamic of not dealing with truths.
Barbour has repeatedly white-washed historic fact during just the past months, like praising the segregation preserving White Citizens Council of his hometown for its non-existent support of desegregation during a news interview in December.
Barbour’s mischaracterizations of historic fact recently provoked criticism from Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
Robinson scored Barbour’s historically inaccurate accounts as “either a pathology or a plan”…to pander for conservative votes.
America’s racial realities past and present heighten the importance of recognizing the black facts comprising major chapters in the ignored volumes of American history.
Racist incidents in America have increased since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the first non-white to hold that office. President Obama, for example, has received more death threats than any of his predecessors with most of those threats motivated merely by his race.
12-year old racists
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania State Representative Ron Waters warned about upsurges across Pennsylvania in racist incidents involving white children as young as 12 years old. Waters, head of that state’s Legislative Black Caucus, noted that “children do not pick up this behavior in a vacuum.”
Pennsylvania and New Jersey have 72 hate groups according to the Southern Poverty Law Center… more hate groups than Mississippi and Georgia – two states that set records for the mob terrorism of lynching blacks during nearly a century after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
New Jersey, generally cast as a liberal state, compiled one of America’s worst records of racial profiling by state police during the 1990s, misconduct infamously sanctioned by a former Attorney General in the Garden State, Peter Verniero.
Last year NJ Governor Chris Christie, a Republican lauded by conservatives nationwide, appointed Verniero to head that state’s judicial selection panel after most members of that body resigned in protest of Christie’s refusal to reappoint the only black serving on New Jersey’s state Supreme Court.
Christie nominated a Republican partisan with no judicial experience to replace the veteran jurist he removed.
Police abuses: America and Egypt
Recently Dr. Jared A. Ball, writing in the online Black Agenda Report, stated that the “same Americans that claim to empathize with the mass revolt in Egypt support police terror against blacks in the United States…”
Ball correctly noted the depressing disconnect between Americans strongly condemning abuses by police in Egypt while remaining silent about police abuses in American cities.
Chicago, the city that is home for President Obama, spent an average of $39.1-million per year settling civil rights abuse claims against its police between 2004 and 2006.
The Obama Administration’s inaction on police abuse, comparable to its White House predecessors, belies conservative criticisms that Obama favors blacks to the disadvantage of whites.
Bachmann, a professed cost-cutting conservative, is silent on the nearly $20-million spent to settle lawsuits against police misconduct during the past dozen-plus year in Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota that abuts Bachmann’s 6th congressional district.
Cost cutting not righting a wrong drove Mississippi’s Barbour in December to release sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott from their grotesquely unjust double-life sentences for an $11 robbery they didn’t commit.
Barbour wanted to free his state from paying the costs for kidney dialysis and/or a transplant required by Jamie Scott. Barbour even conditioned the release of the Scott Sisters on Gladys donating a kidney to Jamie.
Barbour, who rejected granting clemency to the Scott Sisters in 2006, refuses to criticize the prosecutors who falsely convicted them and the courts of his state for failing to eliminate the unjust sentence during the dozen-plus years the Scott Sisters spent in prison.
“Negro History Week”
Institutional inequities like persistent police abuse and unjust incarcerations were among the elements prompting Dr. Carter G. Woodson to create “Negro History Week” in 1926 to promote public awareness of Black History. Woodson’s week-long recognition at the end of February was expanded to the entire month in 1976.
Woodson selected February because it is the month for the birthdays of two Americans legendary for fighting to end of slavery: activist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
Curiously some blacks criticize Black History Month inaccurately claiming that whites relegated it to February specifically as an insult because February is the year’s shortest month.
That disconnect, Dr. Ball referenced, is remarkably similar to duplicity ex-slave Frederick Douglass ridiculed during his famous 1852 speech about the meaning of July 4th celebrations to African-Americans.
Douglass pointedly criticized the duplicity of Americans backing freedom for Europeans fighting against tyrants while turning blind-eyes toward the tyrannical enslavement of African-Americans.
“You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland but are as cold as an iceberg at the thoughts of liberty for the enslaved of America.”
Dangers and fears
Black History illuminations rather extolled only during February or examined year round, clearly detail the dangers for wider white society in ignoring the discriminatory deprivations ‘society’ dumps on blacks and other non-whites.
Anti-racism activist/author Tim Wise noted during a January speech in Philadelphia that today’s massive unemployment levels among whites are rooted in societal sanctioning of structural unemployment among minorities.
“Would we have problems with double-digit unemployment if we had dealt with double-digit unemployment when it just affected people of color?” asked Wise who is white.
Two weeks ago New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote a commentary warning about serious dangers to America’s democracy from financial and corporate elites commandeering “the levers of real power” in this nation.
Herbert’s accurate assessment echoes an assessment advanced in 1928 by famed African-American scholar/activist, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, a co-founded of America’s oldest civil rights organization – the NAACP.
“We are today dominated openly by selfish private interests rather than by free and intelligent public opinion,” DuBois stated during his address at the NAACP’s 19th Annual Conference in 1928.
DuBois felt that domination of the US government by the wealthy reduced democracy in the US to that of “farce.”
Today many conservative and liberal Americans dismiss the dire warnings of Bob Herbert just as their late 1920s counterparts dismissed Dr. DuBois.
This dismissal enables continued growth of circumstances that DuBois perceptively identified during that 1928 speech as “white America [being] willing to disfranchise itself…for the sake of” disfranchising blacks.
As anti-racism writer Tim Wise notes, “We are still more afraid of a young black male in a hoodie than Wall Street traders who stole billions. Bankers terrorized the US economy causing its collapse but white Americans think terrorists are only Arab Muslims.”
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