By Dr. Owen Brown
As we witness the last days of President Donald Trump’s Administration, his MAGA platform speaks to the hypocrisy of America’s celebration of equality while voter suppression tactics are currently underway in Georgia, Ohio, and Florida. These efforts to suppress black voters are enduring monuments to the dominance of white supremacy. Many critics of President Trump have turned our attention to how he has undermined our democracy, disrespected women, and cloaked white supremacy racism under the guise of law and order. Nothing new.
From Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater to Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, these white Americans have characterized African Americans equal rights advocates’ leading protests against institutionalized racism as criminals. Police brutality and continuing discrimination in the hiring of African Americans best expressed the myriad obstacles to blacks’ becoming entirely accepted members of America’s body politics.
In the post-World War II reconstruction of the American and world economies, protests against American racism took flight in the Second Black Reconstruction, which (arguably) started with Professor Jo Ann Robinson’s leaflets advertising the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr became an American icon because of this protest, while Professor Robinson’s bravery has\is fading into the American historical abyss. However, efficacious stratagems by white Americans led to this equal rights movement being criminalized.
What were the intellectual arguments that led to white-Americans’ mass consumption of the ready-made beliefs that black Americans constituted a separate race; and their ideological predisposition and dysfunctional sub-culture and not racism, were the principal obstacles to their progress in American society? Stanley Elkins’s Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life and C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow revealed the consequential nature of American racism and its frequent usage of intimidation and terror to enforce African Americans’ obedience to white supremacists social norms.
Radical racialists and their moderate political supporters succeeded in designing and implementing arguments that portrayed the Civil Rights Movement as antithetical to the “American way.” New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then-Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy, Planning and Research, publication of “The Negro Family: The Case For National Action” led to radical racialists blaming women of African descent for the deterioration of their families and African Americans’ collapse into criminality. These stratagems were followed by President Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the War-on-Drugs that led to polarizing news articles that erroneously led to the convictions of the Central Park Five. These young boys’ lives were stolen by the American justice system because of their race and poverty that Patricia Hill Collins, Barbara Christian, and Bonnie Thornton Dill documented in black women’s enduring attempts to emancipate themselves from genderized and racialized oppression. Dill wrote, “work on child-rearing parents among Black domestics shows that while the participants in her study showed deference behavior at work, they discouraged their children from believing that they should be deferential to Whites and encouraged their children to avoid domestic work.”
America’s radical racialists vilification of individuals Eric Wolf referred to as “People Without History” historically resulted in the “Trail of Tears,” “The Scottsboro boys,” and the mass incarceration of African Americans during the Republicans and Democrats’ war-on-drugs. The 1994 federal crime bill, championed by then-President William Clinton, led to money for more prisons. Democrats congratulated themselves on this legislative victory, while women of African descent witnessed their sons and daughters being locked away during the most productive parts of their lives for non-violent drug offenses. White Americans were committing these same offenses on college and university campuses across the United States; however, the legal implications were not the same for the latter. For African American women’s children, Clinton’s crime bill did not lead to improvement in their communities despite crime rates decline in 1994.
Despite the valiant scholarships of Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Barbara Christian aimed at combating the debased images of women and their off-spring, the American media succeeded in convincing white Americans that African Americans were responsible for their negative stations in our society. For white Americans African Americans negatively lived experiences were consequences of individuals’ decisions that were reflected in their alleged criminal involvements, and white-dominated police departments acted on these erroneous assumptions that turned urban centers into modern-day safaris. Thus, African American criminality was allegedly manifested early in their children’s behaviors. However, to this purported racial certainty, there were those who had doubts. In the United States Supreme Court 1948 decision, Haley v. Ohio, “A 15-year-old lad, questioned through the dead of night by relays of police, is a ready victim of the inquisition…. We cannot believe that a lad of tender years is a match for the police in such a contest. He needs counsel and support if he is not to become the victim first of fear, then of panic. He needs someone on whom to lean lest the overpowering presence of the law, as he knows it, crush him.” These words echoed the travails of the Central Park Five, who President Trump maligned.
Ms. Trisha Meili was raped in New York City Central Park in 1989. That should never be forgotten. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise were convicted of this heinous crime against a woman. These young men’s youth were ripped away, but in 2002 Matias Reyes confessed that he was the perpetrator of Ms. Meili’s brutal rape. President Trump took a hard stance on this crime in his full-page $85,000 add calling for the death penalty return. President Trump decried the alleged lawlessness among young people like myself and my friends in our youth. President Trump, given the opportunity to reverse his decision regarding the Central Park Five, doubled down. But this is usually consistent with men of financial resources, who are media influencers.
If Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise had the financial largess of the “Donald,” they would not have been convicted. Thomas Paine showed the correlation between access to financial resource and social justice when he wrote, “When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive…; when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.”
America is a country where inequality is a fact of life and speaks to the incompleteness of its democratic principles enshrined in its Constitution. The Constitution can be an effective document for the enforcement of social justice for the descendant of Africanized slaves. However, it was written and supported by slave owners. Unlike those of us that want to pull down their statues and those of Confederate generals, I support leaving them in place unattended so that nature can take her course. They should forever stand as monuments of human folly best expressed in the needless slaughters of ethnic Yugoslavs at the hands of Serbs and Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus. Serbs and Hutus share a common worldview with Confederate generals. They all believed in the righteousness of their causes and that their alleged uniqueness gave them the right to commit heinous acts against humanity. Thus, I do not think the men whose images are captured by Confederate statues felt they were wrong in their disregard for black lives, just like many of their progeny who continue to believe that law and order are more important than black lives. They are wrong. Nevertheless, they stand proud like Nazis among corpses of their innocent victims. However, on Tuesday, young Americans will strike a blow against this worldview, and women of African descent will lead the way.
Dr. Owen Brown is a Professor in the Department of Social Behavioral Sciences at Medgar Evers College. He is currently completing a book titled: The Awakening: Women of African Ancestry and the Making of America.
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