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“What Ben Carson Doesn’t Get”: If Obama Wasn’t ‘Black’ Before, He Certainly Is Now

Today’s column is for the benefit of one Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson.

He shouldn’t need what follows, but obviously does. No other conclusion is possible after his interview with Politico a few days ago.

The subject was Barack Obama and what the Republican presidential contender sees as the inferior quality of the president’s blackness. “He’s an ‘African’ American,” said Carson. “He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up…”

Carson, the son of a struggling single mother who raised him in Detroit, and sometimes relied on food stamps to do so, noted that Obama, by contrast, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. “So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

Lord, have mercy.

Let’s not even get into the fact that the man questioning Obama’s racial bona fides once stood before an audience of white conservatives and proclaimed the Affordable Care Act “the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery.” Let’s deal instead with Carson’s implicit assertion that to be authentically black requires being fatherless and broke, scrabbling for subsistence in the ‘hood.

If a white man said that, we’d call it racist. And guess what? It’s also racist when a black man says it. Not to mention, self-hating and self-limiting. Carson denies the very depth and breadth of African-American life.

By his “logic,” Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy, is not black, Shaquille O’Neal, who spent part of his childhood in Germany, is not black, Miles Davis and Natalie Cole, who grew up in affluent households, were not black and Martin Luther King Jr., child of middle-class comfort and an intact family, was not black. According to him, they were all “raised white.”

Here’s what Carson doesn’t get: What we call “race” is not about neighborhood, class or family status. Though the African hostages upon whose backs this country was built shared certain common approaches to music, faith and art, race ultimately isn’t even about culture. Martin Luther King, for instance, was an opera buff; it’s hard to get further from “black” culture than “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

No, race is something Europeans invented as a tool of subjugation. The people who came here from England, France and Spain did not initially see themselves as “white,” after all. They declared themselves white — that is, a superior species of humanity — to justify in their own consciences the evil things they did to the people they took from Africa. Similarly, those Africans knew nothing about “black.” They saw themselves as Fulani, Mende, Mandinkan or Songhay. “Black” was an identity forced upon them with every bite of the lash and rattle of the chains.

In other words, to be black is not to share a common geography, class or family status, but rather, the common experience of being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white. Want to know if you’re black? Try to rent a house in Miami. Try to hail a cab in Times Square. Try to win an Oscar in Hollywood. You’ll find out real quick.

And there is something spectacularly absurd in the fact of Barack Obama being criticized as “not black” by a Republican. Think about it: In the unlikely event he somehow managed to live the 47 years before his presidency without being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white, Obama has sure made up for it since. Members of Carson’s party have called him “boy,” “uppity” and “ape” and have gone to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to block him from doing … anything.

So the good doctor can relax. If Obama wasn’t “black” before, he certainly is now.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald: The National Memo, February 29, 2016

February 29, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Ben Carson, White Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Pathetically Low Diversity Is On Capitol Hill”: The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body

In the last couple of years racial politics have dominated our political discourse. Regardless of party affiliation or racial identification, most Americans have probably grown to agree on at least one thing: There are no easy policy solutions for solving America’s racial discord and the inequality that fuels it. But I would go a step further and say this is even truer with the current Congress we have in place. While lack of bipartisanship gets most of the credit, or rather blame, for the ineffectiveness of the American Congress, new data highlight another culprit: lack of diversity among senior Senate aides.

A new report out from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that “(p)eople of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.” While the numbers are not good for any ethnic minority population, they are abysmal for black Americans. According to the report, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.” This is particularly troubling given how lacking in diversity the Senate already is. There are currently two African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina), one Asian American (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and two Hispanic Americans (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.)

But lack of racial diversity isn’t the only problem plaguing Congress. Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of members of Congress reported being millionaires. This in an age in which the median wealth of America’s middle class is just over $44,000.

Now I’m not here to argue that white millionaires should be excluded from Congress. But I am here to argue that they shouldn’t comprise most of Congress.

Why?

Well for starters, ideally we should have a legislative body reflective of the people it represents. But beyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems.

For instance, for years there has been little done at a federal level to address the issue of racial profiling or police brutality. The reason is not hard to understand: For a white member of Congress who has likely been treated with respect and deference by most members of law enforcement he or she has come into contact with, it’s easy to fathom that he would not consider this a serious or prevalent issue.

Thanks to camera phones, now many elected officials know what black Americans have known all along: There are great members of law enforcement, but there are also far too many who abuse their power and position. Just think for a moment how many lives may have been saved if elected officials, either from their own experiences, or the experiences of their senior aides, had known to prioritize this issue years ago. It is not a coincidence that a black senator, Tim Scott, has been a driving force behind efforts to secure additional federal funding for body cameras for law enforcement to help address this issue.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office. Neither he nor his wife came from wealthy backgrounds, and financial aid enabled them both to attend elite universities that allowed them entrée into the halls of power in which they now reside. Is it possible that another president could have been knowledgeable on this issue? Sure. But consider this: Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, came from a wealthy and prominent family, so he never endured the hardship of not knowing whether he would graduate college because of his financial status—something I and millions of other Americans have endured.

To be clear, the issue of diversity, or rather lack thereof, within the Senate is not party specific. The Joint Center report notes that while African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic, black Americans comprise just .7 percent of top Democratic Senate posts. It could be argued that lack of diversity among Senate aides is even more problematic than lack of diversity among elected officials because senior aides do much of the heaving lifting when it comes to actually writing legislation. So what can be done to change things?

For starters, elected officials and the parties that support them need to make a concerted effort to diversify their internship pools. As someone who started her career as an intern, I speak from experience when I say it is not uncommon to see the most plum internships for prominent candidates and in prominent offices become a resting place for the children of political donors and their friends. These internships can often serve as a pipeline to jobs in the Senate or the White House down the road.

Additionally, both major parties need to begin setting aside some of the money they reserve for attack ads on each other for money to be spent on well-paid racial and class diversity fellowships. Very few young people, except the children of wealthy donors or the wealthy period, can afford to work on campaigns for next to nothing and live with the financial instability early campaign life provides.

But I would say the real responsibility falls into the hands of those of us who claim we’re fed up with our do-nothing Congress. If we’re not happy with them, simply threatening to throw them out during the next election cycle is not enough. We should be asking them the right questions while they’re there representing us. But how many of us bother to ask who our elected officials hire once they get in office? And whether those people are representative of us and have our best interests at heart? In the same way we demand our elected officials keep us updated on their legislative accomplishments, why don’t we demand more regular transparency on who they are surrounding themselves with?

For anything to really change, more of us fed up non-millionaires need to be willing to run for office, or encourage someone we trust to. Or at the very least we need to tell as many bright, young people from underrepresented groups that we can that if they really want to make a difference instead of just expressing outrage on social media, they should become a Senate aide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Diversity, Racial Inequality, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ben Carson, And The Failure Of Black Conservatives”: The Belief That Individual Resolve Is Enough To Fend Off Structural Racism

I was a 17-year-old teenager growing up on the west side of Detroit when I first read Ben Carson’s biography Gifted Hands.

The first thing that caught my attention were the similarities in our childhoods: He grew up poor; so did I. Carson’s mother couldn’t read; my grandmother, who was my legal guardian until she died soon after I finished high school, could only read and write her name. Young Carson got in trouble as a teen and nearly stabbed a friend; when I was 12 years old, I had an almost fatal run-in with my uncle while he was high on drugs. Carson earned his bachelor’s from Yale University and finished medical school at the University of Michigan. Though I would eventually receive both my undergrad and graduate degrees elsewhere, I, like many kids from Detroit, often dreamed of being a Wolverine.

And though I had no idea what I wanted to be in life, I knew I wanted to do something great. Maybe I wouldn’t become a neurosurgeon famous for separating conjoined twins, but perhaps I could become something equally spectacular.

I knew nothing of Carson’s politics back then. I was 17 and didn’t care. He was a black man from the hood who “made it.” His was an inspiring story, full of adversity overcome, of hard-work and perseverance. That’s all that mattered to me. What I didn’t realize as a teenager, however, was what that same story would one day mean to white, conservative America.

Ben Carson is now not only running for president as a Republican, but he’s arguably leading the GOP field. And in an era where the biggest cheers of the Republican debates go to takedowns of “political correctness” and the media, Ben Carson is taking advantage, warping his personal story into misbegotten political and racial analysis.

In August, when a Fox News moderator asked Carson during a GOP debate how he would address strained race relations in America, he said that the “purveyors of hatred take every single incident between two different races and try to make a race war out of it and drive wedges into people.” He said nothing about the structural issues causing the racial divide between black and white Americans; he just blamed the media.

In September during his tour of Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by former police officer Darren Wilson, Carson said, “We need to de-emphasize race and emphasize respect for each other.” He added that he was raised to respect police and “never had any problem.”

This is Carson’s M.O.

When Carson speaks to the mostly white audiences who support him, he positions himself as a black person who doesn’t “complain” about racism. He argues that we need to move beyond having difficult discussions about race.

And his messaging during his campaign has been crystal clear: I am who I am because I worked hard, and that is the best way to overcome racism. If you are black and cannot succeed like me, he tells his mostly white audiences, then only you are to blame for your problems — not police brutality, an unfair criminal justice system, or racist hiring practices.

It’s a classic case of black conservatism, the belief that individual resolve should be enough to fend off structural racism. But Carson’s auto-biography pokes holes in his own story. When you read about his life, you see someone who was not only exceptionally hard-working, but like all successful people, at times exceptionally lucky.

Had Carson actually succeeded in stabbing the friend he claims to have attacked as a teenager, Carson likely would have served time in jail and struggled to find work as a convicted felon; his right to vote probably would have been revoked, too. Carson likes to discuss how his short temper led to him go after people with rocks, bricks, baseball bats, and hammers. Hundreds of thousands of black people who made similar mistakes are caught in the racially predatory cycle of the criminal justice system that refuses to grant them second chances. Yet, he abhors the Black Lives Matter movement for daring to challenge the racist policies that could have very well prevented him from rehabilitating had he been been jailed for his wayward behavior.

Here’s another telling anecdote: In his 1999 book The Big Picture, Carson wrote about an incident involving his mother being arrested in a suburb of Detroit because she, according to the arresting officer, fit the description of a woman who abducted an elderly couple; the charges were later dismissed with the help of a prominent lawyer friend who was also a fellow Yale alum.

Only a black person who reached the highest summit of social and professional achievement could have called his Ivy League buddy to get his mother out; the residents of Ferguson who were daily targets of rampant racial profiling, according to a Department of Justice report, did not enjoy such social pull.

But Carson, the presidential candidate, doesn’t tell his white supporters about the pitfalls he narrowly avoided; he only talks about the heroic leaps he took in avoiding them. When I read Gifted Hands nearly 18 years ago as a young teenager, I never envisioned Carson becoming a 21st century Nat Turner — but neither could I foresee him dismissing racial injustice entirely. The culmination of Carson’s success, as I now know, was not designed to accommodate any sense of responsibility for those in the black community who didn’t “make it.”

Instead, it is only tailored to assure white voters that they don’t have to bear any of the racial baggage that comes with being black in America.

 

By: Terrell Jermaine Starr, The Week, November 5, 2015

November 6, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Criminal Justice System, Structural Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Walking In Justice Morrison R. Waite’s Footsteps”: Citizens United’s Legal Roots Lie In The Jim Crow Supreme Court

As John Roberts begins his second decade as the chief justice, a number of Supreme Court rulings during his tenure are once more in the news, perhaps none more so than Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The 5-4 decision, which applied First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech to a private corporation, has been targeted lately by Democrat presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (“Citizens United was about me. Think how that makes me feel.”) and Bernie Sanders, who declared this week, “No nominee of mine to the United States Supreme Court will get that job unless he or she is loud and clear that one of their first orders of business will be to overturn Citizens United.” Americans are equally hostile to the decision: A national poll released by Bloomberg Politics this week found that 78 percent of respondents want Citizens United overturned, while only 17 percent support the ruling.

What many Americans might not know, however, is that the manner in which corporations came to be granted personal rights is inextricably linked to a series of late nineteenth century Supreme Court rulings that disemboweled the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and ushered in the Jim Crow era, when state and local laws were passed to create racial segregation.

The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, was aimed at securing fundamental rights for the four million newly freed slaves. Section 1 conferred citizenship on any person born in the United States, made them citizens of the state in which they resided, and guaranteed all Americans “due process of law” and “equal protection of the laws.” To the man who drafted that section of the amendment, Representative John Bingham of Ohio, this meant that the personal guarantees of the Bill of Rights would apply to state as well as federal law. Most in Congress who voted for the amendment agreed, and we take such guarantees against state action for granted today. And the Fifteenth Amendment, of course, guaranteed black men the right to vote.

But after Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase died in 1873, protections for black Americans began to unravel, all enabled and often mandated by the Supreme Court.

President Ulysses Grant had a great deal of difficulty filling Chase’s seat. Having failed three times to find an acceptable candidate, he settled on Morrison R. Waite. It was not a choice based on excellence. Waite was described by Grant’s attorney general as “sufficiently obscure for the occasion,” and characterized by the Nation as firmly “in the first rank of second rank lawyers.” Stung by the criticism and determined to make his mark, Waite decided to author the majority opinion in the most inflammatory case on the 1876 docket, United States v. Cruikshank.

On Easter Sunday, 1873, 250 heavily armed white men, dragging a cannon behind them, besieged 150 black men who, in the wake of a ferociously disputed gubernatorial election, had taken refuge in the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana. The hopelessly outgunned black men surrendered, whereupon the whites proceeded to slaughter them. At least 100 died, some burned alive in the courthouse, others hunted down as they tried to escape into the woods. Federal prosecutors feared that state courts would acquit any of the whites charged, so they turned to a law that transferred race crimes to federal court and indicted one hundred whites for violating the Constitutional rights of the murdered black men. Only three were convicted. (The suspects could not be tried for murder, which was strictly a state crime.) The three appealed on the grounds that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal government had no right to restrict the actions of individuals, only states.

Waite agreed. Only if an attack could be proven to have been racially motivated could individuals run afoul of federal law, and the mere fact that 100 black men were massacred by an armed force of whites was not proof enough. Cruikshank and his fellow defendants went free.

Once emboldened, the Court continued to chip away. Also in 1876, in United States v. Reese, the Court ruled that the Fifteenth Amendment did not actually guarantee the right to vote, but only that the right to vote not be restricted on racial grounds. And such restrictions would be almost impossible to prove. In Virginia v. Rives (1879), the Court ruled that a state had to announce that a law was discriminatory in order to violate Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment guarantees. In other words, that virtually no black men in Virginia were on the voting roles or called for jury service was not in itself proof of discrimination. As a result, restricting voting rights through such contrivances as poll taxes, literacy requirements, grandfather clauses, or other ludicrous tests was perfectly acceptable under federal law.

Then, in 1883, the Waite Court administered the coup de grâce to equal rights when it ruled 8-1 that Congress had no authority to outlaw discrimination by private individuals or organizations and declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was perhaps the most far-reaching legislation of its kind ever enacted by Congress. Section 1 stipulated, “That all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal and enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” But it was also extremely unpopular. Few white Americans, in the South as well as North, were prepared to sit next a black person in a theater, dine in the same restaurant, or even walk in the same park. Restaurants and hotels closed rather than accept black customers. A New York Times editorial denounced the law: “It has put us back in the art of governing men more than two hundred years … startling proof how far and fast we are wandering from the principles of 1787, once so loudly extolled and so fondly cherished.”

It took eight years, but five cases were combined and brought before the Court. Three were from the North and none from the Deep South. Justice Joseph Bradley, writing for the majority, could not have been more clear. “Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject matter of the [Fourteenth] amendment.”

In the wake of the Court’s decision and after a number of other cases where the Court claimed to adhere to the letter of the law while bulldozing its spirit, every southern state rewrote its Constitution in a manner that effectively removed black citizens from the political process. Between 1897 and 1900 in Louisiana, for example, the number of black men registered to vote fell from 130,344 to 5,320. And so Jim Crow was born. Between 1890 and 1903, 1,405 black Americans were lynched in the United States.

Then, having rewritten the Fourteenth Amendment to the detriment of African-Americans, the Court rewrote it once more to protect American corporations. It was an era of burgeoning corporate power, particularly railroads, and many of the justices had specialized in corporate law before being elevated to bench. In a seemingly innocuous 1886 case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, a unanimous Court ruled that a railroad could not be taxed for fences that had been erected by the state and were therefore not part of the railroad’s property. More significant, however, was an aside taken down by a court reporter, in which Chief Justice Waite asserted, “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”

From there, corporations began to receive the very same Fourteenth Amendment and Bill of Rights protections that had been denied to black Americans, so much so that the eminent legal historian Edward S. Corwin wrote in 1909, “This tribunal began a reinterpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment in the light of the principles of Lockian individualism and of Spencerian Laissez Faire, which traverses the results it had previously reached at every point.” Corporate power soared still more in the wake of the Court’s stance, with critics accusing railroad men and other corporate giants of trying to buy the country.

And these corporate protections, wholly extra-Constitutional, continue to be reinforced today. So in Citizens United, when Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority to grant free speech rights to a corporation established for the sole purpose of trying to buy an election, he was walking in Morrison Waite’s footsteps. Not a particularly exalted place to be.

 

By: Lawrence Goldstone, The New Republic, October 2, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Citizens United, Jim Crow, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Effects Could Be Lasting”: The Collateral Damage From The Iran Nuclear Deal

Often in war, attacks on intended targets can result in collateral damage. The Washington-Jerusalem clash over the Iran nuclear agreement is a case in point. The fallout is producing casualties among both supporters and opponents of the deal that can only gladden the hearts of mullahs in Tehran.

Congressional votes on the nuclear accord are still days away, but now is the time to focus on the damage that’s being done. Left unchecked, the effects could be lasting.

Witness evidence compiled by the New York Times:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who opposes the deal, was lampooned on the Daily Kos Web site as a traitorous rodent.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who also opposed the nuclear deal, said she has “been accused of being treacherous, treasonous, even disloyal to the United States.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who announced his support for the deal, was called, on his Facebook page, “a kapo: a Jew who collaborated with Nazis in the World War II death camps. One writer said Nadler had ‘blood on his hands.’ Another said he had ‘facilitated Obama’s holocaust,’ ” the Times’s Jonathan Weisman and Alexander Burns reported.

And it’s not just a matter of an apparent divide among American Jews or the gulf between major Jewish organizations opposing the Iran deal and the deal’s Jewish supporters. The collateral damage falls across religious and racial lines. As a deal supporter, I know.

In response to a recent column in which I cited senior House Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus member James E. Clyburn’s (S.C.) criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking an end-run around the White House to flay the nuclear deal before a Republican-led Congress, I received this e-mail from a reader using the pseudonym “visitingthisplace”: “Black Jewish relations have always been a two way street. The Jews gave money to black causes, marched and died for civil rights, and in return, the black [sic] looted and burned the Jewish businesses to the ground. . . . In spite of your education and your opportunities, you are still just another anti-Semitic street nigger.”

But it’s more than a case of ugly words and insults.

This public battle over the Iran deal is putting a strain on relationships not just among Israel’s supporters in the United States but also between the two governments.

And the discord comes at a time when what’s needed most is consensus, as President Obama said last week, on how to “enhance Israeli security in a very troubled neighborhood.”

Admittedly, it’s hard to make an effective pitch for an end to the acrimony, since, as the late comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “Folks are so touchy these days.” But reconciliation is essential. When the dust settles, there will be a nuclear accord.

That outcome was nailed down this week when the president secured enough votes in the Senate to sustain a veto of a Republican attempt to derail the agreement.

The question that needs pondering, especially in Israel, is “What’s next?” Netanyahu evidently missed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s admonition, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”

The prime minister took the undiplomatic step of going over the head of a sitting president to a Republican Congress with the intention of delivering a death blow to that president’s internationally negotiated nuclear accord — and missed.

Political offense of that scale is particularly open to penalty. But Obama is bigger than that.

The “what next” question has urgency. Blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons for at least 10 years will not halt its aggressive intentions in the Middle East. Iran will still support proxies to destabilize opposing regimes in the region. It will continue to pose a threat to Israel. “Death to America” remains the slogan of choice at Iranian rallies.

In recognition of that grim reality, this week in Philadelphia, Secretary of State John F. Kerry outlined steps the United States will take to bolster the security of Israel and the United States’ Gulf state allies: $3 billion for Israel’s missile defense programs; enhanced funding for next-generation missile defense systems; a $1.89 billion munitions supply package; tunnel detection and mapping technologies; and giving Israel first dibs on the U.S.-made next generation F-35 fighter aircraft coming off the line next year.

Kerry said there also would be increased arms shipments and new security deals with Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

But there are breaches to be repaired.

Israel can take a step toward that end by unhitching its fate to a Republican Party blinded by anti-Obama mania. Israel needs to be a bipartisan issue in Washington.

Another positive step Israel can take? Foster a rapprochement between opposing U.S. pro-Israel camps.

The collateral damage resulting from Israel’s kerfuffle with the Obama administration may have been unintended, but it was not incidental. Never is in a war of words.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015

 

September 8, 2015 Posted by | Iran Nuclear Agreement, Israel, United States of America | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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