Thursday, February 28, 2008

black solidarity

Before I started college, I didn't give much thought to ethnic differences among peoples of African descent - I simply considered myself black. The fact that my family is from the Caribbean and Latin America never created a feeling of separation within me against my American born brethren and sistren. However, once at school I learned of the divisions and feelings of antipathy between what we at Amherst call the plain ole' blacks (African-American descendants of West African slaves), Africans and Afro-Caribbeans. These kinds of divisions are not only harmful but diverts our concentration from the "real enemy" to our people - systemic institutionalized racism.

That's why I thought it was floored early in the election cycle when political pundits and regular black folks were debating whether Barack Obama was "black enough". The issue wasn't that the Illinois senator is biracial, the problem apparently was that his father is Kenyan and not bogged down by the shared historical memory of nearly 400 years of life in bondage. However this overly simplistic view negates the fact that black immigrants have been a presence in this nation for centuries (W.E.B was the son of a Haitian immigrant, Marcus Garvey was Jamaican and Stokely Carmichael who coined the term "black power" was Trinidadian like yours truly); moreover all blacks in this nation are united in a shared link back to Africa.

Happily, we have overwhelmingly thrown our support behind Sen.Obama and the real change he represents, as we divorce the tired Clinton politics of yesteryear. And this is a good thing for many reasons - a black president would present a seismic change in the American body politic and really change our notion of possibility for little black and brown children, but it would also allow us to create a new notion of "blackness". A more inclusive blackness that does not divide us into little boxes. Ethnic pride has its place; I'm Caribbean and proud, but I'm also indelibly linked in the struggle along with the other 25 million black Americans. We are a Diasporic people, lest we forget - linked to Africa and forged in the New World.

So in the words of the writer K.A Dilday lets go back to black, embracing our joint heritage with a unifed future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bush Visits Africa: What Should Happen Next?

President Bush gave a speech in Kigali, Rwanda this week, calling for nations to increase their efforts to end the conflict in the Sudan's western Darfur region "once and for all".

The president has stated that he is frustrated that other nations have not been willing to work equally hard to end the conflict.

"The Rwanda people know the horrors of genocide," Bush said. "My message to other nations is: 'Join with the president and help us get this problem solved once and for all.' And we will help."

Shortly before his speech, President Bush met with Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

Rwanda was the first nation to deploy peacekeepers to the Darfur region in a joint mission. The U.S. has given $17 million dollars and trained 7,000 troops to help with the conflict. It has also committed $100 million in funding to help train peace keepers to the area.

"I'm not comfortable with how quickly the response has been," said President Bush.

Bush gave his speech after a visit to the Kigali Memorial Center. The Center discusses the genocide in 1994 that left over 800,000 Tutsis killed. Many were shot and hacked to death.

"It's a moving place. It can't help but shake your emotions to their very foundation," Bush said. "There is evil in the world and evil must be confronted."

With President Kagame next to him, President Bush described his reaction to what he'd seen, "I just can't imagine what it would have been like to be a citizen who lived in such horrors, and then had to, you know, gather themselves up and try to live a hopeful life," he said.

President Bush also discussed The Congo with President Kagame. Rwanda invaded The Congo in 1998, leading to the death of over 5.4 million people. Rwanda has been accused of plundering the resources of The Congo after the invasion.

Kagame and Bush spent a great deal of time discussing the peace accord after the war and ensuring its implementation.

"The most important thing is to get results for the agreement and that's what we discussed today, on how to help bring peace to this part of the world," Bush said.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tavis Smiley's Side of the Barack Obama Story

Senator Barack Obama and the State of the Black Union 2008
Tom Joyner Morning Show
Thursday, February 14, 2008

By now many, if not most of you, have either read or heard about the letter faxed to me by Senator
Barack Obama yesterday to officially inform me that he would not be attending the State of the
Black Union symposium next Saturday, February 23, in New Orleans, live on C-SPAN. The letter
was apparently made public on the Internet by the Obama campaign.
This morning a few thoughts now about the letter, about Senator Obama and for that matter, about
Michelle Obama.
First, I want to thank Senator Obama for his letter, although I regret his decision. I said on Tuesday
and I reiterate today, that I believe that this is a critical miscalculation and a missed opportunity.
Having said that, I also feel that should Senator McCain or Governor Huckabee, like Mr. Obama,
end up denying our invitation to appear at this annual Black think tank, it would also be for them as
well, in the long run, a critical miscalculation and a missed opportunity.
Particularly for Senator John McCain, who appears to now be the presumptive Republican nominee
and who decided, as you recall, not to appear last year before Black America in Baltimore.
Indeed, I personally expressed that sentiment to Senator McCain earlier this week. Don’t think that
in the general election, should he be the nominee, that he ain’t going to get reminded frequently that
he kept passing on opportunities to speak to Black and Brown audiences. That’s pretty much
Political Science 101. That’s going to happen, trust me.
Two. For the record, with regard to this letter and the statements made therein, my office was never
contacted by the Obama campaign offering Michelle Obama as a proxy speaker. It never happened.
No letter. No fax. No e-mail. No phone call. No document whatsoever from the Obama camp to
my office, ever, regarding Michelle Obama. She was never offered, it was never discussed.
Three. While I have great admiration and affection for Michelle Obama, had she been offered to us
I would have respectfully declined. Just as we would have declined had Hillary Clinton offered Bill
Clinton; had John McCain offered Cindy McCain; had Mike Huckabee suggested Janet Huckabee.

By any measure, by any measure, Michelle Obama’s personal story is empowering and inspiring. I
am moved by her personal story, as I have been, since I first met her. From the South side of
Chicago to Princeton, to Harvard Law, it is a quintessential American story of overcoming.
That said, last year at Howard, live on PBS, we spoke to candidates only. And that’s what we intend
to do next Saturday, February 23, in New Orleans, live on C-SPAN, speak to candidates only, with
all due respect.
And speaking of Howard, point number four. When we invited Senator Obama last year to
Howard, with all of the other announced Democratic candidates at the time, so many people, so
many people, said publicly, that Tavis is stacking the deck in Obama’s favor. Black college. Black
book. Black audience. Black journalists. Black moderator. “Smiley is stacking the deck for
Obama,” they said.
The Washington Post Editorial Board said that to me to my face. “Aren’t you stacking the deck for
Mr. Obama?” Now, eight months later, another simple invitation, along with all the other
remaining viable candidates, and now he’s being boxed in by me?
Respectfully, that dog just won’t hunt. Because by that logic, at this point in the campaign, any
gathering of Black thought-leaders, opinion-makers and influencers who invite Senator Obama to
appear on stage at a nationally televised event, that invitation --- in and of itself, given that logic ---
would be tantamount to “boxing him in.”
This was simply an invitation, nothing more. There has not been, there is not now, nor will there
be, any effort on my part to snap on the Obama campaign, or the McCain campaign or the
Huckabee campaign, if they choose not to attend. It was just an invitation to him and every other
candidate. Accept or reject. An invitation, nothing more, nothing less.
I’ve lost count now of how many debates the Democrats have had to address other issues that, in
fact, do matter to us. But I can tell you exactly how many times they’ve gathered to specifically
address our issues. There is no comparison.
Point number five. Senator Obama is on a mission. As he suggested in his letter, his mission is to
become the next President of the United States. And I ain’t mad at him. As I’ve said before, and I’ll
say it again, I revel in his historic run for the White House. As a Black man, I celebrate his past
accomplishments. I celebrate his future aspirations.
Respectfully, I knew Barack Obama long before most of us learned to pronounce his name
correctly. So long ago, in fact, that years ago Barack Obama was working with the kids in my
Foundation, speaking to them about leadership development way back when.
I have no personal animus toward Barack Obama.
To quote that great philosopher, George Wallace, “I love him and there ain’t nothing he can do
about it!” That said, I love Black people, too. And I have a vocation. I have a calling. I have a
purpose. And since this ain’t just about me, you have a purpose too. You have a calling, you have a
vocation as well.

And I would hope, this morning, that at the center of our collective calling, is an unconditional love
for Black people. His job right now is to get elected. Our job is to do our part to ensure that
whoever gets elected will be held accountable to the issues that matter most to Black people.
And in that regard, all that I have ever tried to do, with the media platforms, including this one, that
I have been blessed to have access to, is to attempt to speak a love language, to ask critical
questions, to engage in sober assessment and to counsel wise enthusiasm.
If Barack Obama is your candidate, I ain’t mad at you! If Hillary Clinton is your candidate, I ain’t
mad at you! I am not personally in the endorsement business. My small part is to engage in
Socratic questioning. As a Black person, a member of the media, I’ve said many times on this
program, my job is to ask questions, raise issues, address topics, and profile people that otherwise
wouldn’t get that kind of air play.
Now, as the old folk used to say, “I done spoke my piece.”
Senator Clinton has decided to join us. Senator Obama has decided not to. Senator McCain and
Governor Huckabee, we shall see.
But once again, it has never, ever been about them. It has always been about us. We cannot
confuse candidates with the cause. The cause of suffering Black people who are catching hell every
So, I personally; I can only speak for Tavis, I personally have no intention, no interest in discussing
this matter beyond this commentary no matter what’s said about me. Except to promote the
Symposium, which I’ve done every year for almost 10 years now.
I’m told by the folk in the Lt. Governor’s office in Louisiana that it looks like we will have the
largest gathering of volunteers for a single day next Friday on our Day of Service, since Katrina hit
back in 2005. That’s what matters. Loving and serving everyday Black people.
Our conversation next Saturday promises to be spirited, soulful and inspiring.
Finally this morning, as I always, more than wins. Love wins. Love wins.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Barack Obama's Open Letter to Tavis Smiley

February 13, 2008

Mr. Tavis Smiley
President and CEO
The Smiley Group
3870 Crenshaw Boulevard
Suite 391
Los Angeles, CA 90008

Dear Tavis,

Thank you for the invitation to participate in the 2008 State of the Black Union forum in New Orleans, Louisiana February 21-23. The exchange of ideas raised at this annual symposium are invaluable as our nation strives to address the critical issues facing not just African Americans, but Americans of every race, background and political party.

I especially commend you for hosting this dialogue in New Orleans. On the eve of the Louisiana primary, I visited this great city for the fifth time since declaring my candidacy to share policy proposals for rebuilding the Gulf Coast so that we never experience another Hurricane Katrina. On February 9, I was deeply humbled to win the Louisiana primary with 86 percent of the African American vote and a 14 point lead among all voters who said they were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Uniting our country and creating a national constituency for fundamental change is why I am running for President of the United States. We have come a long way in this race, but we still have a long road ahead. In the final stretch, I will be on the campaign trail everyday in states like Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin talking directly with voters about the causes that are at the heart of my campaign and the State of the Black Union forum such as affordable healthcare, housing, economic opportunity, civil rights and foreign policy. I am committed to touching every voter, and working to earn their vote.

That is why with regret, I am not able to attend the forum. I understand that you have declined the campaign’s request to have Michelle Obama speak on my behalf. I ask that you reconsider. Michelle is a powerful voice for the type of real change America is hungry for. No one knows my record or my passion for leading America in a new direction more than Michelle Obama.

Tavis, this is our movement and our time. I look forward to working closely with you throughout this election. Thank you for your continued support.


Barack Obama

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tavis Smiley and Barack Obama: Not On the Same Page

I couldn't help but notice that while many of us have been carried away by the Barack Obama train, some have refused to buy a ticket. I understand completely, because I am the last person to buy anyone's hype. Healthy skepticism is a good thing, and we should all keep it in our pocket.

But haterology is a serious science and diagnosing it can be an art.

My latest patient is Mr. Tavis Smiley. I like Tavis as a person and respect him a great deal. Tavis Smiley has branded himself as one of the top black leaders in America and is right up there with Marc Lamont Hill as one of my most respected colleagues.

While my respect for Brother Smiley runs deep, I know he is also human. In our humanity, one must be realistic when considering the fact that Tavis understands that his business is a business. There is a marketing philosophy that must be implemented, some degree of competition and ultimately, some lines that must be drawn in the sand. After all, there is more than one Tavis Smiley out there, and his work with The Tom Joyner Morning Show (among others) has allowed him to separate himself from the pack. Brother Smiley's success, prominence and power were planned, it didn't just happen by accident.

Barack Obama, by announcing his candidacy for the White House DURING Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union was, to some, a serious line being drawn. I am sure Brother Smiley felt that anyone who is anyone in the black community must be part of his conference. Barack Obama didn't feel that way, and seemed to be less than willing to pledge allegiance to existing Black Leadership.

Tavis Smiley's State of The Black Union conference, along with his work on The Tom Joyner Morning Show and his Covenant with Black America have done a great deal for the black community. However, they have done far more for Tavis Smiley's book sales and power within the community. I can't hate on that. After all, I am a Finance Professor, so I fully understand how capitalism works. Also, my work in media allows me to understand that you're nobody until you convince somebody that you're somebody. It's not what you know, it's.....well, you get the point.

Simultaneously, Tavis Smiley must work through the demons within him that have always christened himself as the next Barack Obama. Shit, I'm sure Tavis Smiley thought he would be Barack Obama before Barack Obama thought he would be Barack Obama. So, it must be incredibly confusing for Smiley to watch Obama go from "just some guy" to the next JFK. Tavis Smiley, Al Sharpton and others have, quite honestly, been humbled. Brothers like Tavis Smiley and Al Sharpton don't like being humbled.

Smiley's tone of "putting people on blast" for not attending his conference is somewhat problematic and reminds me of an area of Finance called Agency Theory. Agency Theory always questions the incentives of the manager or protector and allows you to wonder if the leader is doing what is best for his constituency or himself. Tavis Smiley's decision to "put people on blast" begs larger, more relevant questions: Are you being careful to balance your personal agenda with the broader needs of the community? You, Brother Smiley, sacrifice a great deal for black people, but are you willing to also sacrifice your personal power? If Barack Obama were serving your interests a bit more, would you have a different disposition?

In layman's terms, this sacrifice is like asking a man to allow another man to sleep with his girlfriend if he clearly knows that the other man would make her happier. Only true love would make a man say "yes" to such a request. Similarly, only true love for the black community can lead Tavis Smiley, or anyone else, to give up their own black power to open the gates for someone who might be a bit more effective. I am not sure if Obama is that guy, but alot of people think he is.

I am not assuming that Tavis Smiley's intentions are not honorable. But I am certainly assuming that he himself struggles with this issue, as we all do at some point. Again, it's about being human. Would a bad mother give up her child to a good one? Would a star athlete sit on the bench if it will help the team win?

The same questions can be asked of many other power brokers in the black community, all of whom have been somewhat undermined by Obama's sudden rise to prominence. Obama owes no one, he has a new team and he refuses to be beholden to the Civil Rights Movement. He is like Al Capone coming to Chicago to run the liquor business "the right way". Such boldness makes the haters come out of the wood work. That's a fact.

Obama is benefiting from a landslide of black support, built on social credit being extended on campaign promises. The Black Community is like the loving, committed spouse, willing to ignore immediate needs so their partner can conquer the world. But at the end of the day, something must be delivered.

Smiley understands this and that is why I believe he works hard for black people. At the same time, Tavis must remember the wise words of Spiderman's Uncle: With great power comes great responsibility.

Translation: Tavis - please make sure your attacks on Obama are about the community and not about you. Most of us can't quite tell the difference.

Monday, February 11, 2008

From Black Power to Barack Obama

by Dr Peniel E. Joseph

Barack Obama’s meteoric rise from charismatic senator to national phenomenon to presidential contender reveals the complex evolution of black politics since the civil rights and Black Power era. Obama’s candidacy is particularly noteworthy during this primary season and election year, which comes on the fortieth anniversary of 1968, a year when effort to transform American democracy ran headlong into a violent defense of white supremacy. Born in 1961, the same year Freedom Riders faced prison to desegregate interstate travel across the nation, Obama remains aloof to the culture wars—whether based in racial, gender or ethnic solidarity—that remain a cornerstone of the legacy of the 1960s. “I think America is still caught in a little bit of a time warp,” Obama confessed to Newsweek last summer. “The narrative of black politics is still shaped by the ’60s and black power.” Indeed.

Obama at rally in Nashua copyright 2008 Jeff GlagowskiBlack Power era radicalism loomed over 1968, a year most often remembered for the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in the spring, followed by the election of Richard Nixon as president in the fall. Urban rebellions—what the media and law enforcement officials referred to as riots—gripped dozens of cities that year, in the sixth straight summer of civil disorders. Radicalized college and high school students staged raucous demonstrations, walkouts and campus takeovers that sent shockwaves through much of the nation.

Black radicals stood at the center of these demonstrations. Advocates of Black Power would ultimately transform American democratic institutions through gritty, often provocative, street demonstrations, campus takeovers and community organizing that challenged entrenched black leadership as much as government officials.

Four decades have passed since King was cut down by an assassin’s bullet on Thursday, April 4, 1968. It’s worth remembering how King’s post-’65 push for economic justice, critique against the Vietnam War, and efforts to galvanize the nation’s poor stood, in part, as a response to criticism from black militants.

The years between the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision calling for desegregation and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act are popularly recalled as the heroic period of civil rights struggle. In scholarly and popular histories this era is most often evoked by a collage of images that begins with a black woman holding a newspaper sign announcing the Brown decision; moves to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King being arrested for participating in the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama; stops briefly to show federal troops protecting black students in Little Rock, Arkansas; before jumping ahead to dramatic pictures of racial terror in Birmingham that include stark footage of black civil rights demonstrators being attacked by German shepherds and fire hoses. King’s August 1963 March on Washington speech becomes the centerpiece of this newsreel style version of history.

But there is another side to this story that is often left untold, but crucial to understanding contemporary black politics. During the same decade that cast King in the spotlight, black radicals, led by Malcolm X, confronted American democracy’s jagged edges of poverty, police brutality, poor schools, unemployment, and an emerging urban crisis through bruising protests in places such as Harlem, Detroit, and Los Angeles. While critical of the civil rights movement’s focus on desegregating public accommodations and what many considered its overemphasis on the power of the vote, many of these Northern militants drew inspiration from these struggles and simultaneously participated in both movements. Early Black Power radicals, most notably Malcolm X, drew strength and power from the international arena, paying particularly close attention to the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia, Ghanaian independence in 1957 and the Cuban Revolution of 1959. When Fidel Castro came to Harlem in 1960, the first leader he met with was Malcolm X. In February of 1961 what several years later would become known as Black Power made its national debut via an organized demonstration at the United Nations in protest against the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In 1966 Stokely Carmichael, a young civil rights organizer who had done impressive work in some of the most dangerous parts of the South, gave name to a pre-existing movement by calling for “Black Power” in the heat of the Mississippi Delta. Black Power would galvanize black radicals, but quickly came under fire—then and now—for advocating what critics argued was a racially separatist philosophy that promoted anti-white feeling, fomented violence, and reeked of sexism. In truth, while certain Black Power activists were guilty as charged, the major strains of the movement represented a far more nuanced and radical critique of American society. Black Power activists harbored a deep cynicism regarding the ability of American democracy to be extended to African Americans. Carmichael’s pursuit of political, economic and cultural power came only after suffering years of physical violence and abuse at the hands or ordinary white citizens while trying to promote voting rights among sharecroppers.

1968 was also the year of the Black Panthers, perhaps the most enduring symbol of Black Power era radicalism. Contemporary mythology surrounding the Panthers focuses on the group’s bravado, flashy clothes, guns, and fiery polemics that advocated an armed confrontation against the state. Less well remembered is the fact that co-founder and minister of defense Huey P. Newton was a college student and an ex-con, a young organizer who cared deeply about the survival of the black community. On this score, the Black Panthers launched a host of “survival programs” during their relatively brief (1966-1982) existence that focused on bread and butter issues, including health care, decent housing, food, clothes and the treatment of prisoners.

The Panthers were, in fact, simply the most spectacular manifestation of the Black Power era’s call for radical democracy. Black college and high school students from New York City to Greensboro, North Carolina out to San Francisco successfully transformed university curriculums and founded Black Studies programs and departments around the nation. Trade unionists in Detroit and other cities attempted to organize workers caucuses to challenge the entrenched racism of white-controlled unions. Led by Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and many others, the Black Arts Movement re-imagined the very contours of blackness through poetry, prose, theater, dance, music and style. Black feminists challenged sexism both in the society and in the Black Power movement itself, arguing for a more inclusive vision of Black Power that promoted a human rights agenda. Welfare mothers from New York City to Las Vegas dreamed of a guaranteed income and, when Dr. King met with them to encourage their participation in the Poor People’s Campaign, they lectured him on the intricacies of public policy. Finally, hundreds of thousands of ordinary local people backed a new generation of black politicians and successfully elected them as mayors of a range of urban cities in the 1960s through the early 1980s, including Cleveland, Gary (Indiana), Newark, Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Barack Obama is a direct beneficiary of this rich and varied legacy. As late as Harold Washington’s historic 1983 mayoral victory in Chicago and Jesse Jackson’s robust 1984 presidential campaign, the Black Power legacy infused black political protest, organizing and even electoral politics. Black Power’s impact was of course often blunted by the media’s refusal to acknowledge its continued existence after the mid-1970s. But something happened to black politics in the post-Black Power era, perhaps best exemplified by Jesse Jackson’s own meteoric rise from insurgent outsider to the most recognizable black power broker within Democratic Party circles. Jackson’s route followed a trajectory taken by venerable activists such as Andrew Young, John Lewis and other civil rights veterans who came to define King’s increasingly radical dream as accommodation with powerful white neo-liberals.

Jackson’s endorsement of Obama notwithstanding, the aging civil rights cadre has repudiated Obama because he threatens to cut them out of their cozy deals as intermediaries between the Democratic Party establishment and the black community. But from Black Power’s legacy we have been given Barack Obama, an intelligent, handsome and inspiring politician whose blackness has become a source of his racially transcendent appeal. Yet, when we take a closer look, Obama has all the trappings of a strong, if closeted, race man, complete with a lovely black wife, two beautiful black daughters and membership in a black church that is unabashedly Afrocentric. Until recently, Obama appeared to be more of the leader of a movement than a bona fide presidential candidate. A victory in the Iowa caucuses changed that and the Clinton campaign launched a series of racially coded, but still patently obvious, lines of attack through various proxies that brought up Obama’s substance abuse as a young man, slurred his anti-war record as a “fairy-tale,” and impugned Dr. King’s legacy by asserting that it took Lyndon Johnson to actually pass civil rights legislation. These attacks have successfully served the Clintons’ Machiavellian purposes: to out Barack Obama as a black candidate. They are also reminiscent, in their own way, of the worst kind of racial pandering engaged in by the Democratic Party’s southern wing during the post-Reconstruction era. While certainly not as blatant as Alabama governor George Wallace’s infamous “segregation then, segregation now and segregation forever” statement, the impact of the Clinton campaign’s racial politicking is similar: it casts racial difference as un-American, subversive, and a threat to the very foundations of the nation’s democracy. But, even as it successfully positions Hillary Clinton to win the party’s nomination, this strategy may have crippling long-term repercussions. As black Americans become increasingly aware of the Clinton campaign’s ugly efforts to racially swift boat Obama’s candidacy, there could be a backlash among African American voters come November.

By playing the race card, the Clintons have successfully pivoted the Democratic primary away from substantive political issues (e.g., the war in Iraq) and turned it into a debate over which oppressed group (blacks or women) deserves the nomination. Gloria Steinem’s New York Times op-ed piece, published in the aftermath of Clinton’s loss in Iowa, set the tone for this storyline, arguing that black men had received the right to vote fifty years before white women while conveniently ignoring that most blacks could not exercise that right until 1965 because of racial apartheid in the South. Predictably, as attacks by prominent white politicians and ex-president Bill Clinton on Obama mount, the black community has rallied with the latent sense of nationalism that is always bubbling beneath the surface. For all intents and purposes, Obama has now been outed as a black candidate, the very moniker his entire campaign had successfully avoided. By promoting a robust version of the American Dream, albeit in Technicolor, Obama’s campaign had heretofore avoided that perception.

This need not be the political Achilles heel that many might imagine. After all, contrary to popular opinion, the Black Power Movement fought for bread and butter issues that made an impact on the lives of all Americans, including good public schools, decent housing, healthcare and gainful employment. While activists looked for racially specific solutions to problems rooted in slavery, a variety of multi-ethnic and racial groups looked to the movement as a broad template for social and political justice goals. In this sense, contemporary discussion of multiculturalism and diversity are rooted in the radically democratic ethos of the Black Power era. Obama has recently come under attack for comments suggesting that Ronald Reagan’s presidency reflected a deeper more substantive change in America than Nixon or Clinton. I absolutely concur, even as I vehemently object to the Reagan era’s acceleration of black poverty, incarceration and misery. Reagan’s presidency in many ways represented a counter-revolution to the search for “land, peace, bread, and justice” advocated by the Black Panthers. Obama’s legacy is still unfolding before our eyes. Ironically, the key to achieving the broad, racially transcendent impact that his soaring rhetoric aspires towards may lie in lessons taught by a Black Power Movement whose legacy Obama is unlikely to ever publicly claim.

Print About the Author

Peniel E. Joseph is associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. He is the author of the award-winning Waiting Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (Holt, 2006) and editor of The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era (Routledge, 2006). A native New Yorker (and former Brooklyn resident), he is writing a biography of activist Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).

Rapper 50 Cent and Nobel Prize Winner Expect Barack Obama to be Assassinated

Dr. Boyce Watkins

When 50 Cent says something, most of us don’t listen. As a hip hop fan, I don’t even listen to his music anymore, since it has gotten extraordinarily whack. But when a Nobel Prize Winner agrees with him, that makes you do a double-take.

When asked why he supports Senator Hillary Clinton, 50 Cent (I referred to him as “Fiddy” when we discussed him on CNN and BET) had this to say: “I don’t think America’s ready to have a black president. I think they might kill him.”

“Fiddy” is no stranger to assassination. He was shot 9 times in one outing, and to his credit, he was able to walk away. As some of my friends in hip hop would say, “That’s gangsta.” But 50 Cent’s presumption that Obama should not be supported because he might get killed came off a little silly. Most of us just laughed, since 50 Cent is not exactly known for political punditry.

But “Fiddy” was not alone. Nobel Prize Winner Doris Lessing, who seems to be pretty hardcore herself, was also rapping about the idea that Barack Obama may not last in the White House.

Lessing felt that Obama “would certainly not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would murder him,” said the 88 year old British author.

Wow, 50 Cent is now speaking in lip synch with Nobel Prize Winners. That’s uhhhh….interesting. It also appears, ironically, that 50 Cent was the visionary in all this analysis, since he said it first. That’s as scary as Rush Limbaugh, a high school graduate and recovering drug addict, becoming the intellectual leader of the Conservative Republicans. But given the depth of conservative Republican arguments, that is hardly surprising.

I have admittedly defended 50 Cent in multiple venues and I don’t regret one word of it. I consider him to be a different kind of genius, the kind that is able to come out of a house full of drug abusers and addicts and still make a Vitamin Water Deal that netted him half a billion dollars. Most of us would not be able to accomplish that, especially after getting shot 9 times.

But I must take “Fiddy” and Ms. Lessing to task on their joint speculation.
Obama could be shot, I agree. After all, he patterns himself after John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, both of whom are six feet under as we speak. But the notion that this additional risk implies that Mr. Obama should back off the White House excludes one critical fact: This history-making run for the White House is not about Barack Obama.

The Barack Obama movement is not about one man. He is deservedly considered to be the leader who reminded us of a greater purpose. However, a movement of this magnitude is NEVER about one person. It is about the millions here and abroad whose lives will be impacted if Obama gets to the White House and does the right thing.
Notice that I used the word “if”.

I agree with my friends Marc Lamont Hill and Roland Martin, who seem to feel that none of us knows what Obama is going to do until he has done it. Anyone who follows politics knows that a politician can tell a lie and the truth at the same time, all while eating a slice of pizza. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are master politicians and neither would be successful at their craft if they were not.

But to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, the truth is that he has sparked a political forest fire. The fire is burning with hope, passion, dreams and desires of a country that is ready for something better. One undeniable truth is that the fire is much bigger than the match that started it. King and Kennedy realized this, and so does Barack Obama.

50 Cent, in his blinged out world, may not have thought about these issues and I forgive him for not being hip to what’s going on. But as they say in hip hop, “If you don’t know, then act like you know”. “Fiddy” and Lessing have now been educated.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a finance professor at Syracuse University and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” He does regular work in national media, including CNN, FOX, ESPN, CBS and BET.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Barack Obama: Not My Kind of Hope- Dr. Marc Lamont Hill

From the beginning of his presidential campaign, which unofficially began with the release of his second book The Audacity of Hope, Senator Barack Obama has been positioned as an underdog against the Clinton machine. Now, with polls showing him in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Hillary Clinton, the media has constructed his early success as a David-over-Goliath narrative that proves that ordinary people have the power to slay the beast that is Washington through a radical politics of hope. Unfortunately, the Obama campaign has perverted the concept of hope by wedding it to a dangerous politics of compromise, concession and cunning.

Within the black faith tradition that Obama appeals to, hope is the belief that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, our circumstances can be transformed into something previously unimaginable. It is this notion of hope—coupled with organized resistance from the people catching the most hell—that led to the end of slavery, Jim Crow, and apartheid. In Obama's corporate-sponsored universe of meaning, however, hope is not the predicate for radical social change, but an empty slogan that allows for a slick repackaging of the status quo.

After Obama's recent success with white voters, particularly his win in Iowa, many have announced America's transition into a post-racial moment. Even Obama himself has claimed that race will no longer prevent the fair-minded citizenry from supporting his bid. In reality, however, an Obama presidency is already being treated as a racial talisman that would instantly heal the scars of a nation wounded by racism.

For whites, an Obama victory would serve as the final piece of evidence that America has reached full racial equality. Such a belief allows them to sidestep mounds of evidence that shows that, despite Obama's claims that "we are 90 percent of the way to equality," black people remain consistently assaulted by the forces by white supremacy. For many black people, Obama's success would provide symbolic value by showing that the black man (not woman!) can make it to the top. Although black faces in high places may provide psychological comfort, they are often incorporated into a Cosbyesque gospel of personal responsibility ("Obama did it, so can you!") that allows dangerous public policies to go unchallenged.

Despite its convoluted racial logic, the election of Obama would still be acceptable if his policies were properly aligned with a leftist agenda. Unfortunately, Obama has clung to a rigid centrism that is incompatible with full-scale social change. Despite his claims of being a peace candidate, Obama has repeatedly expressed a commitment to ramping up military and continuing the presidential legacy of using war as an instrument of foreign policy. Although he opposes the war in Iraq, Obama refuses to vote against its funding.

While Obama supports health care for all Americans, he does not embrace a universal single-payer system that would effectively undermine private corporate interests. At the same time that he bemoans the loss of jobs and expansion of global poverty, Obama fails to denounce free trade agreements and extols the virtues economic globalization. In addition, Obama has been conspicuously silent on topics such as the prison industrial complex, the Zionist occupation of Palestine, and the economic underdevelopment of Africa.

In the face of a black electorate that still craves messianic leadership, Obama has skillfully positioned himself as the Martin Luther King of his generation. Unlike King, however, Obama does not aim to disrupt the fundamental structure of society. Rather than dismantling the triple threat of global racism, poverty, and militarism that King warned against, Obama has promoted a doctrine of compromise that is self-serving rather than strategic, milquetoast rather than pragmatic. As opposed to Dr. King, whose legacy has been promiscuously appropriated by his ideological opponents after his death, Obama has freely offered himself up to the enemies of the Left by attaching few material stakes to his grandiose moral and political vision.

Many people, including some of his critics, have come to Obama's defense by claiming that his progressive half-stepping is an inevitable part of national politics. Others have argued that, despite his shortcomings, Obama is still the best choice among the remaining democratic field. While such claims may be true, they prove that Obama is merely the most attractive in a group of political siblings rather than the revolutionary outsider that he's portrayed to be. Unfortunately, Obama isn't selling himself as the best of the pack, but as an entirely new breed of candidate.

To believe that Obama is a Kucinich leftist rather than a Clinton centrist is to ignore his own expressed positions. To believe that the world will be markedly improved after an Obama presidency is to ignore the structure of corporate-controlled politics. To believe that Obama is prepared to address the fundamental structure of our political system is to ignore his own investment in it. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Barack Obama is asking us to do: vote for him as a change maker against all evidence to the contrary. That sounds more like the hope of audacity than the audacity of hope.

Marc Lamont Hill is assistant professor of urban education and American studies at Temple University.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Yes We Can

Si, Se Puede!

Happy Black History Month everyone! And in the spirit of we who have historically and consistently made a way out of no way, let us take a moment to think on the fact that this year we have our first viable African American presidential candidate. Sen. Obama's candidacy allows even the most cynical of us to believe in the promise of our country - that all (wo)men are created equal. When Carter G. Woodson launched what became Black History Month - Negro History Week back in 1926 could he have foreseen that 78 years later we would have a real opportunity to vote a black man into the White House? Could Fredrick Douglass have known when he was the first black man to campaign for the presidency that he was blazing the trail for a Senator from Illinois to come behind him? Could our ancestors who toiled on the cotton fields of the American South have known that one day another person of African decent would run to lead the nation that made it legal to hold them as chattel propety?

I believe that Barack Obama's candidacy is part of the dream of those who have come before - Ida B., Fannie Lou, Medgar, Bayard and the countless foot soldiers lost in the annals of history.

Obama understands in the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, "the fierce urgency of now". And on Super Tuesday and Beyond lets let the old guard know that our day is today and that yes, indeed, we can.

Was Hillary Clinton Aligned with a Racist?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

Senator Barack Obama has sent Hillary Clinton’s camp into a panic. The Internet generation, with the wide accessibility of information, has put her image into a tailspin. The more we dig into Hillary’s past, the more clearly we can see what the Clinton’s have brought to Black America.

I also remain cautiously optimistic about Barack Obama, and only time will tell what kind of leader he will become. But my concerns about Hillary Clinton came a couple of years ago, during a conversation I had with one of her top advisors. Since I advocate for black males, the advisor asked me to help Senator Clinton round up African-American men who don’t normally vote so they could support the benevolent politician as she charged forward to The White House. Barack Obama didn’t yet exist, so the idea of actually having a black man representing black men was out of the question.

Quite honestly, the awkward conversation made me feel the way a Freshman sorority girl feels when the drunken, horny frat boy says “I will love you forever” (as he slowly unzips her pants). They wanted something from me, and my gut said that black men would move back down the priority list right after Senator Clinton’s crew had been satisfied.

Hillary Clinton wants votes. She knows how to get them. She wants to be President of the United States. Barack Obama has become a nuisance. Mrs. Clinton has wanted to be president since she was a child, even choosing the right husband to get the job done. I respect a focused person, I really do.

The problem is that Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill have ridden to prosperity, in large part, on the backs of black people. These are the same black people who may or may not be aware of the Clinton path to political success. We see the Clintons in black churches, smacking on barbecue chicken, playing the saxophone with sun glasses and saying “You go girl” in the middle of their speeches. But looking at the Clintons’ past reveals something entirely different.

Hillary Clinton, when trying to prove that she is every bit as black as Barack Obama, often mentions her deep involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. She regularly speaks of listening to Martin Luther King and how it moved her to fight for racial equality. Barack Obama was a baby in 1963, so he was only fighting in the struggle against mandatory potty training.

In Hillary’s words, she was not being potty trained, but involving herself in a dogfight for African American freedom: “As a young woman, I had the great privilege of hearing Dr. King speak in Chicago. The year was 1963. My youth minister from our church took a few of us down on a cold January night to hear [King]. . . . And he called on us, he challenged us that evening to stay awake during the great revolution that the civil rights pioneers were waging on behalf of a more perfect union.”

If Senator Clinton was so deeply moved by Dr. Martin Luther King, then why was she so closely aligned with Senator Barry Goldwater, a known racist and one of the few Senators who opposed passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Martin Luther King gave his life to get this law passed, and it would seem that anyone so moved by King’s legacy would not be one of the greatest supporters of one of Martin Luther King’s greatest enemies.

The truth is this: In 1963, Hillary Clinton was a Republican. But knowing Hillary Clinton, she wasn’t just any Republican. She was President of the Young Republican Organization at Wellesley College and an overwhelming supporter of Senator Barry Goldwater. Barry Goldwater did not like African Americans, and he especially hated Martin Luther King Jr.

In her memoirs, Hillary Clinton describes herself as 'an active Young Republican' and 'a Goldwater girl, right down to my cowgirl outfit.'
OK. Perhaps there is some small chance that while attending his "radical" Islamic Kindergarten (the one that Hillary’s camp warned us about), Barack Obama was also Goldwater Girl. But I doubt it. A self-proclaimed “Goldwater Girl” doesn’t sound like someone who was standing with Dr. Martin Luther King in his fight for Civil Rights. When you align yourself with someone who is directly aligned AGAINST Martin Luther King, then I would argue that you are pretty much anti-King, and anti-Civil Rights.

The truth of the matter is that Hillary Clinton’s camp never thought Barack Obama would be a threat. She never expected African Americans to start asking the hard questions, since we usually ask the easy ones. Perhaps she felt that she could continue to deceive people of color and that none of us would ever actually read her memoirs. Barack Obama was sure to be similar to Jesse Jackson, who ran a very powerful campaign, but was not quite able to transcend race and obtain such overwhelming support from Americans of many backgrounds.

Even more telling is the fact that Hillary Clinton asked Wellesley College to seal her Senior Thesis and make it unavailable to the public. Every Senior Thesis written at Wellesley for the past 100 years has been made available, except for the one written by Senator Clinton. If we can question what Kindergarten Barack Obama attended, then perhaps we should have the right to read Hillary Clinton’s Senior Thesis. Maybe we can all learn to become “Goldwater Girls”, since that seems to be the best way to celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy.

Last month, Barack Obama, still a black man (as he was in 1963), raised more money than any other presidential candidate in American history. The amount, $32 Million dollars, was so great that the Clinton camp refused to release its own numbers. This reminds me of episodes of Animal Planet, when the lion’s roar is so strong, the other animals just whimper, drop their heads and slowly walk away.

Clinton’s alliance with Goldwater is not just disturbing because of the racism. It also reminds us of the ruthlessness of many American politicians. When hearing the annoying bark of a nearby French poodle, Barry Goldwater yelled "Throw that damn dog in the incinerator and turn it on!" When asked who the dog belonged to, Goldwater replied, "No – my wife's. We're waiting for him to die."

These words might remind some of the morally reprehensible actions of Michael Vick. Instead, the words remind me of one of Goldwater’s staunchest, proudest and most ruthless supporters, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and the author of "What if George Bush were a Black Man?" He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, ESPN, CBS, BET and other networks. For more information, please visit