Friday, August 29, 2008

Your Black World: Black Scholars Have Stern Words For Obama

Princeton professor and Bennett College president debate the Democratic Party acceptance speech of Sen. Barack Obama. Drs. Julianne Malveaux and Cornel West seem to agree on Barack Obama's indubitable avoidance of race-related issues, even with the memory of Dr. King's infamous "I Have A Dream Speech" lurking in the background:

Tavis: We are live here once again in Denver following Barack Obama's acceptance speech before a crowd of more than 70,000 people. I'm pleased to be joined tonight by Princeton Professor Cornel West, whose forthcoming book is called "Hope on a Tightrope," and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women - get that right - and a syndicated columnist. Glad to have you both on the program.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux: Good to be here, Tavis.

Dr. Cornel West: It's a blessing.

Tavis: Doc, let me start with you. Two docs - Dr. Malveaux, let me start with you. So much hype; so much build-up on this clearly historic night, historic moment. Did he deliver?

Malveaux: Not at all. My heart's broken, actually. I hoped to hear more about Dr. King. As we've talked about before we came on, I hoped to hear more about the poverty numbers, about the third anniversary of Katrina, but also hoped to have this brother hit one out of the park. We have been treated this week to phenomenal speeches.

Hillary Clinton was incandescent. I think she did everything she was supposed to do. Bill Clinton, we all went into Bill's speech, President Clinton's speech with apprehension, knowing of all the rumors of tension, and yet he did exactly what he had to do. He said have you ever heard about inexperience, he's too young? That was me. He made the connect that everybody wanted him to make.

And so you know the tableaux being set up, and it's almost as if this great master rhetoritician who had us spellbound in 2004 stumbled. But beyond stumbling, that he could not mention the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that Dr. King was reduced to some preacher from Georgia, is just a disappointment.

Tavis: Dr. West, did he try too hard?

West: Well, I think part of the problem is is that it's hard to ignore history in memory, and when you do, you're not empowered as you should. Because we do want to acknowledge the degree to which this is a historic moment, unprecedented - Black man, nominated to be presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. We salute Brother Barack, we salute the Democratic Party, all of those who've struggled.

Myself, I spent a whole lot of time trying to make sure the brother gained the nomination, and I will continue to fight to gain the election. But at the same time, it's clear that when you run from history, you run from memory, it's hard to be empowered to change history to create a better future and to build on memory so that this becomes a great memory itself in the future.

Tavis: Unpack what you mean by that for a moment. You say run from history, run from memory. You mean what?

West: Well, I mean no mention of Martin, no mention of the Black freedom movement. It made Sister Hillary to talk about Harriet Tubman.

Malveaux: Come on.

West: Feeling it, you see? But it's not just mention of Martin, but it's a mention of all of those who struggled so much and sacrificed so much, understanding the weight of the legacy of White supremacy in America, and seeing this Black man, now a nominee of the Democratic Party? That's a beautiful thing.

Tavis: But Dr. Malveaux -

West: It needs to be at least acknowledged.

Malveaux: But he couldn't use the terms White supremacy.

West: No, he don't have to do - I can use that. He doesn't need to use that.

Malveaux: No, but he -

West: But he should be able to acknowledge and affirm all of the sacrifice that has gone in for him to be where he is.

Malveaux: What I'm saying is while he didn't have to use the terms White supremacy, he could have said Fannie Lou Hamer. He could have said Fanny - you can invoke, you can throw a card on the table. Tavis, one of the things that he did do - let's look at what he did do. He did lay out his policy agenda.

West: Right.

Malveaux: He did make it clear what he was about. He did talk about what he was going to do, and so we'll give him credit for that. I think he also was very noble in what he said he would not do with McCain, in terms of talking about not going around with politics of personal destruction, he would not make patriotism a partisan issue. I think those were very important lines to have.

But we have memorable lines that came out of Michelle's speech, that came out of Hillary Clinton's speech, they came out - what do we have from that? Not a whole lot; and it's almost as if what Reverend Jackson has said, as if there's a baton that had been passed from Dr. King, Reverend Jackson, to Barack Obama. I think Reverend Jackson has been very gracious in talking about the passing of the baton. But I think the brother dropped the historical baton, if he carried the policy (unintelligible).

Tavis: If he had done what Drs. Malveaux and West suggest that he should have done, might he have been accused of being too Black? I can hear some Black folk watching right now, say, "But Dr. Malveaux, Dr. West, you don't get it. He can't be the Black president. We know what this day is all about, but he can't put that out there like that on this night."

Malveaux: If Joe Biden can mention Martin Luther King, how come he couldn't?

West: But the probably is this, too, Tavis, that the Black freedom movement is at the core of American democracy. It has been the major means by which democratic possibilities have expanded for every citizen. So you can't think that somehow you're being American by holding blackness somehow invisible or subordinate.

You see, Louis Armstrong is as American as Frank Sinatra. We love both of them. So why is it that we have to engage in a disappearing act when you talk about America? What's wrong with mentioning Brother Martin as well as Abraham Joshua Heschel or mentioning a Dorothy Day? It's America across the board. It's just not what we looked like. Our contributions is so fundamental in terms of what we sacrificed.

Malveaux: Yeah, I agree with Cornel completely. The fact is that he basically perpetrated a whitewash of our history, and I will use those terms - a whitewash.

Tavis: That's a strong statement, that he perpetrated a whitewash of our history.

Malveaux: It's a strong statement that I stand by, Tavis, and I'm a Democrat - a loyal Democrat. We've all spent time being very, very enthralled by the possibilities. And what I've been intrigued by with Barack Obama as a possibility, when we saw the cameras pan on the brothers and sisters and the White folks in the audience, and what I saw was a yearning.

People wanted him to bring it. People wanted him to bring it. Nobody wanted him to come as less than. We have seen every commentator in the books, from the Republicans to the Democrats, CNN, MSNBC, to PBS, everyone else, talk about this historic day, and yet the nominee cannot?

We have seen people talk about this policy. Hillary Rodham Clinton. You've seen everybody talk about the meaning. There is such meaning here, and the meaning has been squandered. It's like ashes on the ground.

Tavis: Let me ask you, Dr. West, whether or not you think that Black people - they obviously heard the speech - ain't nobody deaf; we heard the speech.

West: Oh, yes.

Tavis: Do you think Black folk felt the speech? And I ask that because I was expecting that camera to pan that audience of 70,000 folk tonight, and I all week had been preparing for Black folk to be in tears, feeling that moment, emoting about what this meant, and especially on this day. Those cameras panned throughout, and I didn't see the tears.

Malveaux: No, they cried - wait, they cried for Hillary and they cried yesterday when the nomination (unintelligible). And that's the contrast.

Tavis: They cried at the acclimation.

Malveaux: They cried then and the tears were coming from Hillary's supporters and Obama's supporters. They cried at the moment. There was nothing to cry about here.

West: I cried when they showed Michelle Obama's mama.

Malveaux: Mm-hmm.

West: I cried when Ted Kennedy came out.

Malveaux: Yes.

West: Now, I didn't cry with the brother from Montana, but I was moved by him. (Laughter) You see what I mean?

Malveaux: The brother from Montana didn't want you to cry.

West: And I was deeply moved by Joseph Biden's mama.

Malveaux: Yes.

West: But I think that the Obama people self-consciously said, "We don't want that kind of speech. We know Brother Barack can do it. We know he can do it." They're trying to escape from history, appeal to the White center, and in doing that, I hope they don't lose the wind at their back. You can't change the world without acknowledging a tradition (unintelligible) memory and history.


Tavis: But to Doc's point though, where are these Black folk going to go? Even if they didn't feel it and he didn't hit a home run tonight for Black people, where they going to go?

Malveaux: Well, they're going to go either to the polls or they're going to stay home.

West: But we're still going to support the brother. (Unintelligible)

Malveaux: But Cornel, here's the issue about supporting. What you've seen with a number of people, people want this brother to succeed. However, you've got to get the enthusiasm; you've got to engage people. And unless some things are done to engage the base, I mean the African-American base, I mean the progressive base, I mean the youth base, what you're going to have is the sisters who would have walked 10 precincts who are now going to walk two. You're going to have the person who would have given $2,300 and now might give $23 or $100, $150, or something like that. The student who would have been spending the two weeks before November canvassing who's now going to spend a couple of days. And so what that speech did was it tamped down and muted enthusiasm.

Tavis: But maybe the history -

Malveaux: But not just Black enthusiasm, Tavis.

Tavis: I got it. But maybe the history of the moment can override all of that.

Malveaux: Perhaps. Perhaps. But at the same time, I don't think that we can afford - what we see right now is that McCain has been defining Obama. This was Obama's moment to define McCain. What we typically look for at the end of a convention is some post-convention bounce. McCain has already cut that significantly by saying he'll announce his vice president tomorrow. So given that, we have no bounce. This is a very close election.

West: He could have said McCain opposed the civil rights bill; McCain looks as if he was even supporting Jim Crow. Jim Crow's terrorism. McCain - why you didn't say nothing in 1963, when people were struggling that way?

Malveaux: He didn't -

Tavis: Let me jump in. I'm sorry; I hate to cut this off. This conversation, as you can see, just getting started. There'll be all kinds of analysis inside Black America and all across the country, as I can imagine, over the next few hours and the next few days.

Dr. Malveaux, thank you for being here.

Malveaux: Pleasure, always.

Tavis: I know you've got to get back to Bennett and take care of the sisters.

Malveaux: Absolutely.

Click for source

Monday, August 25, 2008

Your Black World: What About the Black Community America?

By Peniel E. Joseph,

What About the Black Community America?

A front page story in today's New York Times explores the way in which Barack Obama's presidential candidacy has precipitated excitement and anxiety among African Americans underscores the way in which race continues
to contour the dynamics of this historic election. Obama's march to the Democratic Party's presidential nomination has produced what I call "racial vertigo" in the United States and beyond. Racial vertigo is characterized by a profound inability to comprehend historic events and phenomena due to the way in which they upend pre-conceived notions of America's color-line. This is to say that the prospect and promise of Barack Obama being elected America's first black president has dramatically transformed the national political landscape in ways that continue to defy analysis. In America, what the pre-eminent black intellectual of the twentieth century--W.E.B. Du Bois--called "double-consciousness" cuts both ways. Du Bois defined "double-consciousness" as the tightrope between American citizenship and black marginalization that African Americans faced. Famously, Du Bois wrote of a "veil" or wall that separated blacks and whites in a world where skin color shaped social, political, and economic reality. The color-line imposed its will on white folk as well, allowing them to embrace an identity that, in large measure, defined itself as anti-black. This fiction was backed by an elaborate mythology that used popular culture, public policy, and, as a last resort, racial terror to rationalize black oppression. Racial vertigo distorts these deeply ingrained assumptions that shape the hopes, dreams, ambitions, potential, and imagination of all Americans.

Obama's dramatic primary battle against Hilary Clinton revealed stark racial and gender cleavages within the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole. In his two best-selling books, Dream From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, Obama expressed a romantic admiration for 1960s era civil rights heroes and a generational fatigue with the cultural wars that continue to
remain one of that decade's most enduring legacies. Many of Clinton's most ardent supporters participated in these culture wars and are openly skeptical of Obama's candidacy. Although couched in terms of Obama's perceived lack of political experience, such women offer up telling examples of the effects of racial vertigo. Many of these women view Obama as the
worse kind of example of Affirmative Action, where America's vicious legacy of racism trumps what they view as an even more pernicious and enduring gender inequality. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem lobbed the first salvo in this discourse, arguing that Obama's gender made his candidacy possible in a provocative New York Times op-ed that distorted the nation's tragic legacy of racism and sexism by arguing that blacks received the right to vote fifty years before women, while conveniently forgetting that most African Americans could not vote until 1965. Geraldine Ferraro, former congresswoman and the 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, ratcheted up this line of attack further by suggesting that Obama's race proved to be his major asset among a media and public enthralled by the voguish notion of racial identity. When critics objected, Ferraro hurled allegations of reverse racism and displayed a spirit of entitlement and seething anger at black advancement that echoed the passionate white response to Boston's busing crisis of the early 1970s.

Such attacks, of course, proved to be a double-edged sword. As noted scholar and public intellectual Boyce Watkins has observed, Bill Clinton helped make Obama a political "king" through his ill-advised comparison of the Illinois junior senator to civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. Billionaire entrepreneur Bob Johnson and Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangle inadvertently contributed to Obama's ascent through equally impolitic assertions that brought up Obama's admitted past drug abuse. Cumulatively, explicit and implicit racial attacks against Obama galvanized unprecedented black support. The candidate who, at the beginning of 2007, faced blunt questions about his racial authenticity has evolved into the most popular and
universally beloved black public figure since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obama's soaring popularity has stoked hopes, dreams, and fears about the transformative power of his candidacy. Liberals, neo-liberals, and conservative magazines, newspapers, and journals (ranging from the New York Times to Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report) have openly wondered whether Obama's extraordinary ability to attract white voters in the Democratic primaries illustrated America's evolution into a "post-racial" phase of national politics. From this perspective, white voters' embrace of Obama during the January 2008 Iowa caucuses signaled a watershed moment in America's racial history.

More provocatively, some have suggested that Obama's election as president could signal the "end of black politics." In this narrative Obama's ability to situate himself as a candidate who happened to be black, rather than the black candidate, is evidence of the decline of identity politics among black elected officials. Fresh political faces, including Massachusetts Governor
Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, are touted as post-racial elected officials whose appeal transcends the explicitly racial identifications of the civil rights-Black Power era.

Contemporary events have complicated both of these arguments. Obama's difficulty in attracting white working-class voters in Ohio and Pennysylvania, coupled with the explicitly racial tint of Clinton's victories in Kentucky and West Virginia belied notions of a post-racial American political landscape. The raging controversy over Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, dominated media attention and threatened to undermine the candidate's universal appeal. Ironically, faced with the toughest political test of his career, Obama responded with his most forceful, eloquent, and thoughtful statement on race. Obama's speech, "Toward a More Perfect Union," came closest to outlining the litany of historical ills and contemporary burdens that plague the African American community. At the same time, he leavened this criticism by empathizing with the fears and concerns white Americans have about black people in general
and, by proxy, his own groundbreaking candidacy. In the aftermath of this widely discussed speech journalists and commentators predicted a renewed national conversation about race on a level unseen since the 1960s. Obama's campaign however, quickly dropped this controversial subject in favor of more unifying themes focused on the bread and butter economic issues facing the vast majority of the electorate.

The black community's overwhelming support for Obama has been tempered by this complex political landscape. Nationally, media pundits and journalist have interpreted Obama's individual political success as a litmus test for America's racial progress. Such a formula confuses Obama's iconic run for the presidency as positive proof of the end of institutional racism. In effect it substitutes individual achievement for collective racial progress. Certainly African Americans have embraced Obama's candidacy with a mixture of pride, admiration, and anxiety at witnessing history unfurling before their eyes. Obama's candidacy may in fact be one of the few points of unity between the civil rights and Hip Hop generation. Both groups, for different reasons, admire Obama's confidence, self-determination, and sense of style. Obama's candidacy also reflects a watershed of sorts, in terms of individual achievement in American society, one built on barriers broken during the civil rights era and by a host of entrepreneurial, sports, and entertainment figures. Yet the myth that Obama's ascent means the end of racism remains a
powerful allure of his candidacy. A host of social-economic indicators--from dramatic rates of AIDS/HIV, incarceration and poverty rates to income, wealth, educational and health care disparities--contradict this myth. Nonetheless, Obama's campaign continues to be interpreted by mainstream opinion makers as empirical proof of the declining significance of race.

Black leaders have reacted cautiously to the bold new racial and political landscape Obama's candidacy has seemingly ushered. Old guard civil rights leaders, unable to believe that the same nation that terrorized civil rights workers could actually elect a black man in their lifetime, enthusiastically supported Clinton's candidacy only to be chastened by history's spectacularly dramatic tide. Jesse Jackson, whose important 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns paved the way for a black president, publicly supported Obama but privately grumbled and inadvertently went on record castigating the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as "talking down
to black folks." Veteran civil rights activist, former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Chairman, and Georgia Congressman changed his support from Clinton to Obama after agonizing months of deliberation. Meanwhile, a new generation of black elected officials embraced Obama's themes of change. For this new cadre of black elected officials, claiming national political power in states, cities, and a nation dominated by a white electorate required a new political paradigm. Whereas racial solidarity led to the election of the first wave of African American officials ushered into office after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, this new guard touts individual achievement, intellectual ability, and political effectiveness in an effort to convey to white voters their ability to judiciously utilize political power. Finally, despite rumors of their demise, grassroots activists related to the Black Power era have offered perhaps the most stinging denunciations of Obama's candidacy. On August 1, 2008 an Obama rally in St. Petersburg, Florida, was disrupted by local black militants who held up a sign, "What About the Black Community, Obama?" Obama's reluctance to embrace a robust agenda for racial justice, urban renewal, and anti-poverty has left such activists fuming and embittered. Along with former representative Cynthia McKinney's third-party candidacy and the intellectual dissent of a small group of black scholars and activists, the St. Petersburg militants have expressed the most vocal opposition to Obama's candidacy.

The inability of such dissenting voices to be heard is unfortunate inasmuch as it reflects a lack of political maturity within national and African American politics. Obama's pursuit of political power has struck his radical critics as ruthless, even as they attempt, through their own more limited means, to gain political strength through organizing at the local level. The extraordinary numbers of African American willing to follow Obama rather than grassroots black militants illustrates the profound gulf that currently exists between radical rhetoric and reality. Ultimately, Obama's impact on black politics remains an unfolding historical process, one whose
reverberations continue to be felt at the local, national, and international level. Since only a future Obama administration can effectively answer the blunt question posed by young militants in St. Petersburg, perhaps the question should be rephrased as part of a national dialogue about race that instead asks: "What about the black community America?"

Peniel E. Joseph is associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. During the 2008-2009 academic year he will be a fellow at Harvard University's Charles Warren Center. Dr. Joseph is the award-winning author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. His forthcoming book is entitled, From Black Power to Barack Obama. He is a frequent national commentator on issues related race, civil rights, and democracy and is providing historical analysis for both the Democratic and Republican Conventions as part of PBS NewsHour.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Your Black World Interview With Financial Literacy Expert Bill Thomason

Interview with Financial Literacy Expert, Portfolio Manager and Author, Bill Thomason, by Tolu Olorunda.

William Thomason is a finance expert with nearly 20 years worth of experience. In his tenure as a financial-analyst, he has been quoted by well-known publications, such as, the Wall Street Journal, Barrons, Smart Money, CNBC, and other financial press. He was once named by Ebony Magazine, as "One of the Nation's 50 Leaders of the Future." His 2006 book entitled, "Make Money Work for You – Money Lessons from a Portfolio Manager," lays out patterns and examples worth following, in favor of accomplishing financial-liberation. Of all his acquisitions and feats, Thomason favors his dedication to the education of Black and Brown kids as most essential. He founded a program called, "Wall Street Wizards." Wall Street Wizards was primarily founded to be "a non-profit organization established to bring career opportunities and financial literacy to urban youth." I had the pleasure of speaking with Bill Thomason on his background, the concept and impact of financial illiteracy, the lessons of the recent Subprime mortgage crisis, financial-empowerment, and much more:

Thanks for joining us, Bill Thomason. Can you describe your path toward becoming a Financial Literacy Expert, and why you decided to pursue a career in finance?

Well, I’ve been in the investment business for close to 20 years. Within those years, I’ve been an investment manager, a portfolio manager, author of a book, and I also worked in private equity. It came down to me realizing that I am a Black man in an environment where there aren’t many people of color. I’m from an environment where people struggle financially every day. I was talking to a guy today, and he told me of how he went to a car dealership to buy a car, and he asked the salesman why he was advertising on a Black radio show. The salesman replied saying, “Those are the people who are dumb enough to come in and I can sell them whatever I want.” When you look at the Subprime mortgage crisis, that’s a result of people signing their name on something they had no idea about. That is financial illiteracy. They paid for houses they knew they couldn’t afford. So why am I doing this? That’s why. The Black and Brown people are the ones who get taken advantage of. I am about trying to create and teach Black and Brown people the ethics of money, investing and finance, so they can better take care of themselves.

As a result of that, do you think most African-Americans are financially illiterate?

Yep; and I say that because the statistics bear it out. We have high bankruptcy, 'jacked-up' credits, and all other symptoms that classify financial illiteracy. The symptoms of financial illiteracy are bad credit, stress, untimely deaths etc – and we have them. A lot of times, you can’t get a job if you have poor credit, and that breeds the stress which leads to the untimely deaths.

Can you explain the value of investing, and how one can begin investing, even at the lowest increment of income?

Well, I think we need to start putting money into investment vehicles; and there are plenty of them, such as stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and real estate. Historically, stock markets have done well; so history is on the side of the investor.

At what age can one realistically begin the investing procedure?

The truth is that the parent should start before the children are even before. But realistically, as soon as a child is old enough to ask for gifts, the child is equally old enough to learn about financial-literacy. We already have a lot of challenges in front of us as Black and Brown people; so we have to learn how to invest and put money aside -- just to survive.

You founded the program "Wall Street Wizards." What is its objective?

Well, it’s to teach inner-city kids about mathematics, finance, economics, investing and money-management; and to bring financial literacy to our community, so our kids can learn how to be financial stewards. We’re also giving them a lot of other skills in this program; I like to say it’s ‘a life-skill program disguised as a financial literacy program.’ We‘ve got about 60 kids total, in San Francisco and New York. We have two programs operating in both San Francisco and New York. We try to expose them to career opportunities such as, investment bankers, portfolio managers, venture capitalists and private equity.

Your 2006 book was “Make Money Work for You – Money Lessons from a Portfolio Manager." How can the meager wage earned by the majority of our people work for them?

Well, that’s why I wrote that book. In the very last chapter, I tell the story of a woman who started when she was 40 yrs old, and put away portions of her income till she was 80 yrs old. At 80 yrs old, she had amassed $23 million buying stocks. She bought stocks that she knew, and invested in them on a regular basis. There is something called dividend-reinvestment, that shows you can buy stocks without ever paying a commission, and then, the dividends become reinvested to buy the investor more stocks. The woman in particular had a 1-bedroom apartment in New York. She was making a decent living, but wasn’t rich. So putting away $10, $15, $50 or $100 a month would go a long way.

Do you profoundly believe that if Black people took the route you delineate, they can actually liberate themselves from financial-disempowerment?

Yes. The front page of my website says “creating financially empowered individuals and communities." When you’re financially empowered, you can help uplift your community. The statistics, according to 21cf, prove that the Black Community - on an individual basis - is more philanthropic than any other ethnic group. We are philanthropic by nature, but we don’t invest wisely.

Was this financial illiteracy you speak of, revealed in the calamity of Hurricane Katrina and the inability of Black people to rescue their own kinfolk?

That’s such a deep question, and just like in the tragedy of 911, there wasn’t much financial-stewardship and accountability to ensure the donations reached the victims. A lot of people received the funds allocated to them, but a lot of people also didn’t get nothing. My family is from New Orleans, and so, I’m well aware of this reality. When you watch some of the documentaries that were filmed after the flood, and the gross-mistreatment of the New Orleans residents, you’re startled. Financial literacy is an all encompassing value that must be taught to those who intend to manage their financial lives, and put their financial life together. Our community predominantly goes to check-cashing venues to cash their checks, but those places take out a percentage of their earnings.

You spoke earlier about the shortage of Black and Brown financial experts. Can that be looked upon as indicative in the recent financial mortgage meltdown?

Well, I think there is a shortage. I say, go to Wall Street and find out how many Black people are walking up and down the aisle; and that’s just an example. So yes, I think it played a part.

How can the recent mortgage meltdown be avoided next time?

Read. Unfortunately, the old saying goes, “If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.” We need to read; study and educate ourselves. If you’re well educated, you don’t listen to someone who tells you to put your name on a document you know you can’t afford. We also need to pay our bills on time, and live within our means.

Lastly, what is the most important advice that you hope to extend to the Black Community at-large?

In the 1960s, we realized it was about our Civil Rights – we needed to be able to vote, live where we wanted, and receive equitable wage vis-à-vis our white counterparts – and now we have to fight for our Economic Rights. With Economic Rights, we would become confident enough to own companies. Every kid in my program – Wall Street Wizards – owns stock in Coca Cola. They also go to Shareholder meetings. We now have the right to invest, own stocks and build businesses, and we have to claim that Right.

To donate to the righteous cause of Wall Street Wizards, pls. visit:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for

Monday, August 11, 2008

Your Black Writers: Unspeakable History - Peniel E. Joseph

By Peniel E. Joseph,

an assistant professor of Africana studies at SUNY Stony Brook and the author of "Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America"
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; Page C02


Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why

By Jabari Asim

Houghton Mifflin. 278 pp. $26

In an era when high-profile rappers, comedians and public intellectuals craft contorted defenses for the use of the word "nigger," Jabari Asim's "The N Word" provides an important, timely and much-needed critical intervention about this enduringly controversial subject. Beyond a simple discussion of the word itself, Asim deftly chronicles the way in which racist ideology went hand-in-hand with racist culture to permanently alter -- and stain -- the character of America's nascent democracy.

Asim's book is an ambitious, sweeping work that surveys four centuries of racist culture and custom in American society. From the outset, the term in question was a convenient, all-purpose condemnation that allowed such architects of American democracy as Thomas Jefferson to claim that blacks lacked the intellectual and emotional capacity to handle full citizenship. In Jefferson's words, blacks were "inferior to the whites in endowments both of body and mind." A veritable industry of scientific and cultural racism would make Jefferson's sentiments seem positively statesmanlike.

At each step of this sprawling, briskly paced history, Asim chronicles the way in which the word not only permeated popular culture through literary classics such as "Huck Finn" but had practical, real-world consequences, especially during the post-Reconstruction period of anti-black lynching, violence and rioting that swept across the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Asim, the deputy editor of The Washington Post's Book World section, documents how black Americans countered the dominant narrative perpetuated by "Niggerology"(as one "scholar" of black inferiority labeled it in the 19th century) with nuanced accounts of historical figures such as the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. Asim explores how, in the 1940 novel "Native Son," Richard Wright turned the word, and much of the literary world, upside down through his character Bigger Thomas, whose very name seemed to suggest the N-word. Bigger Thomas's unpredictable violence transformed the one-dimensional literary characters of the past (the imagined spooks of a racist literary tradition) into a hauntingly poignant emissary of social misery whose tragic actions illuminated the contours of racial oppression in Depression-era America.

The civil rights movement's heroic decade, between the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, seemed to signal the slow demise of the word in popular culture. No longer could respectable Southern politicians use the blunt, coarse and spectacularly successful language of someone like George Wallace.

But by the late 1960s and early '70s, blacks began openly using the term themselves. At the very moment when civil rights victories meant the word could no longer be spoken in public by whites, black provocateurs started to brandish the word like a sharp sword. The comedian Richard Pryor said it with an easy candor that scandalized white audiences and helped him emerge as a kind of outrageous prophet whose use of the word managed to sting whites more than blacks. The casual, everyday use of the word in black communities that had been a hidden part of a segregated past now became an accepted part of popular culture. The genie, so to speak, had been let out of the bottle, with predictable results. A generation of multi-hued youngsters now eagerly deploys the word in everyday language that betrays no hint of historical understanding of its horrific roots.

Asim tells this story with energy, insight and well-timed flashes of humor. "The N Word" also serves, both implicitly and explicitly, as a brilliant and bracing history lesson for the countless pundits debating the virtues of black popular culture. Unlike many commentators, Asim manages to avoid both facile condemnations and contorted rationalizations. Instead, he offers a passionate survey that places contemporary African American culture in the larger context of American history. Confronted by a generation largely uninterested in the nation's collective racial history but still burdened by its legacy, Asim argues that only by understanding the past can we reacquire the political courage and insights necessary to create new words and envision new worlds. "As long as we embrace the derogatory language that has long accompanied and abetted our systematic dehumanization," Asim writes, "we shackle ourselves to those corrupt white delusions -- and their attendant false story of our struggle in the United States. Throwing off those shackles would at least free us to stake a claim to an independent imagination." And, just perhaps, renew our hope in shaping a better world.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Your Black World: Dr. Ricky Jones Speaks On Obamamania, Education & More

Interview with University of Louisville Professor, Dr. Ricky Jones, by Tolu Olorunda.

Dr. Ricky Jones is an Author, Columnist and a Professor at the University of Louisville. He is the Chair of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. He has written several books including, "Black Haze: Violence, Sacrifice, and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities," and the more recent "What's Wrong with Obamamania?: Black America, Black Leadership, and the Death of Political Imagination." He is also a Lecturer who has spoken courageously on the neutralization of Africanism and Pan-Africanism in the European landscape. On Barack Obama, Dr. Jones believes that the Senator hasn't quite paralleled the standards and criteria set by the legacies of Martin Luther King, Kwame Ture and Malcolm X. He also laments the reality that some black people might be missing the point with a blind and unconditional support for Senator Obama's candidacy. His newest book - on Obamamania - investigates the unhealthy celebration and craze that has clouded the Obama campaign, while tendering useful and applicable resources that strengthen the structure of governmental-accountability. I had the pleasure of engaging in dialogue with Dr. Jones on Black Leadership, Obamamania, Black Politics, Black Masculinity and much more:

Thanks for joining us, Dr. Jones. Can you begin by informing us of your background and the pathway leading up to becoming one of the State of Kentucky's most prestigious professors?

I don't know if I'm one of the state's most prestigious; but I grew up in the housing projects of Atlanta, Georgia. After High-School, I got a bachelor's degree in political science from Morehouse College, and then received a fellowship-offer from the University of Kentucky - where I met Boyce Watkins. But I went to UK (Kentucky) for graduate school, and got a PH.D in political philosophy, and then left in 1996 for Louisville -- where I joined the Pan-African study department, and I have been there ever since. It’s funny because I really didn't intend to stay there, but I ended up in a really good department with some really good people, and had a lot of opportunities, and ended up becoming the youngest 'chair' in the history of the department -- a term which I just finished.

In your opinion, what is fundamentally wrong with today's Black leadership, and how radically different is it from that of Malcolm & Martin's era?

Well, a couple of things: One; the social and political dynamic is very different now, than it was in the past. We are now in a time when we are the first generation of Black folk who did not have to deal with slavery or segregation. And, I think it threw Black America into a state of confusion vis-a-vis understanding power-discrepancies, segregation, discrimination, marginalization etc. And just because those systems weren't in law anymore, didn't mean it did not exist. And with that change in the political landscape, people are not clear anymore, as to whether or not we have a structural problem, or we have merely individual problems. So with the comments of the "Bill Cosbys" and "Shelby Steeles," (The Black Conservatives) it becomes more easy to put the blame on Black people, individually, than to attack structures -- especially if you're trying to gain power in those structures. So, there is a misunderstanding of the political landscape. Also, there is a problem with the quality of leadership. Sometimes, we do not have our best and brightest in position. Another problem is that of commitment, especially when you have folk that are much more wedded to their personal agendas, than they are with any collective agenda that has to do with Black folk. When you put all those things together, you have a horrible mixture that leads the majority of Black people suffering.

In light of the recent conundrum Rev. Jesse has been encompassed by; do you find any legitimacy in the inference that a leader can become outdated and irrelevant?

Yes, but not specific to Rev. Jackson. I think, sometimes, if not the leadership figure itself, the strategy can become outdated -- and again, not being specific to Rev. Jackson. I've been critical of Rev. Jackson with regard to certain issues, and I criticize him in my latest book, but I think the latest criticism of him - with what has been said - is patently wrong. I think it is problematic for Black to dismiss Rev. Jackson at this point. In my latest book, I discussed that 'shift' in the generations. I think it is true that the younger Black leadership is different, but we also ought to question, if the shift is better -- and that question is not necessarily being asked. I also think that style of leadership is embraced by much of white America because it is looked upon as safer, and sometimes more "white-like." One of the first line of my latest book is, I'm Black and I worry about my people," and the last line is, "in the mean-time, I'll still be here worrying," because I'm very worried about Black America's willingness to embrace some of these unknown quantities in a non-critical way, and dismiss folk who have a long history of service to the Black Community. When you look at the antagonism toward Jesse Jackson, it's disturbing; also, with regard Tavis Smiley -- where a large number of Black people turned on him and called him some of the most reprehensible names. What's most disturbing is the fact that Black people are reacting this way, in support of a man who, 4 yrs. ago, excluding Chicagoans, was nearly unknown. And the fact that, till this date, he still hasn't shown that he has any level of commitment to any particular agenda that has anything to do with remedying Black struggle; he is much more likely to condemn black folks, than he is to condemn systemic mechanism that are beating up Black folk.

You wrote a book in critique and cross-examination of Sen. Obama's explosive rise to the front-and-center of American political life. Can you explain "What's wrong with Obamamania"?

Concisely, there are 4 basic things: One is that the examination of Obama and his significance has been relatively immature. You have a side that paints him as a savior and Messianic figure, and others who hope to label him as an Islamic terrorist. And that dichotomization doesn't leave room for rich political discussion. Secondly, there is very little serious-examination of what Obama means on the leadership landscape -- for Black America in particular and America in general. And when he is compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, we have to understand that Dr. King never represented the status quo, and sadly, Obama seems to be comfortable doing that. Thirdly, with Obama's avoidance of issues concerning Black America, we would be foolish not to ask for as much as other groups are demanding of Senator Obama. The Jewish Community asked Obama - and other candidates - where he stood explicitly on the issue of Jerusalem, Palestine, and other issues. Black people must be brave enough to ask the same questions: Disproportionate Imprisonment, the educational system, disproportionate poverty - with a third of Black children being impoverished etc. And if we are concerned about those issues, we should take him to task on each one of them, and we have not. Fourthly, most Black supporters are much too eager to attack anyone who criticizes Senator Obama or his agenda -- which is dangerous, in giving him a free pass.

Malcolm X, in his April 12, 1964 speech "The Ballot or The Bullet," called for political maturity within the Black Community. In your assessment; has there been any political-maturation in Black America, and is it - or the lack - reflective in the overwhelming support of Sen. Obama's candidacy within the African-American Community?

Well; to answer bluntly, we are certainly showing some political immaturity. I also think it shows a division with the Black petty bourgeoisie and everyday black folks. Come election time, I would be voting "against McCain," because I have been disturbed by the lack of serious-public-balanced-dialogue in Black America -- concerning the good things he (Obama) brings to the table, as well as the bad.

Masculinity in Black America is another subject you have written greatly about. How does that paradigm play out in Hip-Hop culture and the daily lives of everyday Black families?

Well, this goes to my first book: "Black Haze: Violence, Sacrifice, and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities." And the big question is: What happens to a group of men who are denied traditional avenues to being labeled as Men. I'm referring to, 'going to better schools,' 'getting the better jobs,' 'being able to earn salaries that are conducive with supporting and protecting their families.' So, how do they define their Manhood, if those traditional routes that guarantee the definition of Manhood are denied to them? And I see that phenomenon playing out of Black America in so many ways. It plays out in Black fraternities - with Greek Origin - as well; and some of the barbarism that plays out in some of these fraternities puts the Manhood of these young men on trial. And the only way they seem to define their Manhood, is through the infliction of pain, stress or the tolerance of it. You also have the same dynamic playing out in the gang-culture. We have to figure out where all this factors - of the destructive definition of Masculinity - lead up to. And it plays out from education, to the home-environment, to poverty, to political disenfranchisement, to the criminal justice system and even toward mental health issues. So, I'm very concerned about Black Males interaction with society, with fellow Black Males and finally, their Women.

You teach Pan-Africanism and color-consciousness as a Professor at the University of Louisville. Do you suspect a loss of cultural-pride amongst the upcoming generation of Black and Brown kids?

Most definitely, but I think it stretches-through, to all of us. Because, you never see anybody else - for the most part - run away from their ethnicity and race -- as much as Black people do. Many Black people see their heritage as a badge of shame -- as a result of our socialization in this country. And there seems to be very little commitment to anything deemed patently Black. And it’s also playing out in this election cycle, because if one speaks of Obama as being Black, his supporters ask the question: "Why you got to bring 'race' into it"?

In Georgetown Professor, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson's book, Race Rules, he has a section on the 20th century rise of the Black public intellectual. As one yourself, what do you consider to be the primarily-role of the Black public intellectual in America?

Well, it should be, ideally, to be able to translate classroom academicism, and put it to the public, streets or television. So, it's incredibly important that we don't have these conversations limited to the college campuses. The intellectual must be able to convey to the public, certain values that the public understands.

Lastly, what advice do you have for the new generation of Black intellectuals and academicians?

Well, it must be to carve out our own path, and stay true to some set of ideals. At the end of the day, we are teachers, and the fundamental question is: What are we going to teach? I think a lot of folk see the public intellectual route as a track towards stardom, but the ideal that one is committed to, the ability to change the life-worth of Black people, and the will to improve the conditions of Black people with writing, speaking and advocacy, is most important. The new generation of Black public intellectuals should also look out for one another, and take care of each other.

Watch Dr. Ricky Jones's Interview on, The CW Louisville Live This Morning:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for