THE month of February is set aside for the study and celebration of African American achievements.
Indeed, having elected the first black president that by itself is an achievement of monumental proportions.
However, since it is an election year, and we review the direction in which black leaders like Booker T Washington and Dr Martin Luther King, we find that the afflictions that they fought against have remained.
In some cases, they have multiplied.
My experience in Jamaica and in the United States has taught me this undisputable fact: It is easy, and indeed there are justifications for people of colour to expend their energies in hating the white man.
I have also found that civil rights by themselves are virtually useless without economic clout to back them up.
When president Theodore Roo-sevelt entertained the great educator, Booker T Washington at the White House in 1901, South Carolina governor Ben Tillman said these words at a press conference. “The action of president Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers before they learn their place again.”
Black students have demonstrated in favour of removing his name from Clemson University, an institution started by the racist governor.
This incident illustrates that the life journey for people of colour has been a long and arduous one in search of respect and dignity.
Indeed, their argument is that the white man owed them this respect.
As United States presidential elections grind mercilessly on, the argument has been renewed. The party which pays lip-service to civil rights will lock up the 35 million black population’s vote.
Democrats have an advantage over Republicans.
But the debate has raised new questions.
Civil rights laws were passed between 1965 and 1970, yet black males make up the largest jailhouse population. Unemployment among blacks has remained at twice the level of other races.
Many black neighbourhoods are virtual occupation zones. White policemen prowl these areas with instructions to shoot on sight black males who police fear may be violent.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. This situation is not different from that of that time when Governor Tillman threatened to kill 1 000 blacks as a show of strength.
Washington, in particular, saw the constant renewal of dark memories as failing to yield the results desired, dignity and respect.
In his opinion, no race of people can long be dismissed or ignored if they had a stake in the economy. It is the economy, stupid!
The Jews of New York are not much beloved by other races that snidely refer to New York values. But no man who wants to be US president can ignore the Jewish lobby.
Already, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who made the above remark, has written his epitaph in the 2016 presidential election by that single sentence.
The US Jewish lobby has been credited with making president Jimmy Carter a one-term president. The same lobby attempted to sabotage President Barack Obama in the US-Iran treaty.
In the last case, Israeli Prime Minister addressed Congress against the wishes of a sitting US president. Benjamin Netanyahu then went to tell Congress what he expects to be done. That is a lesson in the exercise of power.
It is all about economics, stupid! Netanyahu was leaning on New York bankers.
Washington realised that the cultivation of grievances does not advance a race in the direction in which they must go.
The Negro Business Association became his engine of advancement.
At first, the members consisted largely of barbers, kiosk owners, home-based carpenters and builders and as the associations grew, publishers, pharmaceutical enterprises joined busmen and taxi-owners.
While the size of their businesses was small and laughable, smallness does not mean lack of clout. Nigerian and Ethiopian taxi-cab owners have become a power to be reckoned with in New York City and Dallas.
Similarly, in my home town in South Carolina, virtually all corner convenience stores have been bought by Asians. Their ability to sell even one cigarette, and put in long hours has driven white competitors out.
Washington suggested that no race, which owns something and which contributes to the economy, can long be ignored. Societies, especially capitalistic ones, are not moved by lofty principles of love, grace and truth. They are moved by raw power. It is the ownership, stupid!
King realised that civil rights alone constituted pyrrhic victories. In Memphis, garbage collectors were paid 50 cents to the dollar to what white garbage collectors were paid. When it rained, they had no pay-check. White collectors continued to collect their paychecks. King was murdered there.
One solution is to buy the garbage trucks.
One piece of legislation which undermined all past successes was the aid to families with dependent children. This law provided for single mothers, thus making mincemeat of marriage.
The market for illicit drugs came into play at the same time. The lawless children born under these circumstances, were termed super-predators.
Applying this term entirely to blacks led to a 40 percent male incarceration. The police were instructed to shoot on sight.
Washington foresaw this in 1901. “There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and hardships of the Negro race before the public.”
The fundamentals have not been addressed.
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