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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Michelle Bachmann's Crazy Ideas About Black Farmers

A Short History of Black-Owned Land in America
Michelle Bachmann's Crazy Ideas About Black Farmers
A few months ago I was asked to speak at Georgia State University about Black-owned land issues and the plight of Black farmers. This was a presentation before professors and students in urban Atlanta. I realized as I spoke that my audience was not informed about rural issues and ongoing racism in the deep South. Social change is a painstakingly slow process and when you are in the city it's hard to conceive what happens in rural areas - often isolated rural areas. This is why I was asked to speak, of course, but still it was a revealing experience. They also wanted me to refer to the second phase of the Black farmer lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture.

I began the presentation at Georgia State University with a delineation of historical dates of the rather constrained opportunities for Black land ownership in America. Invariably the policies in America resulted in some kind of betrayal followed by Black resistance. I started with the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. Then Congress creates the Department of Agriculture in 1862. Then also in 1862 was the Homestead Act – here's a description:
Congress passes the Homestead Act to open western lands to independent farmers rather than slave owners. This land was available also for freed slaves but there were few as slavery was still the law of the land. The parcels were 160 acres. Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and 270,000,000 acres of federal land was privatized. It also dispossessed Native Americans of land and wealth. This was land reform largely for whites the likes of which was never offered to freed slaves after the Civil War or at any time in history.
Clearly, the Homestead Act, as well as the creation of the Department of Agriculture, was partly a response by the federal government to the South and its southern plantation owners. The South had successfully seceded from the Union, was engaged in war, and had wanted to extend the slaveocracy to the western territories.

A little known fact is that prior to the south seceding from the Union in the 1860's, in the May 1844 edition of "The Liberator" the renowned abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called for the north to secede from the government for precisely the opposite reason. The reason being that the Constitution of the United States adopted after the Revolutionary War was "at the expense of the colored population of the country." With the three-fifths clause allowing the enslaved individuals to be counted as three-fifths of a person – albeit a non-voting person - the South controlled Congress and the nation. Garrison said it was time "to set the captive free by the potency of truth."

By January 1865 Congress adopted the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. Also in January1865, while in Savannah after his famous trek through Georgia, General William T. Sherman issues Field Order 15– here's a description:
After meeting with freed slaves in Savannah, Georgia - in what became known as the Savannah Colloquy - General William T. Sherman responded to their pleas for land. In January, he issued his famous Field Order 15, which set aside a huge swath of abandoned land along the Georgia and South Carolina coast for black families to have forty acres plots. He also said that army mules no longer in use would be offered to Black farmers. This is likely where the "Forty Acres and a Mule" legend began. Sherman never stated whether this was to be a permanent or temporary land acquisition.
With hopes being raised by many in the Black community, Sherman's Field Order was ultimately the beginning of betrayal by the federal government on land distribution. Here's more:
• 1865 (March) Congress establishes the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen's Bureau) providing for the allocation of 'unoccupied land' to freedmen (not to exceed 40 acres). Rather than 40 acres as requested, Congress allowed the Freedmen's Bureau to sell only 5 to 10 acre tracts of land to freed slaves.
• 1865 (April 9) Civil War ends.

• 1865 (April 14 ) Republican President Abraham Lincoln assassinated and succeeded by Vice President Andrew Johnson (former U.S. Senator from Tennessee).

• 1865 (May) President Johnson announces his Reconstruction Plan. The plan calls for the Southern States to abolish slavery but does not offer a role for Blacks in Reconstruction. The southern states are to determine the role for Blacks without a federal mandate.

• 1865 (June) Some 40,000 freed slaves were settled on what was referred to as "Sherman's Land" on some 400,000 acres of land in Georgia and South Carolina. Much of this land was for rice cultivation. The Freedmen begin to create their own government; white access to the area was denied; and they begin to cultivate their land.

• 1865 (Summer) President Johnson reverses Sherman's Field Order 15 by ordering that virtually all plantation lands given to freed slaves be returned to the original plantation owners.
The history, of course, moves into the 20th century with the struggles of Jim Crow in the South. The important point to be made, however, is that there has always been resistance and action by the Black community to the constraints on their achieving freedom and justice. By the early 1900's, for example, Blacks owned some 15 million acres of land – this was an enormous achievement.

Fast forward to 1946 when the USDA's Farmers Home Administration was created to provide credit to farmers – it was known as the "lending institution of last resort". But Blacks have rarely been able to access adequate credit from USDA offices across the South. These county offices have invariably been headed by whites that clearly wanted to make sure that the monies were going to the white community and to white farmers. This is the legacy of actions, for example, of white planters in the Mississippi delta who made sure that New Deal agriculture policies of the 1930's, such as the Agriculture Adjustment Act (AAA), benefited them and not Black farmers.

Ultimately, in the 1990's, Blacks sued the government and settled what is now the Pigford v Vilsack lawsuit.

A colleague of mine from Tuskegee University once said that the closer you get to farmers the harder it is for policies to be implemented. This is true. The Secretary of Agriculture might give directives from his office in Washington DC; the directives will then be given to the state directors of the USDA; and then the state directors will send policy information to the various counties in the state and this is where the rubber hits the road as it were. This is where the policies should impact farmers and be offered to farmers but it is also where the entrenched social prejudices and cultural alienation are most keenly felt. Black farmers have always received abysmally poor treatment in these county offices and comparatively relatively little capital in loans for their farm operations or farm ownership opportunities have been provided – thus the lawsuit.

Nevertheless, Obama's Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been attempting to change the system starting with civil rights directives in the department when he was first appointed; engaging in a study of civil rights abuses; developing a "strike force" in the South to ensure fair treatment for all in the implementation of farm programs, etc. We are also witnessing some changes at the local level thanks to his initiatives and the result of the Black farmer lawsuit.

Regarding the Pigford lawsuit, Blacks led the way yet again in seeking justice. By the time Vilsack became Obama's Secretary there were lawsuits pending from women, Native American and Latino farmers thanks to the leadership of Black farmers in the rural south who's lawsuit provided opportunities for others who were also being marginalized by USDA offices.

Suffice it to say, Representative Michelle Bachman (R-MN) decries the Black lawsuit against the USDA as reparations. I wish the lawsuit was, in fact, reparations for centuries of abuse of Blacks by white supremacists in America. Alas, it is not. Word has it that Bachman is also enamored about a book by Robert E. Lee that purports the benefits of slavery. Perhaps Bachman should first be a slave and see how she benefits. At the very least, Bachman and her co-hort, Representative Stephen King (R-IA), provide the opportunity for us to share more information about the Pigford lawsuit. (See the October 6, 2010 response "Pigford advocates respond to congressional critics")

Eugene Robinson: The straw poll winner -- Barack Obama

Even though President Obama's approval rating has dropped below 40%, Eugene Robinson believes that with Michelle Bachman winning the Iowa straw poll, saneness in the person of Obama will win out.   Surely, White Christian  Nationalism will not become the ruling politics because it is so extreme.   Recall, Michelle Bachman was among those who opposed raising of the debt ceiling.  Eugene Robinson assures us America is not that crazy.  RGN 
The straw poll winner: Barack Obama
By Eugene Robinson, Published: August 15
AMES, Iowa
Strolling through the pageant of unhealthful food and unsound ideology that is the Iowa straw poll, amid the good-natured Republicans who swept Michele Bachmann to an impressive victory, I couldn’t help but reflect that this quadrennial exercise is one crazy way to pick a major-party candidate for president.
You’ll note that I used the words “Michele Bachmann” and “president” in the same sentence. That someone with views as extreme as Bachmann’s could win — and that Ron Paul, who seems to inhabit his own little reality, could finish second — would seem to rob the straw poll of all but comic value, making it analogous to the opening joke a speaker might tell to warm up a stone-faced audience. But the ritual is serious business, as poor Tim Pawlenty found out. Less than 24 hours after he finished a distant third in the straw poll, “former candidate” became his new honorific.
Long before the results were tallied, it seemed clear that Pawlenty was in trouble. Like the other candidates who participated Saturday, he had a big tent on the grounds of the Iowa State University coliseum where voters could enjoy free food and entertainment. People were happy to line up for the Famous Dave’s barbecue that Pawlenty was serving, but they didn’t stay long — and when they walked away, they weren’t wearing the green Pawlenty T-shirts that signaled support. By mid-afternoon, volunteers were glum.

Lessons from Iowa: White Christian Nationalism the New Face of Fascism

A major force in Republican and conservative politics has been white Christian nationalism.  What's not clearly articulated is that what we call the evangelicals are really white Christian nationalists.   Under the guise of religion, white Christian nationalism is a political force.  Their religion is used to promote white nationalism.   At this point in the winnowing of Republicans presidential candidates, two white evangelicals are in the lead,  Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry.  These candidates are idolized by a large segment of the electorate.  It is not likely to be Bachman, because she has made several flawed assertions.  She is not likely to stand the scrutiny of campaign.    Rick Perry, the Govenor of Texas since Bush's ascendancy to the White House, seems the ideal candidate.  Perry's closest affiliations certainly lump him among some of the nation's foremost white Christian nationalists.  This strain of American politics under girds the promotion of intolerance.   The historic Bob Jones case of racist policies relative interracial dating is one of the best known cases, but Jerry Falwel and the so-called religious right are largely, though not exclusively southern, in its base.  Mix this white religious fervor with an electoral majority is a very dangerous contradiction.    A "rightness of whiteness"   cloaked in the flag and the Bible will be nothing less than American fascism.  Its enemies will be: people of color, the poor, sexual orientations they don't like, women who want the right to choose, and others wanting to protect the democratic rights all.   Knowing the possibility of this outcome, we need to make sure that these forces, including Rick Perry, are defeated in our next election and our future as a diverse democratic America.  The article below by Michelle Goldberg raised the essential question what of "A Christian Plot for Domination?" RGN  
 A Christian Plot for Domination?
Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry aren't just devout—both have deep ties to a fringe fundamentalist movement known as Dominionism, which says Christians should rule the world.
by Michelle Goldberg | August 14, 2011 10:51 PM EDT
With Tim Pawlenty out of the presidential race, it is now fairly clear that the GOP candidate will either be Mitt Romney or someone who makes George W. Bush look like Tom Paine. Of the three most plausible candidates for the Republican nomination, two are deeply associated with a theocratic strain of Christian fundamentalism known as Dominionism. If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional. 
Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid. In a contemptuous 2006 First Things review of several books, including Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and my own Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era.”
Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences. Writing about Bachmann in The New Yorker this month, Ryan Lizza spent several paragraphs explaining how the premise fit into the Minnesota congresswoman’s intellectual and theological development. And a recent Texas Observer cover story on Rick Perry examined his relationship with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Dominionist variant of Pentecostalism that coalesced about a decade ago. “[W]hat makes the New Apostolic Reformation movement so potent is its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government,” wrote Forrest Wilder. Its members “believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

West/Smiley "Refudiated" in Detroit

West & Smiley's  poverty tour hits a bump in Detroit.  Their attacks on the President are rejected.  RGN

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Award winning public television host Tavis Smiley along with former Harvard professor Dr. Cornell West drove their poverty bus tour into Detroit Monday.
The town hall meeting was held in the auditorium at city hall and was packed with people supporting President Obama.
They had heard Smiley and West would be bashing the president for failing to make the plight of the poor an issue.
There was some rowdiness and rudeness that made it tough for Smiley to make some of his points but not enough to disrupt the meeting.
Earlier, Smiley told Action News "this is not an anti-Obama tour." However he also said the debt ceiling deal the President struck with Congress "does not extend unemployment benefits, close corporate loopholes or raise one cent for the poor."
The tour will travel to about two dozen cities.

See the video

Cornel: The President is Dissing Me!

Cornel  West suffers from delusion.  His notion of his self importance is bizarre. It is interesting that Larry Summers informed him that he was an embarrassment to Harvard.  RGN

Cornel West Flunks the President

What’s with the black suit, white shirt, black tie outfit you always wear? Do you have anything else in your closet?
I’ve got four black suits that I circulate, and they are my cemetery clothes — my uniform that keeps me ready for battle.
Your cemetery clothes?
It’s ready to die, brother. If I drop dead, I am coffin-ready. I got my tie, my white shirt, everything. Just fix my Afro nice in the coffin.
So let me ask you: in 2007, you introduced Barack Obama as your “brother, companion and comrade.” But in May, you referred to him as “the black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs” and the “head of the American killing machine.” What in the world happened?
It was a cry from the heart. What happened was that greed at the top has squeezed so much of the juices of the body politic. Poor people and working people have not been a fundamental focus of the Obama administration. That for me is not just a disappointment but a kind of betrayal.
But you have also acknowledged that this is more than just political — you’ve said that after campaigning for him at 65 events, you were miffed that he didn’t return your phone calls or say thank you.
I think he had to keep me at a distance. There’s no doubt that he didn’t want to be identified with a black leftist. But we’re talking about one phone call, man. That’s all. One private phone call.
He was running a successful candidacy for president. He might have been busy.
So many of the pundits assume that it’s just egoism: “Who does Cornel West think he is? The president is busy.” But there’s such a thing as decency in human relations.
O.K., but did you also have to say that Obama “feels most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart”?
It’s in no way an attempt to devalue white or Jewish brothers. It’s an objective fact. In his administration, he’s got a significant number of very smart white brothers and very smart Jewish brothers. You think that’s unimportant?
When Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he told you your rap album was an “embarrassment” to the university, and you quit soon after. He was one of Obama’s first appointments. Did that strike a particular feeling in your heart?
I couldn’t help it. I’m a human being, indeed. Given the disrespect he showed me? Oh, my God. Again, it’s political much more than it’s personal. Summers was in captivity to Wall Street interests. But it’s personal too.
You have 30 seconds of private time with the president — what do you say to him?
I would say: “Look at that bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office and recognize that tears are flowing when you let Geithner and others shape your economic policy, when you refuse to focus on poor and working people or when you drop the drone bombs that kill innocent civilians. Tim Geithner does not represent the legacy of Martin King.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Obama Presidency: Racism Run Amok

It's a Great Time to Be Racist

Racists have officially lost their minds. In recent weeks, the venom spewed at President Barack Obama would leave one to believe that we are in the midst of a racist renaissance. "A dick," "jackass," "tar baby, "your boy" -- you name it and the president has been called it. For some reason, some people are so enraged by how this country is purportedly being run that they cannot separate a real critique of the president's decisions from mean-spirited name-calling related to his race.

Yes, the country that likes to pretend that it is far removed from its racist past has engaged in the verbal equivalent of a throwback jersey. Some people have reached far back into that Reconstruction-era closet, pulled out that dingy jersey adorned with racial slurs, shaken it out and put it on proudly. Elected officials have reduced themselves to behaving like petulant children, storming in and out of meetings and running to the media to lob personal attacks at the president, then offering lame apologies shortly afterward.

Is this the postracial era that so many people theorized about following the election of the nation's first black president? Try post-Reconstruction, because the harmful slurs and images being tossed around the Internet and in public spaces hark back more to a racist past than to a racially ambiguous future.

It's not surprising that President Obama is being received in such a way.

Trouble From the Start
We got a peek at what was to come just seven months into President Obama's tenure. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted, "You lie!" during the president's speech about health care reform. Clearly Wilson had a flashback to legalized segregation, when folks publicly bullied, threatened and heckled blacks to remind them of who was "in charge."

Wilson subsequently issued an apology, saying his actions were "regrettable" and he'd let his emotions take over. He was just the first of a series of elected officials acting like fools and then offering weak apologies as a remedy for said actions.

To be clear, "You lie!" is not a racist exclamation. Yet and still, it is insulting and in recent memory has not been used against any other president, even when he may have been lying about one thing or another. President George W. Bush and the weapons of mass destruction, for example, or President Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal could have triggered such a response.

The full article

Friday, August 12, 2011

Black Women Historians on "The Help"

 An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help:

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women's employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy—a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault. The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion—a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Ida E. Jones is National Director of ABWH and Assistant Curator at Howard University. Daina Ramey Berry, Tiffany M. Gill, and Kali Nicole Gross are Lifetime Members of ABWH and Associate Professors at the University of Texas at Austin. Janice Sumler-Edmond is a Lifetime Member of ABWH and is a Professor at Huston-Tillotson University.

Word Count: 766
Suggested Reading:
Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life, Alice Childress
The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley
The Street by Ann Petry
A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph
To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter
Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Any questions, comments, or interview requests can be sent to:

Progressives not recognizing racism in their criticism of Obama

Below is a great piece.  I made this very argument to a couple of our colleagues just yesterday.  I just heard a Rep Himes-NY remind his progressive friends of all that Obama has accomplished in 3 yrs!!!  Racism is at the base of this opposition to Obama is on the right and the left.  The Republicans and other white nationalists that have poisoned our politics.   On the other hand, these lefties blame Obama for OUR weakness.  We have lost EVERY battle: Van Jones, Acorn, Sherrod, etc.   And we would not have lost Sherrod were it not for the weakness of the NAACP.    If Barney Frank says the use of the 14th Amendment would have been an impeachable offense, Obama’s decision to make a deal was not a sign of weakness.

It is reminiscent as the author says of the Smiley/West politics of the personal. "Obama’s not black enough" (read: weak, not radical enough).    He's not Martin and He's not Malcolm.     Even though his accomplishments have been historic, he "compromises too much."  Where is the sense of politics, of governance?   He is operating in context in a racially hostile environment, an environment in which mainstream reporters on mainstream or what Ismael Reed calls the "Jim Crow media."  RGN 

Progressives don't see Obama clearly because of our racial blind spots.

The predominately white progressive intelligentsia don't see Obama clearly because of our racial blind spot. We don't see the role of race in how he seems to understand himself and how other perceive him.

The complete article  

Monday, August 1, 2011

Krugman: The President Surrenders!!!!!

Progressives are dismayed and disappointed that President Obama capitulated on the "the deal" that permitted the debt ceiling to be raised.  Raising the debt ceiling has ALWAYS been essential and routine.  But in their goal to make President Obama a "failure" and a "one term president,"  the right wing in the Congress extracted spending cuts without any enhanced revenues (taxes) to address the deficit and the debt.  Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman says the President surrendered to his opposition.  See Krugman below.  RGN

July 31, 2011

The President Surrenders  


A deal to raise the federal debt ceiling is in the works. If it goes through, many commentators will declare that disaster was avoided. But they will be wrong.

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Start with the economics. We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

Indeed, slashing spending while the economy is depressed won’t even help the budget situation much, and might well make it worse. On one side, interest rates on federal borrowing are currently very low, so spending cuts now will do little to reduce future interest costs. On the other side, making the economy weaker now will also hurt its long-run prospects, which will in turn reduce future revenue. So those demanding spending cuts now are like medieval doctors who treated the sick by bleeding them, and thereby made them even sicker.

The full article.