by Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
Though it received scant media attention amid the Republican tsunami that swept the country on November 2, there were two ‘brothers’ who made history when they became the first Black Republicans elected to congress in the last quarter century.
Depending on how you look at it, the elections of Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida was either a sign of political progress, a step backwards, or business as usual.
Taint your endorsement on those political options by noting that Scott and West were among a record 14 African American Republicans who sought congressional seats during this mid-term election. How Scott and West got elected amid what some call the great American White backlash is a story in itself, as is the fact that both men were endorsed by the Tea Party.
But let’s cast those issues aside and instead focus on a question that could threaten the status quo: Should these two Black Republican congressmen be admitted to the ranks of the Black Congressional Caucus?
Or maybe a better question is: Should they be embraced and given a ‘Black Power handshake’ (some dap, for those older than 30) by fellow Black congressmen and congresswomen?
Before you answer either of those questions, allow me the opportunity of complicating the above scenario. (As you know, that’s my job.)
Like many civil rights organizations, most assume the CBC is an unofficial subsidiary of the Democratic Party. And while that makes sense, it is often disingenuous to the constituents the organization’s members supposedly serve.
The last Black Republican congressman, J.C. Watts, who was ostracized by the CBC a quarter century ago, originally brought that reality to light. (For the record, the CBC officials said they extended a hand to Watts, but he either refused to accept it, or the agenda of the organization.)
Apparently, the CBC platform isn’t palatable to a Republican/conservative, or even an independent. But if that’s the case, why is it labeled a ‘Black Caucus?’
From what I understand, one of the new Black congressmen has expressed interest in joining the CBC, while the other one has said he wouldn’t give the organization the time of day.
I opened up my new Facebook page last week with a question similar to the one previously mentioned in this column. Nine out of 10 respondents said the CBC should admit the two ‘brothers by another mother.’
A majority of respondents found fault with the two party system, many of them stressing that the Democratic Party has ill served Black America, taking our vote for granted and ignoring, if not outright refusing to champion, issues of importance to Black America.
Interestingly—and not surprisingly—more than a handful of respondents endorsed the latest national cry for an independent Black political party.
None said ‘third’ or ‘green’ or ‘blue’ party, but an exclusively ‘Black’ independent party.
The call for an independent party is not a recent phenomenon. I’ve advocated for such an empowerment tool for nearly 30 years. In fact, upon doing a little research, I’ve discovered Black leaders and organizations championing that call throughout the 20th century. In each case, the cry was either a result of Democratic Party apathy to our plight, or out of a sense that the two major parties are different wings on the same bird.
My support for a party of our own has been rooted in the realization that no one will do for us, but us. And history has proven my assumption to be true.
Consider the following from a progressive organization in 1969:
“The Black people’s lack of political power is so serious because politics is the key to breaking out of the vicious circle of social, economic and cultural deprivation….
“…political power means the capacity to assert the needs and aspirations of a group and to see that they are fulfilled. Full political power means that a group runs its own affairs and determines its own destiny. Even the possession of some measure of political power means that the group has a voice in deciding the terms of its existence.
“In the United States today Black people are effectively excluded from all the crucial decisions affecting their fate. The policies that determine how they will live are made by others and imposed upon them. Every aspect of Afro-American life is governed by the decisions of the Democratic and Republican agents of the rulers of this country. Their actions (or inactions) perpetuate inequality, poverty, degradation, police brutality, insecurity, unemployment, low-paying jobs, bad schools, inadequate housing and medical facilities, a shorter life-span and all the other evils suffered by Black Americans.
“… in order to carry out an effective fight for Black political power, Afro-Americans must have their own organization under their own control.
“The two-party shell game, and especially the portrayal of the Democratic Party as a party of the people, is an important part of this deception. While the role of this party in upholding and enforcing racism is clear in the South, it wears the mask of liberalism in the North. But in practice it is no fewer racists than the Republican Party there. Under duress it throws Black people a few concessions, a few posts, a few tokens to placate them though it has no intention of ending racism. The two-party setup fosters the illusion that Black people will get freedom through gradual reform of capitalism and its institutions.
“The history of the past hundred years testifies that this is a lie. Black people will never be liberated by supporting political parties that are controlled by their oppressors and that are so constructed and operated (in such a way) that their oppressors will always control them.”
You can guess whom the author of that assertion was, but their identity does not make their premise less true. As long as others set or control our agenda, our condition will not witness meaningful change.
And if you need another example of that premise, note that four years before the Democratic Party was discrediting that declaration, the Black poverty rate in America was 40%. Today it’s 43%.
Some say an independent political party is unrealistic. We can’t abandon the Dems, and apathy will empower the Republicans, all of whom are racist pigs.
Why not? What we have to gain far exceeds what we have to lose, which is poverty, injustice, unemployment and substandard educational options for the majority of our children.
It is not a coincidence that the call for an independent party comes up after each national election. That’s because any cry of dissent issued before an election is met with charges of disloyalty, or claims that the alternative (apathy or voting Republican) will worsen our plight. Many Black leaders will acknowledge our predicament, but tell us the timing isn’t right to sever the umbilical cord.
And so we wait, and wait, and wait. And nothing changes. Or it does change, for the worst.
I heard nationally syndicated columnist Frederic Alexander Meade on Earl Ingram’s radio show last week championing the cry for an independent Black political party. He made a compelling case for African Americans to form their own political party, echoing what he had written just days before in his syndicated blog.
“In the face of a two party political system, in which neither entity holds any significant measure of deference for a socially ailing African-American body, the construction of a party in which the group may call its own, may serve as the only reasonable approach, by which this population may be afforded any degree of leverage.”
But Meade lost me when he said on Earl’s show that the party would be used solely to leverage the Democratic Party into action. Once the Dems offered us a crumb or two, we would put the independent party in limbo, until it was needed again to prod the Democrats.
That’s idiotic. As was his response to a caller’s question about what we want from the Dems. The first ‘major’ issue to cross Meade’s lips was about a national dialogue on police brutality.
Not a Marshall Plan, or to put teeth in existing affirmative action initiatives, which is today nothing more than a joke.
Meade didn’t mention reparations, rescinding the racist Omnibus Crime Bill, or even providing us with a few token positions of power.
He didn’t mention a capital investment bank specifically for urban communities. He didn’t mention a progressive educational policy that truly provides poor and Black people with options and schools with the autonomy to make school relevant and productive.
Naw, the brother was essentially caught off guard, and instead came up with some meaningless priority of a national dialogue on police brutality.
Interestingly, every week Meade decries President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and Black leadership. But his recipe for Black empowerment is a toothless tiger that will supposedly prod the Dems to rewrite its national platform.
In essence, it’s a tactic that begins and ends with our servitude to the same entity that has been dissing us since we switched from Republican to Democratic Party membership 40 years ago. You don’t gain power as long as you’re under anyone’s thumb.
Under closer scrutiny, Meade’s assertions provide a perfect example of how and why we’re in the predicament we’re in.
It seems half of us don’t know how the political system works, and the other half don’t know what we want.
We’re so brainwashed, many of us smile like puppies as the Democratic Party repeats unkempt promises and tells us they love us, as if love will pay the bills.
We do a two-step as both parties stomp on our dreams and hopes, and usurp every attempt we make to actually acquire real power.
As Gandhi instructed us, we turn our faces each time either of these parties pimp slap us. What makes that scenario even more ridiculous is we have been brainwashed into believing the slaps from Bid Daddy Repub hurts more than those from Sugar Daddy Dem.
Again, and I’ll keep stressing this point: The Black poverty rate was 40% when President Johnson signed the historic civil rights legislation.
Seven trillion dollars (money that went primarily to missionaries who got rich off our misery), 35 years and a million promises later, the Black poverty rate is 43%, less than half of our young Black males graduate from high school, the national Black unemployment rate is over 40% and going to prison has become a rites of passage.
Are we ever going to wake up to how we’re being punked? Is the brainwashing that effective?
OK, that’s my rant, so let’s get back to my original premise.
A pragmatic brother posed the following question in response to my question on my blog: ‘It’s the “Congressional Black Caucus” right? We should be Black first, then democratic/republican. (Which) party will do the best for Black people is …the thing we should be looking at.”
I agree 100%, particularly given the current of state of Black America. From my perspective, it makes only a marginal difference whose banner flies over the capitol building, the Black plight remains the same.
And the greatest political crime against Black America is not the parties per se, but the fact that far too many Black politicians hold allegiance to their respective parties, instead of the people they serve.
If the party says jump, and to support NAFTA, the crime bill, or the so-called welfare reform, Those Black pols will ask how high, even though they must know how those policies will negatively affect Black America. Nor will they side with the people when we push self-empowerment initiatives.
Immediately following the aforementioned statement, was one that succinctly flipped the coin:
“The positions of these two new members of Congress may be inconsistent with that of the CBC. Just because they’re Black doesn’t mean that their interests are in line with those of the organization and the general interests of the African American community.”
True that. But that reality doesn’t erode my point.
Until and unless Black politicians put the interests of the Black community before their parties—and being Black, regardless of ideology are the sole criteria for membership in extended family –there is little hope that we will see political progress under the political status quo.
And since that’s not going to happen anytime soon, I endorse the alternative, either in the form of a totally independent ‘Black’ political party, or a Black “Coffee Party” to counter those who like sugary ‘tea.’
August 19, 2012 //
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