Civil Rights

Jesse Jackson's 'Post-Racial' Legacy for the Democratic Party

I first heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak in a Chicago hotel ballroom in July 1968, shortly after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's assassination and just three months after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

We were an audience of largely white college students fresh from the anti-Vietnam War presidential campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Mr. Kennedy. By then we all knew that Mr. Jackson had been in the parking lot talking to Mr. King when the horrible shots rang out and Mr. King fell, mortally wounded.

The New Racists?

Theorists who conjecture about racial relations in America posit that racism, an institutional practice, differs from prejudice, a personal flaw, in that racism requires power. It has therefore been argued that while both whites and blacks exhibit prejudice, only white people can be racists.

This conclusion is predicated upon the assumption that an elite class of white people have always possessed more institutional power than has any black person. In the past, this has been largely true — privileged whites controlled the electoral system before the Voting Rights Act was passed; they controlled hiring and promotions in the workplace before anti-discrimination laws were passed; and they controlled law enforcement in many places, using their authority to unfairly target and punish blacks.

But one wonders whether blacks, as they have gained more access to institutional power in recent times (they can now be found in greater ranks in government, business and the media), can also be practitioners of racism.

Relevance of the NAACP

Armstrong Williams says the NAACP is loosing its relevance in today's society, and he wonders why presidential candidates are compelled to speak at their annual convention.


The Hard Work of Peace

As I sat watching the kids from the Catholic school and the kids from the mostly Protestant public school sing together today in East Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was struck by how they pretty much all looked to be brothers and sisters. They all had the same freckle-faced fair complexion. “I bet their parents and grandparents pretty much looked the same as well when they were that age,” I thought to myself as the Protestant kids beat on some drums at the end of the recital.

I am in Belfast today as a member of the Board of Cooperation Ireland (CI for short). CI funds projects dedicated to building a sustainable peace between the nationalist and loyalist communities in the north of Ireland. Belfast is a far different community than it was in 1985, when I first visited the city torn asunder by religious hatred.

The scars seem, from the outside, to be mostly healed. The politicians have declared that peace has arrived. For the sake of the fine people of this lovely province, I certainly hope they are right.

Behold: The Big Picture

Blogs are usually not the place for it, but for today, let us behold the bigger picture.

In the middle of the drama surrounding the Clinton concession-vigil, a profound, historic event has occurred this week, unnoticed and uncelebrated. This was the week it became clear: A political party in our country is poised to nominate an African-American candidate who has an excellent shot at becoming president of the United States.

Through the drama of the horserace, which isn't officially over, no one mentions this fact. Anything can happen; many disruptions could occur before Obama secures his party's nomination. But as long as he holds his delegate lead, it won't be handed to Clinton by the superdelegates. Barring something tragic or earth-shattering, Obama will be nominated on Aug. 28, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

The Voter ID Issue

What you find depends on where you look, Yogi Berra might have said if he read the United States Supreme Court’s recent opinion (4/28/08) in the Indiana voter ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The 6-3 majority decided that the challengers of the law did not come forward with people who were, in fact, prejudiced against by the operation of the voter photo ID requirement — which is not an easy task, somewhat akin to proving a negative. The dissenters argued that the State of Indiana did not prove there were frauds that warranted the passage of this law, aimed, supposedly, at preventing said alleged frauds. One does not see what one does not find.

Martin Luther King Jr.

When Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis I was a college student, active in the 1968 campaign for president, protesting the Vietnam War and engaged in civil rights. The fact that 40 years have gone by since that weekend does not make those events any less fresh in my mind.

I remember the American flag and the United Nations flag at Macalester College in St. Paul being lowered to half-mast and the prayers that were said as students gathered in front of the chapel. I remember the shock that another hero could be taken from us less than five years after John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember calling home to my family in Washington, D.C., who told me that they could see the smoke and fires from the downtown riots. And I remember the footage of Robert Kennedy in Indiana as he spoke to an African-American crowd who had not yet heard the news and his quoting Aeschylus: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

Robert Kennedy Comments on the Night of Martin Luther King's Death

On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy made the following comments in Indianapolis:

Ladies and gentlemen: I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening.

Because ... I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Let’s Have an Honest Discussion on Race

Driving in to work this morning, I was stunned that local radio host Chris Plante on Washinton, D.C.'s WMAL invited his listeners to have an open and honest discussion on race. What with all the excitement generated by Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) “seminal” speech — remarks that my friend Chris Matthews has labeled as being worthy of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln?

In any event, an African-American caller phoned in to say that White America is to blame for most of the crime, drugs and woe that befall the black community. As incredulous as I was, another called opined that whites operate on an unequal playing field and that blacks just do the best they can under the circumstances.

As we come upon the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King (April 4), I can’t believe we’ve fallen so far away from the spirit and hope of his dream here at the beginning of the 21st century. What happened to being judged by the content of one’s character rather than the color of one’s skin? What happened to the calls for self-reliance and responsibility?

Faith, Hope and Power

Barack Obama's historic speech on race is the beginning of what could become a majority coalition even more powerful than the New Deal realignment of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

What Obama can now do is take the debate on racial injustice to a powerfully transforming level that reaches across all racial and religious divisions and gives voice to the voiceless, respect to the disrespected and power to the powerless.

What was extraordinary about the Obama speech, beyond the straight talk and the truth telling, was that Obama was not merely speaking TO different constituencies but was speaking FOR different constituencies.