I responded on BlackCommentator.com to an excellent article explaining how Black American media has much to teach Labor Media in terms of perspective and outreach:
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>I think a case can be made that the black >media do a better job of educating their >readers, and allowing their readers to >educate each other, on politics than
>do the labor media.
I know for a fact, fellow worker, that this is absolutely the case. I'm living proof.
I was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World branch in Allentown, Pennsylvania in the mid-to-late 1990's, and edited two issues of their newsletter before the demise of the branch. I was given a lot of material to work with, including original, written views by highly educated members, including one with a degree in labor history.
However, while I tried to include material that would possibly speak to people of color (I am white, so was the rest of that particular branch except one member who was Iranian), all I could muster was a long piece on my own experience as a teacher of diverse children, discussing issues that affected African-American children.
I feel today that I did a rather poor job on that newsletter, and with a degree in journalism behind me, too. I'm very disappointed with my former self.
However, I have become vastly more powerful in my understanding of the diversity of viewpoints in the Left, because I learned very recently how little I truly understood some of those viewpoints.
Particularly, I was shaken to find out how little I understood the African American perspective. Many times I have tried to promulgate to African Americans the virtues of the radical left (as opposed to the Democratic Party, which I have always viewed as simply a 'good cop' to the Republicans' 'bad cop'). I failed again and again. I tried outreaching to gays, and of course I thought they would be even easier to communicate with because they were almost uniformly Left. I couldn't communicate to them very well, either. I found that I had two Left feet, no pun intended, when it came to speaking for the Left and to expanding this consciousness to others in American society.
Have patience with me when I admit that I thought, for the longest time, that Black people did not respond to my outreaches because they had forgotten the Left, due in part to so many Black Leftists being killed or exiled, such as Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought my experiences teaching in the inner city and interacting with my African American colleagues had clued me in more, but when I suggested to Mr. Ford (of BlackCommentator.com) that he broaden the target audience of this publication he explained to me that the focus of BlackCommentator is as good as its soul, and changing it would destroy it. I see now that this is absolutely correct. BlackCommentator is the powerfully successful voice for the Left that it is because it is distinctly an African American voice, which is itself preserved for this critical quality by speaking first and foremost to Black Americans.
Somehow, Labor people, whether media workers or organizers, must learn to think more like African Americans. After all, overcoming Slavery and Jim Crow were astonishing Working Class victories, and who is Working Class if not a slave or a sharecropper or a porter or a poor mother, with all the signs of toil on their hands but none of the gains?
I have realized that Black Liberation is central to Working Class Liberation. Black People are really the core of the Working Class, and if they remain misunderstood no one can progress in Working Class consciousness nor in the battle against the Boss. African Americans and Black people the world over have already been battling the Boss for us and for themselves for centuries, endlessly, and waiting for us to finally join them in true communion of perception, thought and deed.
I must say that since I have been paying specific attention to the African American media, I have grown intellectually. Nothing has been as challenging for me intellectually nor personally than reading BlackCommentator.com and a challenge I received in email from Glenn Ford: to truly learn the perspective of African Americans.
I know now what is wrong with many 'Democratic' leaders who think they should have a natural appeal to Black people: they think they know things they don't, believe things that are not true and don't understand the cultural differences that demand attention to something so basic as how to express an idea. Oftentimes, I have been discovering, when I learn how to express an idea more clearly for someone from another culture (different, albeit not alien), that the idea is completely bad, outmoded or foolish to begin with.
Black Americans are absolutely the most politically intelligent people in America. If I could have one wish at the moment of this writing, it would be to double or triple or otherwise exponentiate the political influence of Black Americans, right now.
I remember hearing radio pundits criticizing African Americans for opposing, vehemently, the war in Iraq when Bush was still in the planning stages of his grand crime. These pundits continually chanted the mantra that "African Americans can't explain why they oppose the war in Iraq."
I believe that African Americans who opposed the war and were asked to explain their opinion might simply have felt that they would have been talking their way into a useless argument with idiot patriots or weren't sure how to politely explain to white Americans that all of America's warfare is inherently racist. They especially probably felt this way because they know that most white Americans don't want to hear Black people complain about racism. However, as has been illustrated more than plainly in the Black and Left media, racism is at the core of the whole pogrom against Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Middle East... and Africa... against Native Americans, and so on.
White Americans are also notoriously poor at confronting their own faults, as individuals and as a culture. I know this is true, because both have been challenges in my case, and my culture, I have believed for a very long time, is the culture of the Left. "How could I misunderstand?" I wondered. "I have working class consciousness; I see through the Boss; I discern the lie in the Boss Media; thus I have communion in philosophy and cause with The Other." The truth is that I was well behind the ball, and wasn't even really in the game. I was stumbling through the dark trying to become more effectively Left, more effective for the Left, but without the realization that I just didn't understand The Other's perspective, I was just another Blockhead tripping over his own tongue and his own feet.
I need Black people to teach me how to think all over again, because I still need to exorcize the Americanized myopic Blockhead in me and to truly revolt against the cultural and social pollution that has poisoned my ability to truly relate to other entire segments of Humanity. Native Americans tried to teach White people this, and they paid a terrible price for trying to teach first and fight later. I have tried to absorb what learning I can from these people; I have no doubt that somehow, I'm still stumbling in the dark while I try to understand my father's own erstwhile people.
His ancestors chose White society and passed nothing of Sequoyah along to me, just like my mother forgot her North Irish Gaelic. This is typical of the tragedy of being American, and I'm sure this is part of what makes us do the things that in turn makes the world hate us so virulently, and so justifiably. We give up cultures that might have taught us some perspective, even if not by our own choice, because many people in America simply gave in to the already rotten decomposition that someone misnomered a Melting Pot, or had their cultures torn from them by other Empires. I am astonished that my father's ancestors gave up what I would jealously keep, if I had it, to join what they must have thought was a more prosperous path. Indeed, they did miss the Trail of Tears, but they remained stagnant on their own trail to nowhere and sacrificed much blood in many wars that need never have been fought.
Truth be told, I have some diminished Native blood but I do not have the Native American culture nor their unique viewpoint, which is not easy to understand nor to make one's own; it's completely alien to America and America is completely alien to the Native American. Knowing this is probably my best start on understanding their perspective.
Where am I with African Americans?
After thirty-seven years of believing myself to be a progressive, anti-racist activist and revolutionary, I know now that I have just begun all over again.
And I thank you.