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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:

>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.


------
The Alienist
jhfurnish@yahoo.com


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Comments

The following comments are for "I'm Much Clearer Now..."
by The Alienist

a thought-provoking piece
Alienist,
I enjoyed reading this. Your writing is top-notch, and I agree with many of your ideas. Of course, there is that fine line between incorporating other cultures and maintaining your own. That is a great point you made about the political awareness of blacks. Considering that America will have a non-white majority by 2050, it is even more vital that white Americans do a little bit of their own assimilating.

( Posted by: brickhouse [Member] On: June 4, 2004 )

Clarity
There is a striking touch of humility and open humanity in this piece which I find refreshing. I was struck, though, by your reference to Black America as one homogoneous whole, one political consciousness and wondered if this might, itself, act as a political stumbling block?

Have you read Howard Zinn's brief American history? (please excuse my mental lapse in not remembering the book's title) His theory that racism is a divorced aspect of class warfare made a great deal of sense to me. He noted that in early colonial America, slave uprisings often included white indentured servants but that as the laws changed to take natural human sympathy into account (white indentured servants were given a lesser punishment for open rebellion but could be hanged for enabling the rebellion of blacks) racism become a more institutionalized force among the poor and downtrodden. He noted, as well, that prior to the enslavement of Africans, the guise of superiority among Western Europeans tended to run along the lines of the You're-Heathens-I'm-Wearing-Pants model: that is, Western Europeans claimed superiority based on their religion or culture, as opposed to race. Race, however, became a handy tool as the old markers of cultural and religious superiority began to fade and science produced the notion that there might be some differences between geographically diverse populations linked with the tone and level of pigmentation in the skin. The change in immigration laws in the late 1800s is due to a faulty IQ test given to a sample white popultion and a sample Eastern European population -- querrents were asked culturally skewed questions (for instance, a picture portraying a tennis court lacked the net, the querrent was asked to circle the missing item -- funny because you wouldn't think newly arrived immigrants from poor countries would be overly familiar with the game of tennis which was at that time a sport for the wealthy) and the results were espoused as irrefutable truth that Slavic peoples are inherantly stupid and therefore dangerous. Similiarly faulty scientific tests were used to prove the racial superiority of whites over blacks and native Americans.

I raise the issue because it is my opinion that under duress from an outside group a group of people may become remarkably homogoneous. However, once the factor of duress dissipates the assimilation begins to unravel as well. This is easier to see in gay culture where the acceptance of group members has changed dramatically in the past few decades having a dramatic impact on gay culture, itself -- fewer young gay people see the need to radically differentiate themselves from the larger, surrounding culture. I've seen the impact of this in the lives of the gay people I know and particularily in the life of a closeted Republican gay friend, who tried to argue with me that gay marriage is not a gay issue. I think, for him, the urge to move beyond an old stigma and define himself as he sees fit produces a kind of internal schizophrenia and a state of dizzying denial. It reminds me of a line in an episode of "West Wing" where a Democratic staff member asks a gay Republican how he can include himself in a political party that resents such a large part of who he is and he responds by saying "Because I want to be more than just gay."

The comparitive value of belonging to a specific ethnic cultural group and existing as an individual, first and foremost, could turn into an entire essay on it's own. However, it is significant to note that the definition of the self as individual and unique is a strong American motif, not just in advertising or Capitolism but in our moral justification for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In this sense, it may be easier to approach a black audience as a white man by relying more on certain universal truths -- what is it at base that we all deserve? What are our universal rights as sentient, living human beings regardless of race, religion, credo, sexual orientation, etc...? -- then tackling the various potential methods of enabling these groups to reach those rights, which will by necessity differ due to the various points through which history and ignorance have stalled us.

( Posted by: hazelfaern [Member] On: June 4, 2004 )

dialogue response
I was struck, though, by your reference to Black America as one homogoneous whole, one political consciousness and wondered if this might, itself, act as a political stumbling block?
=================================
Not absolutely, because as you point out later yourself, because of the open siege under which Black people (the world over) have lived, into this very day, they have had to learn the hard way to stand back-to-back, in every circumstance, whether right or wrong. This has been criticized by Whites who are, unsurprisingly, too inexperienced with persecution themselves to understand it; my mother's people, the Irish, should understand it perfectly but somehow never learned to 'stand back-to-back' as Black people have. The proof is in the political and social conditions of Ireland, both Republic and Ulster, today, as well as the fact that Irish Americans have not been as consistently working-class conscious nor activist as I'd like to be able to say. I have seen young Irish Americans in nazi skin regalia at Celtic Fests, which is heartbreaking to me.

Yes, Black Americans have been shown, demographically, to stand essentially as a unified bloc, but this has been breaking down somewhat as a segment of the Black population moves into affluence and also because of a phenomenon wherein the Black 'bloc' has received some diminishment by Republican tactics to split the Black vote in a number of elections across the nation, including the recent re-election bid of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, by using a Black 'Uncle Tom' candidate funded by Republican money, although surreptitiously, even if they run on the Democratic ticket.
Next:

==================================
Have you read Howard Zinn's brief American history? (please excuse my mental lapse in not remembering the book's title) His theory that racism is a divorced aspect of class warfare made a great deal of sense to me.
==================================
'A People's History of the United States'
Required reading for a Wobbly, in fact. :)
Zinn is the guy that people should read when seeking a primer for the Left instead of Chomsky; Chomsky is the guy they should read once they know all the shop talk and have been in the Left a while, unless they are already very educated and can handle the scholarly level on which he can't help but write, since his mind can fly and jump but not walk and run.

But on Zinn's concept on racism being a divorced form of class warfare, yes, but it's not entirely divorced since it does get utilized to divide the working class on many issues.
It mostly gets connected to issues such as labor, which is an historically natural association, especially in the case of African Americans. Remember that black strike busters were used to provide labor when whites would strike; the blacks couldn't afford not to take the jobs and the whites hated them for scabbing. 'Matewan', featuring James Earl Jones, is a great movie to watch that will teach one much about the historicity of this phenomenon.
It also gets connected in the arena of Education, wherein we have the problems with the deterioration of public schools and the voucher system coming into play because of the desire of those in power to cut off an avenue to power for Blacks: learning. Also of course there was the issue of segregation and 'separate but equal', which today seems still to haunt us.

Finally, you're correct in that it is best to consider what it is that 'we all want and need' in order to approach someone from a different paradigm - whatever that may be - having created a plan for prosthelytizing that person in a manner that will not step on his or her sensitivities needlessly. This in itself is a challenge for man whites because they often believe they need things they don't, and other people can be much more practical about this; yet, again, not everyone in a particularly group thinks exactly the same way. There are Black people who value education desperately, which from my perception has always been accurately described as a traditional Black value; since being a teacher I have met not only youngsters but also adults, not necessarily even parents of children, who have absolutely no regard for education whatsoever.

Any human being of any background can contain virtually an mixture of motivations and beliefs. Here's a prime example of how exasperating this can be when trying to understand somebody:

Charles Manson: serial killer, nazi/Hitler sympathizer, genocidal racist but also serious ecologist (as inspired by Hitler!), hippie and free-loving flower child. Oh, and a writer of several Beach Boys hits and audition candidate for 'The Monkees'. Yes, it's true.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: June 4, 2004 )

Wrong answer!
I never said one had to completely be someone else or entirely absorb their entire perspective, but that the apparent political perceptiveness of African Americans merits as complete infusion into our own as possible.

You completely missed the point of this article.

( Posted by: The Alienist [Member] On: June 6, 2004 )

Hmmm...
>But I still enjoyed your piece, and we get >closer together with each one. :)

That sounds spicy. };]

But I'll be the Irish of the late 19th and early 20th centuries could have been in close communion with Black Americans if they'd bothered, condidering their experiences were quite close. For that matter, Native Americans and Black Americans missed a great opportunity, too.

( Posted by: The Alienist [Member] On: June 8, 2004 )





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