Friday, January 13, 2012

The Presidential Campaign "Rite of Passage": The Flogging of Black America

Okay, first let me say that I am soooo not being "political" here. But I always have an eye on public policy and am mindful of the ways in which it shapes life's chances and choices, and it is in that spirit that I am writing this.

You'd have to be willfully and deliberately oblivious not to notice that the flogging of Black America is a time honored "rite of passage" for all presidential candidates -- Democrat and Republican. From the GOP strategist Lee Atwater –- whose playbook of intentional and strategic use of coded race-baiting is still being used by candidates today –- to President Barack Obama, who, on his way to a presidential win, famously lectured Black America to be better fathers and to “. . .stop praising yourselves for mediocre accomplishments. . .” (Apparently, it is okay for white America to continue praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments as he had no such comparable message for them on this subject. . .)

In the presidential campaign, the “flogging of Black America” is a rite of passage that cannot be skipped, and every candidate wants their –- as it is described in political terms and yes, this is a real political phrase -- “Sister Souljah* moment” in the sun.

So now we have the newest crop of GOP candidates, who seem to be vying for their “Sister Souljah moment” like it is the Holy Grail. They are sending signals as bright as high beam spotlights to America that they understand the prevailing social order, engaging in a public whole sale "beat down" of the African American community by reinforcing typical American stereotypes of them that have little to do with reality but everything to do with the stereotypes and fears that white America holds of them.

Below are just some of the quotes GOP candidates have made about 40 million Americans – African Americans -- that have been uncritically received by much of “mainstream” media and much of the general public:

Newt Gingrich in Iowa: "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”

Rick Santorum in Iowa: "I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to earn the money and provide for themselves and their families..."

Ron Paul in a December 1989 edition of his Investment Letter: that "racial violence will fill our cities" because "mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white 'haves'." (NOTE: This is just one of many, many, many comments [older and more recent] that he and/or others in his name have made about African Americans.)

Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum in July 2011: Both signed a pledge claiming that African American children were more likely to grow up in stable families during slavery than in contemporary times.

So what does this sick rite of political passage – the “Sister Souljah moment” -- say about the role, place, and perspective accorded to and about African Americans in American consciousness?

For all the candidates’ campaign rhetoric about their visions of “freedom” and “liberty”, their characterizations of African Americans are more like the popular 19th and 20th Century stereotype of the lazy, ignorant, recalcitrant, child-like African/African American “slave” that continues to live in the American popular cultural narrative. Which makes me wonder whether their visions of “freedom” and “liberty” are –- like their speeches –- color-coded.

Should African Americans be comfortable with a president who has such mindsets about the African American community?

WOULD YOU be comfortable with a president with such mindsets about African Americans setting public policy?

From their statements, these candidates seem to believe that the “Sister Souljah moment” is still good political capital for capturing votes.

In November, we’ll see whether America agrees that that is true.

Moving Forward,


*A “Sister Souljah moment” happens when a candidate obviously and deliberately –- and often in a forum that is considered “Black” by white America–- repudiates the realities, issues, concerns, and agendas that are being put forth as having special impact on “Black America.” This is often done through racialized coding that is embedded within the surface remarks of that candidate. NOTE: Even the phrase “Sister Souljah moment” -- and the context in which it is used -- demeans, mangles, and denigrates the context in which her remarks were made as well as turns attention from the historical context from which she was speaking.