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July 05, 2004

The Problem with Civil Rights Politics

Professor Kim leads me to black feminists who are having a difficult time figuring out which way to go in light of what's up with Bill Cosby. I have a lot of things to say about the subject, and I think that I will dedicate a lot of time to saying so in this and other posts, even if I repeat myself topically.

I think I owe it to people who may or may not be new here to soak up about as much bandwidth as this Cosby wave is capable of delivering. At least it's something I think I offer some alternative framework for discussing. To the points:

Lets be fair, you will always have knuckleheads. Every group does.

But the solution is not to lob classist missives at poor blacks. The solution is not to blast poor blacks for betraying the Civil Rights Movement a movement that was very much rooted in, and beneficial for black bourgeois interests.

Instead, we need to actively reframe the Civil Rights struggle to include economic issues. We need to actively work with and on behalf of poor blacks to bring change.

I personally dont see enough of it coming from certain high-profile civil rights crusaders such as Mr. Cosby.

The Civil Rights Movement is over. It was, despite continuing rhetoric to the contrary, a complete success. All that is required from this point on is a modicum of vigilance. We should act as if it's done because it is done. Nobody is going to roll back the clock. Nobody is going to steal the money that Robert Johnson made from BET. Nobody is going to firebomb any churches, sic dogs or use firehoses on blacks who want to vote or otherwise use the American system. Nobody is going to keep blacks out of the stock market, public universities, hospitals, the officer's ranks of the armed services, government employment. A few isolated individual may try, but they cannot and will not succeed. We have not, by a long shot, reached the End of Racism, but we have reached the point at which it will take more than a nation of a million racists to hold us back. Why? Because there is a nation of a million racists trying to hold us back and they are not winning.

If you think they are, then stand to my left and raise your hand. I'm going in a different direction. Up.

The simple problem with this particular black feminists perspective is that they are expecting milk from a fish. There's nothing wrong with Civil Rights, it's just that they don't produce the kind of success she is looking for. If your parents didn't graduate from college and you are trying to get in, all Civil Rights politics can do is attempt to guarantee that unfair practices will not be employed to keep you out. They insure no special locks are on the door, but that's not the same thing as showing you how to make a key. What you will hear from any proper Civil Rights defender are all the failures in making things perfectly equitable - and that properly motivates people to check and balance what's wrong. That does not imply, however that the system itself is not capable of delivering the goods to those traditionally barred. But Civil Rights leadership is not about understanding African Americans in other colors than that of victims. That's their job; that's all they are, but it is not all we are.

The first step to a solution comes from loosening the grip of the politics of Civil Rights on your attention and then redirecting your attention to the politics of Social Power. Part of the problem is that too many African Americans don't feel as though there are any politics apporpriate for them aside from those of Civil Rights. That is the problem we in The Conservative Brotherhood are trying to address. Even by being boldly if sometimes even foolishly contrarian, many outspoken blacks are trying to say that there is another way for African American political interests. It's damned hard to get that message out there when most of the media engages in a(n unconscious) conspiracy against independent black political voices.

The politics of Social Power are about taking highschool kids and turning them into college graduates. Not to prove to The Man that black is beautiful. That was done a generation ago, but just because black families are trying to climb the ladder that makes America a great country. It's about staking an advanced claim in what America has to offer. It's about being uppity. It's about achievement and the pursuit of excellence. It's about using the system to do what it's supposed to do. It is a completely different attitude about what your purpose in America is all about. It's about taking a chance and making your impact on those better things. It's the entire difference between spitting on the flag and raising it high. And the first step is to stop believing that what faces you is some racist idiot who wants to stab you with an American flagpole. Kill that image. It doesn't apply.

If you think it does, stand to my left and raise your hand. I'm going in another direction.

If you acknowlege that every group has knuckleheads, then you're halfway there. Cosby may be in a conundrum because people expect him to speak as a Civil Rights leader. But he's speaking as a rich man who has given 8 figures to higher education. Repeat that again. He is a rich man who has given 8 figures to higher education. So whose politics are you going to be down with? Those who spend their money and time trying to get people through college or those who spend their money and time trying to get people out of jail? There's a conflict there and you have to choose. America's black politics are no longer sufficiently described in a letter from a Birmingham jail. In fact they are more and more being described in a website from middleclass black Americans who say things like:

We value education. We know that education is key to income, wealth and empowerment.

So you want to know "Wheres the How to buy a house handbook"? " Good. That's what we're talking about. That's the direction we're heading. Don't be shy. Admit it, that's the direction you want to head as well. Our mutual problem is that people who are getting a lot of airplay are the ones who are saying that's not what black politics is all about. They're talking about who got hit on the head with a flashlight by cops. Hang tight. The future is this way.

Posted by mbowen at July 5, 2004 03:04 PM

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The Problem with Civil Rights Politics from La Shawn Barber's Corner
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Contemporary youth culture--the glamorization of pimping, of prostitution, of crime--weighs particularly heavily on kids from families that aren't intact, on kids whose families do not have a history of graduating from high school (or college)...you know the drill.

At the grassroots in New York City and around the San Francisco area, there are a collection of schools and organizations helping kids do the work in grade school and high school that will lead to college.

You should know that there are a lot of hardworking people who have known this, and have worked to level the playing field, for academically ambitious inner city youth. Some of these programs have been around for decades.

Poor kids of all colors from New York have been turning from hiphop culture to academic achievement culture:

Prep for Prep

A Better Chance

In the San Francisco area:
College Track:

Eastside College Prep:

Posted on Fri, Jun. 18, 2004


The Lessons of Downtown College Prep

Mercury News Editorial

The first graduates of Downtown College Prep will receive their diplomas tomorrow in a ceremony beside a Ferris Wheel on West San Fernando Street. And what a ride it's been for founders Jennifer Andaluz and Greg Lippman and their students at San Jose Unified's first charter school.

Their individual stories of perseverance are moving. Their collective accomplishment is remarkable. At least for its graduates, DCP has managed to close the achievement gap in San Jose.

I am sure there are more programs (I left out, for example, Summer Bridge.) How to we scale up, or clone, these programs so that the kids who have the vision and drive can achieve?

How can we improve the deplorable conditions in inner city schools so that at least the 3rd graders are working at 3rd grade level?

Posted by: liz at July 5, 2004 11:40 PM

Thank you for posting this information. I am hopeful that we will be able to generate an active network of this kind of information - not just acknowledgement of its existence but a real hookup to people on the ground and also here in the online world. That, to me, is the essence of a politics of social power. It is not enough simply to know that 'somewhere out there' blackfolks are achieving despite the negative hype (whatever the odds).

I happen to believe that the deplorable conditions are somewhat insuperable. I wish there was something better than 'A Better Chance' but I am skeptical that we can have a successful politics that gets suburban voters to support the proper improvements to ghetto schools. I say this from the perspective of someone who believes that in terms of evil, there was genius in depriving blacks access to the mainstream. That is, ghettoes have been successful because there is no 'there' there, and whomever inhabits them grows up in an environment which is designed to grow failure. I mean something 'better' because there is a double leap of cultural and economic values between the 'hood and the 'burbs. Mastery of calculus doesn't help.

In this context, if we are willing to look very carefully at what I call Second World economies, then we should be able to recognize that college prep is not the answer. What I am saying is that ABC is the model for escape from the ghetto and assimilation into the suburban whitecollar model of success, that's not where all the success is however. So a multipronged approach is necessary and therefore multiple politics and policies are required.

This is one of the things that makes me queasy about vouchers. There's this tacit acknowledgement that if the end result is not 1200 scores on the SAT and National Merit recognition, then a highschool is failing its community. But I would say that a kid that learns automobile mechanics and has a 500 verbal, is not a necessarily a child left behind. Part of this means that we have to accept that there are successes across all classes. So we have to bridge the gap between 3rd graders reading at 3rd grade level and Not Pimpin'. The bridge might very well be woodshop. So what happens when you ship a kid from the ghetto - who would be first generation college to compete with kids who would be 3rd generation collegians? You have a palpable disadvantage, not to mention culture & class clash. It has thus far often been written off to race, but we should know better than that.

I don't want to be accused of the soft bigotry of low expectations, but I think a society which is not trying to make everyone into yuppies is a more honest society. We're not there. We complain about outsourcing, but there are times when I really worry that we are raising a generation of Americans who are incapable of sustaining a Second World economy. Where are our butchers, bakers and candlestick makers? Where are our mechanics, masons and painters? Where are our electricians, plumbers, carpenters? Our truckers, cabbies and cops? A ghetto remains a ghetto if there is no such place for such workers to work. And if all black kids are to go the ABC direction, you should know that nothing short of a miracle is going to keep them from abandoning the ghetto altogether. If you can beat Biff at Lacrosse, why go back to playing Suicide with Tyrone?

So it seems to me that you need to adjust the schools from ghetto to Second World expectations which is adjusted to the realistic economy of what inner cities can become. Otherwise you let it become the South Bronx; bomb it and create ghetto refugees. The suburbs as we know them cannot and will not absorb everyone. That, I think, was done in my generation - those graduating highschool in the late 70s and early 80s. That brain drain precipitated the Crack Wars, and what was left? The Snoop Dogg generation. People who quit expecting to be Blair Underwood actually succeeded culturally. That's our clue.

Posted by: Cobb at July 6, 2004 12:23 AM

Posted by: True_Liberal at July 6, 2004 12:54 PM

As a white man, I want to thank you for posting this.

While I do see low-level bigotry among some white people (mainly older people here in the Northeast), I now see it as more of a balance against the anti-white bigotry in the black community. Knuckleheads are on both sides. The good news is that they are far outnumbered on both sides of the fence (why do we need the damn fence anyway?).

It's probably time to shift the focus from a racial divide to an economic divide. Let's make sure that ALL kids in economically-disadvantaged areas have a chance to make something of themselves, regardless of color.

Posted by: Mark at July 6, 2004 01:24 PM

You know, I don't think "balance" was what I meant. What I really meant was that there are fewer white bigots than there used to be, and that their numbers are probably in line with the number of anti-white bigots out there.

Posted by: Mark at July 6, 2004 01:25 PM

Mark I don't think there is a state interest in stopping racial bigotry at the knucklehead level, so politically speaking it's almost a non-issue. Culturally speaking that's a different matter and I think most Americans have the proper sentiment. So I can agree with 'balance' politically but not socially.

What's most important is the matter of institutional discrimination that becomes economically significant. What Jesse Jackson is doing (trying to do) to shake down corporations is directly proportional to the lack of public confidence in the EEOC. If we all could agree on the agenda for the elimination of corporate racists, then we'd all handle the knuckleheads better.

But there is still the issue of how the cultural affects the political. Even if there is 'balance' it's not even. See here with regards to perception.

There also remains some question as to whether on the white side of the equation, the sentiment of bigotry translates into political thinking. So nobody really cares if Southy is Southy, until Southy votes no to a hate crime statute, and politicians find that they are able to make hay out of that bigotted sentiment - which originates from the knuckleheads.

I'm still saying that a lack of a hate crime statute is not a major factor in the economic success of African Americans, but you can see how the politics get screwed. Everybody has a duty to squelch the knucklheads. This is what Cosby is saying.

Posted by: Cobb at July 6, 2004 06:32 PM

Cobb, I didn't mean to hold up ABC & Prep for Prep as the perfect model. They aren't, they're just what is there.

I live up in Silicon Valley. The high school serving my house is Woodside High, which has kids living on welfare and kids living in houses where the property tax alone is $45,000/year. There are mothers who are sweating blood if Julianna doesn't get into Harvard early decisions and there are mothers who are sweating blood to get food on the table and praying that Julio doesn't get picked up with the rest of his homeys at the corner.

It is completely insane.

I agree with you absolutely that college isn't for everybody...but if you start making that decision to early, you get kids who aren't prepared for the demands of the workplace. You asked, where are the electricians and plumbers and carpenters? You have to be able to think clearly, logically, and sequentially to do those jobs.

I don't know. I am tired and grouchy and sick of the excess culture. I will try to be coherent about this another day.

Posted by: liz at July 7, 2004 12:02 AM

No problem. That was just the one sensible point I was capable of making at the moment. I also have a grudge against the program because although we grew up in LA my younger brother went to highschool in Minnesota. So how is it that this is the best a bright black kid who grows up in the 'hood can expect? Bussing is a walk in the park, relatively speaking.

Posted by: Cobb at July 7, 2004 12:25 AM

I was in a private high school when ABC started. My classmates included two kids via ABC and three uppermiddleclass kids from the Oakland elite. ABC was a start, not an answer.

Were my eyes opened or what.

Go look at Eastside Prep, it is an amazing place. High academic achievement in the ghetto.

Via #2 Pencil (a blog mostly about testing, but other education issues come up)


an op ed you may not have seen:


"Cosby was criticized for being too hard on the less fortunate, but let me tell you, the black students in my AP English classes are even harder. To them, the fighting and posturing that morning was nothing but out-and-out "ghetto."

That's a word the kids use freely, although among adults in Alexandria, Va., it's taboo. Several years ago a white principal caused an uproar here when she used it to describe the music at a middle school dance. Whatever we call it, the behavior and attitudes of many low-income minority students -- most of them black but an increasing number Hispanic -- are at the root of one of the most perplexing challenges facing Alexandria and other public school systems."

And I will try to get that survey of.....

hmmn, what to call it? You Too Can Go To College, Here's What You Have To Do and We'll Help You Do It

And oh, Joanne Jacobs.


Joanne I've known for 30 years. She's been writing a book about Downtown College Prep. She's always interesting, but some of her commentators seem to believe in the correlation of skin color and relative intelligence. Just be so you know.

Posted by: liz at July 7, 2004 09:43 AM

I don't understand why "Black conservatives" spend so much time wailing about "Black leaders" and "civil rights groups."

On one hand, it's said to ignore the racists and move on with life. So, why not just ignore "Black leaders" and move on with your agenda?

Something ain't right.

I ran track in college and I hated the coach. I ran because of self motivation and ignored and or dealt with the fact that he was an ass.

You think you know what the "Black leaders" and "civil rights crowd" is all about, then ignore them and move on with your program.

Whining and complaining about them is tiresome.

Whining and complaining that Blacks aren't giving you a fair deal is tiresome when, for the most part, "Black conservatives" aren't out their like "Black leaders" and the "civil rights crowd" are out there.

It's the summer. There are Black expos all over the country. I'll probably hit 3 of them this year. I bet at all 3, the local NAACP chapters will have a booth. People trying to hawk their wears will be there. Some church groups wil be there.

Where are ya'll at?

Posted by: DarkStar at July 7, 2004 08:59 PM

Part of the black conservative agenda is to get more media time. If 30% of the black voting public could be said to be conservative, then that representation should be seen across the board. It is not. I just got finished sending Debra Dickerson an email letting her know that 'The Black Republican' is not African American owned, operated or edited.

As long as African American organizations have to compete with nameless and faceless 'black leaders' then folks on both sides of the aisle are going to try to be heard, and that will continue until the term is out of usage.

If you are so certain that the Urban League and NAACP is 100% Democrat, then why don't you provide us with a poll the next time you're out there, supposedly in the Republican, Independent and Libertarian vaccuum.

Another part of the black conservative agenda is making progress with the membership of the GOP. So long as blackfolks ask to compare and contrast philosophies, civil rights will be part of the discussion. When is the last time you saw somebody ask African Americans about joining the Republican Party and Civil Rights was not part of the discussion?

Out here in LA, I just got invited to the 9th annual Statewide Black Chamber of Commerce Expo. The only way I got on that mailing list was through a black Republican (who happens to be an officer). I think it's a great idea for local GOP clubs to show up at Black Business expos. Thanks for that. I'll pass it on.

Posted by: Cobb at July 7, 2004 09:18 PM

I would like to add one more counterjab which probably applies more to me personally than the average GOP advocate. I'm am specifically saying that all the Civil Rights stuff is dead, boring 2% growth industry stuff and that it is reasonable and safe for the majority to ignore it. Essentially that we are not at odds but at equilibrium - that there is no pressing need for Civil Rights to be near the top of any political agenda.

I know that there is a contingent that has fun bashing the 'Civil Rights Establishment' as if it were a special interest group. I can't stand Clint Bolick and I don't believe there's much he can do to redeem himself. I'm not about to apologize for those folks. But I do think everybody needs to get real about the significance of those debates - they are not earth shattering.

So it is equally incumbent on Democrats to shutup about Civil Rights attacks or Republicans. Because as quiet as its kept, if the GOP did nothing, the bar of Civil Rights would be as high as it ever needs to be. In other words, liberals don't need any conservative help on Civil Rights, so quit saying that we are destructive of them.

Now I'm going to go way out on a limb and post the infamous GOP platform for the state of Texas. What parts of it contravene the Civil Rights Act? And if you can make the case that it does, do you need black conservatives to help you make your case?

Download file

Understand that my position on Civil Rights politics is 'abstain'. I think we are at a fair equilibrium. As a priority for blackfolks (not all blackfolks) I think there are more important issues.

And I should also say that I am not party to the kind of religious fundamentalist social activism that characterizes much of what the Republicans had been doing in the days of Falwell and Reed - there are many echoes of that in the Texas GOP platform. But those are not Civil Rights issues.

Posted by: Cobb at July 7, 2004 09:49 PM

Cobb, you said it so much better than I could. In addition, why black liberals go where black conservatives are and complain that all black conservatives talk about are black leaders, is a mystery to me.

Posted by: La Shawn Barber at July 8, 2004 05:42 AM

Let me address this comment first:

why black liberals go where black conservatives are and complain that all black conservatives talk about are black leaders, is a mystery to me.

1. Thanks for the classification.

2. Just because I don't buy the "conservative line" in total, doesn't mean I buy the "liberal line" either. I think for myself and seem to have a knack for finding inconsistancies. "IQ" tests indicate that I do well in finding patterns.

3. The question I believe should really be asked is why "Black conservatives" spend so much time attacking "Black leaders" when the result is, in most cases, a shouting match.

What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing the same way and expecting something different?

If you are so certain that the Urban League and NAACP is 100% Democrat, then why don't you provide us with a poll the next time you're out there, supposedly in the Republican, Independent and Libertarian vaccuum.

I never claimed that to be the case. In fact, I know it's not. What I find interesting is that when the NAACP is attacked by conservatives, rarely is it noted that Black Republicans are in the NAACP.

until the term is out of usage.

Agreed, but why keep using the term and then hope that it goes away?

So long as blackfolks ask to compare and contrast philosophies, civil rights will be part of the discussion.

Agreed. But then why should Black Republicans trot out the "The Civil Rights Bill would not have been based without Republicans" mantra when someone can turn around and say, "But look what Jack Kemp has said. Look what Faye Anderson has said. ..." You can't say Blacks are mislead and misguided about the GOP when some people, white and Black, within the party are saying things aren't right.

In Maryland, Michael Steele has addressed the issue head on, acknowledge some things and pointed out other things. The conversation then moved on.

I think it's a great idea for local GOP clubs to show up at Black Business expos. Thanks for that. I'll pass it on.

That's basic marketing. I fail to understand why there is a disconnect unless it's intentional.

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 06:08 AM

In addition, why black liberals go where black conservatives are and complain that all black conservatives talk about are black leaders, is a mystery to me.

I'll address this again in another way.

In short, I'm what Cobb said he wanted when he posted to a Usenet group.

Former business owner. I will be a business owner again.

College educated.

Decently informed.

Not tied to the "traditional civil rights" platform. Cobb is right. The civil rights movement succeeded, it's way past time to move on.

I'm a family man with family concerns. One being education, another being financial, another being long term care for my family after my earning power slows to a crawl, another being care of extended family members that I take some responsibility for.

My points are vaild, like the points or not.

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 06:15 AM

I agree with you 100% that everybody needs to get past the Civil Rights discussion sucking up all the black oxygen, and I have personally thought that, even among those black Republicans who are showing me the ropes that they are a bit too defensive on the matters. But this stuff is really unavoidable. I think some people can't get past it. It's the same brick that gets thrown every time a black person raises their hand and says Republican.

I can't tell you all the reasons Republicans do what they do, that's why it's so critical for me to deal with Old School folks whom I understand and have us bend the party around to representing our way of thinking. It just takes time to get past all of the noise and down to business, but you and I know that two years from now newbies are still going to obsess. This is a central reason I say, get into the party now no matter what or who it is now, and make it what you want it to be. And I know that the Republican party is not looking to engage African Americans on the basis of some fixed focus and litmus test on Civil Rights orthodoxy, so there's more freedom to get away from that particular issue and focus on business development.

One more thing that I heard in that first Republican meeting that I never heard in a lifetime of black political meetings, is the [white] Republican guy pointing to blacks in the room and saying we need you to get out on the street and identify all the precinct captains and become precinct captains so that we can know those resources on the ground. These folks are very practical and hard driving when it comes to winning elections. That is a pure bottoms up approach, more grassroots that what we've been calling grassroots.

Posted by: Cobb at July 8, 2004 07:58 AM

If that's happening in the LA GOP, cool.

But don't let the white GOP'ers get away with just sending Blacks on the errands, make them go with you and get more than just face time.

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 07:14 PM

Cobb, I'm serious when I write this.

Take the time to try to contact Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and see how he's trying to do things in Maryland.

I like the brother's approach.

On radio, with Ehrlich with him, Steele said that before he agreed to be Ehrlich's running mate, he set some ground rules, one of them being that Ehrlich had to address the Black community in places where the Black community would be. In Maryland, once spot is WOLB. It's an AM talk station owned by Radio One.

The Lt. Gov. has done a great job getting the state Minority Business Enterprise to function the way it should: real Black businesses getting state contracts, not fronts.

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 07:52 PM

Of course, now that I've talked up Steele, LaShawn will want to write him off....

LOL! :-D

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 07:53 PM


Yeah. A lot of folks have said good things about Steele. But I just may be repeating that I heard it from you back in the supply side thread. In any case, when I reviewed his bio, it was clear to me that he was a natural.

My cousin runs a good sized software company out of Baltimore and is one of a number of well-respected black businessmen who are a significant portion of the group that generally goes under the header of 'city fathers'. I cannot remember the name of the civic group in which he was a member, but I immediately recognized the flavor. I think he's a prime example of the kind of up and coming African American businessmen who are a natural fit in that arena. He grew his business from scratch.

I expect that if I get my own biz cranked up, he'll start sending me invitations to those charity golf tournaments again. I know he gets a fair amount of Federal business but I'm sure he's connected enough to know what's what in the state. In a lot of ways his example speaks to me again about the supply-side. When you reach a certain level, the powers that be must pay attention. Again, I strongly believe that there are these hookups waiting to happen.

Posted by: Cobb at July 8, 2004 08:32 PM

Cobb, I know that company. It's a small circle they roll in. I see him off and on. I recognize the face.

Coming back from a biz trip on Tues. night, the president of the company I work for was talking about his entry into the world of politics. Mainly to protect his biz interests.

Posted by: Darkstar at July 8, 2004 09:33 PM

His being the prez of the company I work for.

Posted by: DarkStar at July 8, 2004 09:34 PM