Blackface on White People: America’s Inside Joke

Mike Green
Feb 7 · 38 min read
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam responded to questions on February 2, 2019 pertaining to the discovery of pictures on his 1984 college yearbook page showing two individuals dressed in blackface and a KKK costume. Northam said he doesn’t believe either costumed person is him. Their identities remain a mystery.

This is Black History Month 2019 and it’s already shaping up to be quite a month of historic hubris and ignorance on public display.

In the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last night, and the Democratic response by Stacey Abrams, the nation will return its focus to the events still unfolding in Virginia, where both Governor Ralph Northam and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax are embroiled in public relations nightmares of historic proportions. Both problems are self-imposed, with both men seeking to influence public interpretations of their actions.

In the case of Fairfax, he is accused by a woman of sexually assaulting her in 2004 in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He admits the sexual encounter in question occurred but claims it was consensual. His accuser, Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College, issued a statement today describing her experience.

The governor is dealing with swift backlash after his college yearbook was unearthed featuring a photo of two people on his page, one in blackface and the other wearing a KKK costume.

The Democratic Party of Virginia is trying to grapple with both issues simultaneously. They have determined that Northam must resign and the allegations levied against Fairfax must be taken very seriously. Adding insult to injury, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, today admitted to wearing blackface in college while imitating a rapper.

Both of these issues (sexual assault and ridicule of black Americans) are deeply injurious and historically systemic. Both deserve a full airing through national discourse and debate.

I reacted last week to the unveiling of Northam’s trivializing of hate-filled white hostilities targeting black Americans. And while I started this commentary on that issue, the Fairfax fiasco unfolded. Then the governor changed his mind about whether it was him in the photo. Then the state’s attorney general confessed to his sins. Then Fairfax’s accuser released her statement. February just started, folks. Let’s buckle up. There’s a lot to dig into.

TWIN DEMONS

Northam and Herring’s issue of mockery is steeped in the ugly history of America’s white supremacy, with the twin demons (Ridicule and Terror) featured on the governor’s college yearbook page.

Fairfax’s issue is also steeped in the ugly history of America’s male dominance of women, with the twin demons who terrorize and dismiss women standing tall in the accusation.

In the era of #MeToo, it seems that Fairfax and the Democratic Party of Virginia have a serious dilemma on their hands. The historic ascension of a black man into the state governorship would be a national story without all the added scandal. It will reach an unprecedented historic level if Fairfax does so with credible allegations of sexual assault hanging over his head.

That said, we’ve seen this movie before on the Republican side of the aisle, with a self-confessed serial assailant with more than a dozen accusations against him sail through a Republican presidential primary and ultimately defeat the most experienced presidential candidate in US history. Nevertheless, the Democrats must contend with the integrity of their own souls, which now face the prospect of joining their GOP colleagues in hypocrisy.

WHAT’S GOING ON?

My focus in this commentary is on issues that no one has yet covered associated with the Northam scandal. Whether the governor should or shouldn’t resign isn’t my main focus. I’m concerned with the core issues that have long been ignored, and will likely continue to be ignored if Northam steps aside as a matter of political expediency for the sake of Democratic Party politics in Virginia.

To be clear, the issues I discuss here could very well be addressed in a serious and committed manner whether the current governor remains or resigns. This is not an either/or decision. It is, however, an opportunity born again out of the discovery of Northam’s yearbook. And it is that opportunity upon which I hope to convince the state of Virginia and the nation writ large to focus continued discussions.

HUMOROUS HOSTILITY

Media coverage of Northam’s public relations nightmare over a racist photo in his college yearbook has missed an incredibly important point: Since slaves first became black “Americans” in 1868 (14th amendment) and were extended the right to vote in 1870 (15th amendment), white Americans across the spectrum of socioeconomic status have both ridiculed and terrorized black citizens for more than 100 years.

Such hate isn’t humorous to black Americans.

Yet, irreverent mockery of the widespread terrorizing of black people has been passed down from generation to generation of many white families. They hide the horror of hate-filled hostilities of their forefathers (and mothers) toward innocent black men, women and children behind ridicule steeped in ignorance.

Why are hate and hostility considered funny?

Who thinks the Trail of Tears and the Jewish Holocaust are humorous footnotes in history?

How many Native Americans today recall nearly 300 wars fought against white “settlers” from 1622 to 1910 as a comical farce?

Which black American families enjoy dressing up as klansmen and chasing their children around with a gun and a noose?

Which white families still trade postcards with publicly lynched and mutilated bodies of black people?

What the heck is going on in the minds of anyone who makes light of evil?

Unfortunately, too often people make light of things and circumstances they don’t understand, rather than try to gain insight and understanding to bridge the divide with their fellow human being. It would seem natural for the white Christian community across the nation to speak loudly on this issue. But where are those voices?

Where is the national outcry from white Christians denouncing such abhorrent behavior among their fellow white Christians as un-Christlike? Where is the commitment to educate white Christians about the history of their fellow black Christians who suffered generations of evil imposed upon them by their fellow white Christians … which continues today?

Let’s be honest, Governor Northam’s 1984 medical college yearbook is but a drop in an ocean of evidence that this kind of supremacist levity is not just episodic in America; it is a systemic problem rooted in the original sin of the nation.

Northam’s yearbook page featuring a photo of two people in blackface and hooded KKK costume ought not be treated as an individual episode to be dismissed along with the governor. The nation is immersed in evidence of systemic segregationist policies and practices that protect white supremacy and oppress nonwhites. Will we dismiss this story as just another political scandal or focus a committed lens upon systemic issues that pervade every city, county and state in America?

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

The good news is the Northam yearbook fiasco is an opportunity for the state of Virginia to proactively lead the nation in a committed focus to inform and educate the masses on important history that is continually swept under the rug.

The question remains: Will the State of Virginia invest in educating its population about systemic segregationist policies and practices that have plagued black Virginians for generations?

This scandal is an inadvertent golden opportunity to identify and disrupt segregationist policies and practices, and address long-ignored complaints by black populations still impacted by economic deprivation, police brutality, banking and housing discrimination, poor quality public education, extreme high unemployment and lack of equitable access to opportunity.

Think of the enormous long-term benefit of finally getting serious about disrupting segregation!

Will these issues and associated areas of segregationist policies and practices become the committed core focus of both the Democratic Party and Republican Party in the state of Virginia (and other states)? Will these political leaders step up and lead the nation in a long overdue overhaul of systemic institutional biases?

HIGH SOCIETY HUBRIS

Northam’s Yearbook reveals an ugly underbelly of America’s so-called “high society.” It offers us insight into the bubble of ignorance that envelopes communities of white wealth and privilege.

To be clear, the term ignorance is apropos in describing insulated bubbles where many of the inhabitants are both lacking sufficient knowledge of the experience of black Americans, since the 14th amendment welcomed them into the nation as equal citizens, and also ignoring systemic problems consistently seeking their attention.

The cries of the nation’s most vulnerable have seemingly failed to reach the ears of those residing within an apparently impenetrable white bubble of comfortable ignorance, wherein ridicule of black people and hatred of black children are commonplace.

This bubble was established by white supremacists and bequeathed to their descendants as a privilege, wherein white Americans in the bubble today may choose to live their entire lives without concern for the plight of many millions of poor nonwhites, whose daily existence outside of the bubble doesn’t interfere with the comfort of the bubble residents’ environment except episodically.

The rumors of white racism that pierce the bubble can be easily explained away with stereotypical tropes, thoughts and prayers for the accusers, dismissive counter-arguments that lay the fault at the feet of those suffering, and humor, of course.

Let’s just laugh at the suffering of others. What fun!

WHITE SUPREMACY

To be clear, the ideology of white supremacy is at the core of such hostile humor. The whole of America has been conditioned by propaganda for generations to think of white supremacists as violent extremists and so-called “hate groups.” This enables those who subscribe to the ideology of white supremacy to distinguish themselves as different than a guy like Congressman Steve King, who is at least honest with himself and his beliefs, however disagreeable they may be to me.

The reality is that white supremacy is much more than violent extremism; it is the nation’s original sin.

The country was built upon a foundation of white supremacy, and all of its institutions are rooted therein. Thus, the status quo of NIMBYism and segregationist policies and practices were established at the outset, first with the Native population and then black slaves.

The reason why an Inclusive America was such a challenging concept in 1868 when the highest law in the land was changed to accommodate equal protections of a new multicultural citizenry is because such an ideal disrupted the original dream of a nation established by whites for the benefit of whites.

White supremacy isn’t merely a hate-filled violent opposition to the existence of others. It is a profound belief that white people, generally speaking, are superior in many ways to all other races of people.

This thinking doesn’t have to be displayed in violence or hatred. It can also be expressed in myriad ways. White supremacy manifests itself along a spectrum, ranging from the decision-making power of political policymaking and the influence of decisions in business, economics, education and media storytelling, to the other end of the spectrum wherein violent extremism plays a demonstrative role.

Ignorance of nonwhite peoples prevails across the spectrum, as does propaganda surrounding the history of hate and hostility perpetrated by white Americans broadly upon nonwhite populations. But the insidious power inherent in the educated populace of white Christian supremacists is hidden behind the episodic violence of white Christian extremists.

The enormous capacity of policymakers and influencers to conduct widespread evil upon the masses for generations, in efforts to preserve systemic white power and supremacy, is often lost in the inordinate focus on episodes like Charlottesville’s tiki torch-wielding supporters of flags and statues that ironically remind many white people of a history they never knew.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER

For one hundred years (1868 to 1968), these two hate-filled hostile activities, ridicule and terrorism, were in full force and infected the mainstream of white America.

Media were complicit in both ridicule and terrorist activities. Media cast black citizens in ugly stereotypical frames and derided extraordinary leaders, both black and white, whose courage in the cause of progressing politics of inclusion and equity cost them their lives.

White terrorism of black people was commonplace in America for more than 100 years following the Civil War up to and through the ’60s, and eventually claimed the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

RIDICULE AND TERROR

Notably, King was one of many who died standing up against homegrown terror. The memory of their terror-filled lives still sadly serves as an inside joke to far too many white families today.

While the Jewish Holocaust is held in reverent remembrance and commemoration of an evil era, the generation of white Americans who turned away many thousands of Jews fleeing persecution have now been revered by an iconic journalist as the “Greatest Generation.”

That “great” America, which is held in high regard today, was waging war against black America and the ideals of a multicultural society and inclusive American landscape. That has been conveniently lost in the ridicule of black Americans and reverent homage paid to a generation of white supremacists.

To be clear, I’m not casting a wide net of aspersion on everyone of that generation. Obviously, America has always been a land wherein both good people reside alongside bad people. My point is the juxtaposition of elevating an entire generation of white Americans to legendary greatness while dismissing, ignoring or outright pretending segregationist policies and practices weren’t systemic and ubiquitous is to intentionally create a myth that further erases the memories of extraordinary black Americans whose stories won’t rise to legendary status in white America. Why is there a need to elevate some and erase others? This is a core problem in today’s media and political paradigm.

MAGA

Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan with appeal to those who subscribe to the notion that America was at some point (unknown) in the past living up to its professed creed and was therefore considered great.

Great to who? is the question that should be asked.

The claim that America had achieved greatness in the past is a mockery of the experience of tens of millions of nonwhite Americans who have constantly struggled against the systemic segregationist policies and practices of the past. The hint in the slogan, Make America Great Again, is that segregationist policies that Dr. King and many others fought against and dedicated their lives to defeat were part of a “Great America.”

Sadly, those policies, and the impact thereof, remain solidly intact and in place today in every city in Virginia and throughout America. The inference gleaned from the notion that America is great is that all we need to do is “maintain the status quo,” a phrase Dr. King used repeatedly to describe segregationists.

The problems poor people of color complain about, it seems to the segregationists, are of their own making, not the system itself.

Of course, segregationist policies of the past are present and ubiquitous today. People who do not speak of them do not see them because they are on the beneficiary side of them.

It is ludicrous to suggest that segregationist policies that protect white power and supremacy magically disappeared somewhere along the way in the 50 years since King was killed. And it is folly to think the nation could ever be considered “great” today or at any point in its history when it is, and has been, openly and intentionally hostile to poor families of any race, with a particular emphasis on those of color.

How did such a despicable inside “joke” become acceptable to presumed respectable white families whose children today desecrate the memories of heroic black Americans?

AMERICAN SCHIZOPHRENIA

In the 2019 State of the Union address, Trump gave multiple tributes to WWII veterans. As a military veteran, I certainly honor those who served and applaud the tribute. But I do not subscribe to the notion that America was great then because it fought against the Nazis any more than I would think all of the other allied forces were great nations because of their sacrifice and victory. While fighting against tyranny is a great thing in and of itself, we must contextualize the point before expanding the label of one decision to blanketing the nation with legendary greatness.

Put in context, white America was literally at war against innocent black American citizens at home while fighting its white enemies abroad simultaneously.

The state of America’s military during WWII was segregation. The state of America during WWII was segregation. The state of black Americans during WWII was that of a subjugated, second-class citizenry, repeatedly ridiculed and under constant fear of terrorism.

That systemic segregationist policies and rampant terrorism of black families in America during the period of WWII and beyond doesn’t magically disappear because white historians, politicians and media want to remember their grandparents as heroes. Heroism of individuals in war doesn’t translate to a “Great America.” Individual heroism in war can stand on its own greatness. America as a nation still has a lot of work to do to achieve such an honor.

Dr. King described the state of white America at its founding as “schizophrenic” as it grappled with the idea that all men are created equal while establishing a nation for the benefit of whites with a whites-only citizenry in 1776 that didn’t change until after the Civil War.

When that change in US citizenry finally came in 1868 (under threat of continued martial law in those states that did not allow passage of the 14th amendment), it triggered yet another war.

WHITE AMERICA v BLACK AMERICA

This new war was waged against black Americans by white (self-proclaimed Christian) conservatives who sought to preserve the status quo of a whites-only citizenry. Losing the Civil War meant the loss of free slave labor. Losing the culture war would mean newly minted black American citizens would have equal status to whites with equal protection under the highest law in the land. This second loss was untenable to many white Americans who believed the white race was superior to all others. And that belief transcended the Mason-Dixon line. Segregation everywhere was the response.

Segregation was the tool white America used for centuries to dispense with the Native Americans. They physically removed Native peoples from sight and relegated them to live on designated lands far away from the areas populated by white Americans.

The challenge in using the same tool with the new black Americans was the fact that they owned no land. And with President Andrew Johnson’s defunding of the Freedmen’s Bureau, they would not be provided land in the manner their white counterparts were. Therefore, segregation imposed upon the black Americans would mean they’d have to live near white Americans. But such proximity would be at their own peril.

The segregationist policies employed in the war whites waged against black Americans were still ongoing and in full force 100 years later when King was added to the death toll of the war. On Sept. 25, 1960, King offered this point in a speech given in Charlotte, NC:

In a real sense America is essentially a dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. It is the dream of a land where men of all races, colors and creeds will live together as brothers. The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This is the dream. It is a profound, eloquent and unequivocal expression of the dignity and worth of all human personality.

But ever since the founding fathers of our nation dreamed this dream, America has manifested a schizophrenic personality. She has been torn between {two} selves — a self in which she has proudly professed democracy and a self in which she has sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. Slavery and segregation have been strange paradoxes in a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal.

PRESENT-DAY PARADOX

White self-proclaimed “Christian” conservatives, who sought to revert the nation back to a former period when it was a whites-only citizenry (1776–1868) used every tactic they could to terrorize black families, ensuring their continued subjugation, leveraging both legal and illegal segregationist policies and practices while spreading fear of injury and death to keep black people away from the political power of the ballot box.

Economic deprivation and urban renewal projects both starved and displaced black families by the millions. Yet, to many white Americans, in both parties, the hostile environment imposed by whites for centuries, in which black families sought to survive during and after slavery, remains all part of a giant joke today. Republicans today routinely invoke the sacrosanct belief that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves as a Republican, and the Republicans were responsible for the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution.

These changes abolished slavery, extended citizenship to black people (and immigrants) and provided black Americans the equal right to white citizens in voting. The detail conveniently omitted from such claims to the past progress of black people is evident in the arguments made during the struggles over the concern for the welfare of black people then and now.

The same arguments made against the “Radical” Republicans in congress by a recalcitrant president (who was eventually impeached) in those days are proffered by today’s Republicans who ridicule the positions of black Americans today who continue to fight over the same issues of civil rights and voting rights.

It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to envision President Trump making the same arguments as President Andrew Johnson. Yet, today, he mocks the state of black Americans and ridicules their plight while presenting superficial unemployment data as justification for his derisive dismissive demeanor.

Who is laughing at such hate-filled ignorant ridicule?

ADJUSTING ANTIQUATED PERSPECTIVES

White Americans who typically think of black Americans primarily as a low-wage workforce tend to look at the unemployment rate to justify sustaining segregationists systems that subjugate whole populations into second-class citizenry. I urge them to look deeper.

Black Americans are just like white Americans with a full array of talent and skills and genius applicable to major contributions to the economy and society as a whole. The unemployment rate is but one minor data point among a host of others needed to understand the health of any white community, so why is it the only data point used in the discussion about the economic health of black households?

Notably, the unemployment rate for black Americans, which rises and falls with the white rate of unemployment continues to remain at, or nearly double the rate of white unemployment. That data point is fueled by political talking points, expedience of dismissing valid protests and ignorance about the totality of the black American experience.

The general privilege afforded to white Americans is a lack of curiosity about the experience of nonwhites outside of the bubble of the white American experience. Such lack of curiosity creates a convenient cavity into which white supremacists pour copious amounts of revisionist history and superficial levels of awareness of the black American experience. This paradigm enables even the most intellectually astute white child to live their entire life lacking deep knowledge about nonwhite peoples while believing the experience of nonwhites in a meritocratic America is equivalent to their own.

Those who peek their heads outside the bubble of convenience are often profoundly impacted by the vast amount of information to which they have never been exposed.

It can be a paradigm-shifting epiphany.

Some choose to merely regurgitate talking points and offer superficial responses to significant issues impacting the landscape of a multicultural society. Here are a few questions that many have not thought to ask, but should:

How is the unemployment rate for black Americans today different in comparison to white unemployment than 50 years ago?

What is the unemployment rate for black Americans today relative to higher education achievement in comparison to white Americans?

Who owns the majority of employer firms in the US by racial demographics?

What percentage of the GDP do black businesses produce?

What percentage of homeownership do black Americans have compared to white Americans?

What is the average net worth of black American families compared to white families?

What is the average wealth of black American families compared to white families?

What is the average income of black American families compared to white families?

What is the wealth gap today between the average black American family compared to the average white family and how does that compare with the gap 50 years ago?

What is the status of segregation for black children in America today versus 50 years ago?

What is the status of segregation and displacement of black families today due to market-driven gentrification and public policies versus 50 years ago?

THE NEGRO AMERICAN REVOLUTION

No Black History Month would be complete without a full focus on the Negro American Revolution. Yet, most Americans of all races have never heard of it.

Every year, the nation commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., followed by a month of black history. It seems surreal that not one leading voice in America has picked up the mantle left by King after his role in a historic battle was ended by an assassin’s bullet. His focus was on ending segregationist policies and practices. His strategy was a nonviolent revolution. The revolution was an organized resistance and protest of the war waged upon black Americans for more than one hundred years.

What happened to the Negro American Revolution?

In 1963, Dr. King wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He followed that with a searing condemnation of segregationist policies during a speech in Detroit to 25,000 just two months before he led with a similar refrain in Washington DC.

Almost one hundred and one years ago, on September the 22nd, 1862, to be exact, a great and noble American, Abraham Lincoln, signed an executive order, which was to take effect on January the first, 1863. This executive order was called the Emancipation Proclamation and it served to free the Negro from the bondage of physical slavery. But one hundred years later, the Negro in the United States of America still isn’t free. [Applause]

The events of Birmingham, Alabama, and the more than sixty communities that have started protest movements since Birmingham, are indicative of the fact that the Negro is now determined to be free. (Yeah) [Applause]

For Birmingham tells us something in glaring terms. It says first that the Negro is no longer willing to accept racial segregation in any of its dimensions. [Applause]

For we have come to see that segregation is not only sociologically untenable, it is not only politically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.

Segregation is a cancer in the body politic, which must be removed before our democratic health can be realized. [Applause] (Yeah)

Segregation is wrong because it is nothing but a new form of slavery covered up with certain niceties of complexity. [Applause]

Segregation is wrong because it is a system of adultery perpetuated by an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality. [Applause]

And in Birmingham, Alabama, and all over the South and all over the nation, we are simply saying that we will no longer sell our birthright of freedom for a mess of segregated pottage. [Applause] (All right)

In a real sense, we are through with segregation now, henceforth, and forevermore. [Sustained applause]

What part of King’s speech was funny or humorous? Is segregation today in 2019 something to be mocked and dismissed?

In the fall of 1968, King was already buried when Alabama Governor George Wallace arrived at the same venue in Detroit (Cobo Hall) where King had delivered a denouncement of segregationist policies and practices five years earlier. Wallace declared the exact opposite of King’s proclamation. Wallace’s mantra of “Segregation today, tomorrow and forever” was followed by a riot … and the election of Richard Nixon a few weeks later.

Today, media, politicians, educators and historians fail to remind us of King’s determined battles to disrupt and dismantle segregation in all forms.

Who is framing MLK Day and Black History Month around the most important refrain of “One hundred years later” that King described as his reality before he ever spoke of his dream in the same speech?

But one hundred years later the Negro still is not free. (My Lord, Yeah)

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. (Hmm)

One hundred years later (All right), the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

One hundred years later (My Lord) [applause], the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. (Yes, yes)

And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

If the plight of the Negro when he/she became an American citizen in 1868 was a “shameful condition,” and the same condition existed in 1963 when the Negro finally rose up in revolution, why isn’t it an annual ritual every February by every American to study and discuss in detail King’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait”?

The first chapter of King’s book, “Why We Can’t Wait” is titled, “The Negro Revolution: Why 1963?”

The first chapter is titled, “The Negro Revolution: Why 1963?”

I believe white children are just as innocent as black children. When blackface and KKK costumes become juvenile toys and adult party favors, it hearkens back to King’s description of America as “schizophrenic.”

White children learn such abhorrent behavior from the adults in their environment. These adults are not stereotypical tiki torch-wielding extremists like we witnessed in Charlottesville. They are often well-educated, well-respected leaders in their community, politics, business, churches, temples, school campuses and elsewhere across the landscape of white America.

Ironically, many of the those standing in opposition to the progress King sought were white Christian leaders and influencers. King had choice words for his fellow white clergy in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

How does one proclaim the Gospel of Christ on one hand while supporting the segregationist policies and practices that King denounced as “wrong, sinful and immoral”?

Today, how does one encapsulate the evils of the past 150 years perpetrated against tens of millions of black Americans as a joke?

The nation was at war in 1963. Civil war. Racially motivated. It didn’t start in 1963. It started the day Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the freedom of all black people in all states. It was ongoing when black slaves left the last plantations in Galveston, TX in June 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The white-hot rage of white southerners against four million newly freed slaves only intensified during Reconstruction when Radicals bestowed upon them the vestiges of credibility as new citizens of the new United States. But from Lincoln’s declaration in 1863 to King’s account in 1963, the Negro had suffered a one-sided assault long enough. A revolution was rising.

In the first chapter of his book, King eloquently described the environment in which a thousand cities were impacted. It’s hard to fathom what occurred then, because white supremacists have hidden their own history of hostility, masked in misleading political rhetoric, revisionist textbooks and a complicit media that dutifully ignores an extraordinarily ugly chapter in US history every January and February when it ought to be the narrative that’s front and center in the American psyche.

A good start for the nation toward picking up the efforts that stagnated in the aftermath of King is to focus on educating a largely ignorant nation about the Negro American Revolution, the “most important domestic event in the postwar period of the United States,” according to the research division of the US Department of Labor.

MOST IMPORTANT IN US HISTORY

In 1965, the US Dept of Labor published a report on “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” a.k.a. The Moynihan Report. Over the years, there have been numerous discussions and debates about the conclusions made in the report regarding the dissolution of the black family and the adverse impact of individual decisions. Sadly, most Americans don’t actually bother to read reports. They prefer to hear biased annotations and arguments by so-called experts and engage in discourse based solely upon such filters.

The result of such confused rhetoric is a generalization by many white Americans that the systemic biases inherent in an institutionalized racist culture across all industries and areas of society is absolved by the idea that some individuals enduring extreme poverty make bad choices. The report flatly denounces such conclusions. Rather, it states, the plight of the Negro family is specifically due to two reasons:

1. White America is a racist landscape

2. White America has targeted black people for 300 years with unimaginable hostility that has taken a toll

Today, most white Americans have adopted the idea that segregationist policies and systemic biases that King and others died fighting are innocuous elements of the status quo, which is the lifeblood of a great nation that has amassed the greatest amount of power and wealth on earth. So, why change the system?

Trump spent an inordinate amount of time during the #SOTU2019 making this very argument. Trump and his supporters believe that individuals must adapt to the current system, because the system is great and it will provide opportunity for everyone who assimilates.

This misguided premise is fundamentally in opposition to the position of Dr. King, the Civil Rights Movement and the Negro American Revolution. He saw a system in need of change.

The system of segregation created a “shameful condition” for tens of millions of black Americans. The congressional acts in 1964 and ’65 on civil rights and voting rights admonished white Americans who ignored the 14th and 15th amendments, which already provided for civil rights and voting rights for black Americans.

So, why did congress need to act in ’64 and ’65 (and several times prior) to reiterate what was already ensconced in the highest law of the land? Is this not a nation of laws? Didn’t white Americans believe in the “rule of law” and “law and order?” Why are the constitutional rights of nonwhite citizens always in social, economic and political tumult?

THE SYSTEM OF SEGREGATION

The system has never been broken. The system was designed to support segregationist policies and practices from its inception in 1776. The changes to the constitution in 1865, 1868 and 1870 were efforts to change the system.

Those efforts by progressive white Americans were met with a backlash by conservative white Americans to maintain the status quo. (Sound familiar?)

The system then, which King and others valiantly fought to change, is the same system we have passively accepted today.

There was no magic course correction over the last 50 years.

The designed segregationist policies and practices embedded in the system in 1868 were still in the system in 1963 and remain in the system today.

In 1963, nine years after white Americans ignored the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v Board of Education and continued unimpeded their hate-filled hostility aimed at black children, black Americans rose up in revolution to say, enough.

The system itself is the problem, and must change.

The federal government understood the gravity of these two polar opposite positions between progressive-minded white and black Americans who sought change, and conservative-minded whites who maintained the status quo. The clash of these two ideals would determine the future for children of those seeking civil and economic justice. The war was heading toward a crescendo as the rumblings of a revolution were heard. The first chapter of the Department of Labor’s 1965 report was titled: “The Negro American Revolution.”

In this new period the expectations of the Negro Americans will go beyond civil rights. Being Americans, they will now expect that in the near future equal opportunities for them as a group will produce roughly equal results, as compared with other groups.

This is not going to happen. Nor will it happen for generations to come unless a new and special effort is made.

There are two reasons.

First, the racist virus in the American blood stream still afflicts us: Negroes will encounter serious personal prejudice for at least another generation.

Second, three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment have taken their toll on the Negro people.

The harsh fact is that as a group, at the present time, in terms of ability to win out in the competitions of American life, they are not equal to most of those groups with which they will be competing. Individually, Negro Americans reach the highest peaks of achievement.

But collectively, in the spectrum of American ethnic and religious and regional groups, where some get plenty and some get none, where some send eighty percent of their children to college and others pull them out of school at the 8th grade, Negroes are among the weakest.

The most difficult fact for white Americans to understand is that in these terms the circumstances of the Negro American community in recent years has probably been getting worse, not better.

Indices of dollars of income, standards of living, and years of education deceive. The gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening.

Chapter I. The Negro American Revolution

The Negro American revolution is rightly regarded as the most important domestic event of the postwar period in the United States.

Nothing like it has occurred since the upheavals of the 1930’s which led to the organization of the great industrial trade unions, and which in turn profoundly altered both the economy and the political scene. There have been few other events in our history — the American Revolution itself, the surge of Jacksonian Democracy in the 1830’s, the Abolitionist movement, and the Populist movement of the late 19th Century — comparable to the current Negro movement.

There has been none more important.

The Negro American revolution holds forth the prospect that the American Republic, which at birth was flawed by the institution of Negro slavery, and which throughout its history has been marred by the unequal treatment of Negro citizens, will at last redeem the full promise of the Declaration of Independence.

Although the Negro leadership has conducted itself with the strictest propriety, acting always and only as American citizens asserting their rights within the framework of the American political system, it is no less clear that the movement has profound international implications.

It is clear that what happens in America is being taken as a sign of what can, or must, happen in the world at large. The course of world events will be profoundly affected by the success or failure of the Negro American revolution in seeking the peaceful assimilation of the races in the United States. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. Martin Luther King was as much an expression of the hope for the future, as it was recognition for past achievement.

It is no less clear that carrying this revolution forward to a successful conclusion is a first priority confronting the Great Society.

Sit with this thought for a moment: A white nation was at war with its black citizens just 50 years ago. And yet, not one word about it has been injected into the current discourse of a nation caught up in the cult of personalities and politics that serve as a facade behind which the horror of blackface vaudeville acts and mutilated black bodies rot in forgotten Jim Crow history.

RIDICULE & TERRORISM

When King died, the revolution against the status quo of segregationist policies and practices presumably died with him. Yet, all of the measurable indicators of those same policies and practices remain with us today, having worsened over the past 50 years.

So, here we are yet again, staring in the mirror of present-day history at white faces painted black and white heads hooded… symbols of a long history of white Christians ridiculing and terrorizing black Christians.

This wasn’t just acceptable behavior among white Americans for 100 years, from the day black “Americans” were born in 1868 to the day a white assassin killed our King in 1968. This abhorrent behavior among certain groups of white Americans has remained acceptable behind closed doors in so-called respected socioeconomic arenas beyond 1968 to this very day in 2019.

Perhaps the reason why blackface and KKK costumes is funny to some is that many people believe white supremacy is waning?

Yet, in the aftermath of a black president, the backlash from white supremacists rose up with force, led by a corrupt champion so demonstrably flawed it seemed a joke to consider there would ever be a President Trump.

I think the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton missed an opportunity to permanently cement her legacy with a public message of “Building an Inclusive America” and specifically pointing to segregationist policies and practices that she would target and disrupt to pave the way for an equitable infrastructure to be built for all Americans to access pathways to prosperity.

At that time, the Republican Party controlled the congress. Its leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, had cultivated a long career in the community of conservatives. The New York Times published a favorable opinion piece about McConnell on June 15, 2015 ironically titled, “Mitch McConnell’s Commitment on Civil Rights Sets Him Apart.”

“This whole business of America moving past its original sin,” Mr. McConnell said in an interview, “has been over a big period during which I have lived.”

“One thing I am not in favor of erasing is our history,” he said, referring to the removal of statues, not the House debate on the flag. “The Civil War was a part of our history and there were actually good people on both sides of that war.”

BUILDING AN INCLUSIVE AMERICA

The perfect stage was set for the Democrats and Clinton to establish themselves as the party and candidate that would further the progress fought for by Dr. King, Congressman John Lewis and so many others involved in the Negro American Revolution who are still alive today. The Republicans had fully embraced Trump and McConnell was boasting about his opposition to President Barack Obama. It seemed like an easy message to deliver to the American people:

“We’re building an Inclusive America. Join us.”

“We’re disrupting segregationist policies and practices. Join us.”

“We’re committed to bringing the Negro American Revolution to a successful conclusion. Join us.”

“We’re building King’s dream of Beloved Community across America. Join us.”

But the Democrats either didn’t know King’s position or ignored it. In either case, it was not prevalent in the messaging in 2016, when Hillary was rallying her base and being challenged by Senator Bernie Sanders. A that time, candidate Trump was considered a joke candidate.

The Democrats were using marginal language of “inclusion” that seemingly appealed to minority voters while the Republican strategy was to focus on corralling the majority of white voters and whatever straggler minorities despised Hillary enough to cast their vote for Trump. The resulting Democratic loss is still under investigation due to a coordinated attack on the election by Russian operatives.

But consider this: The 2016 presidential race wouldn’t have been close if the American people had heard the message of continuing a revolution started under King and manifested in Obama (hope and change), which set the stage for a new era of Radical Reconstruction to Build an Inclusive America.

King initially set the stage in his book, “Why We Can’t Wait.” In describing the scene that led up to the explosive Negro Revolution, he explained how the elation of the 1954 SCOTUS ruling to desegregate the schools “with all deliberate speed” created a mood of elation that plummeted nearly a decade later when black Americans realized their kids’ future was being sabotaged by a sinister “Pupil Placement Law” that established a permanent and “deliberate delay.”

That was the first reason for the revolution.

“A second reason for the outburst in 1963 was rooted in disappointment with both political parties. From the city in Los Angeles in 1960, the Democratic party had written an historic and sweeping civil-rights pronouncement into its campaign platform. The Democratic standard-bearer had repeated eloquently and often that the moral weight of the presidency must be applied to this burning issue.

“From Chicago, the Republican party has been generous in its convention vows on civil rights, although its candidate had made no great effort in his campaign to convince the nation that he would redeem his party’s promises.

“Then 1961 and 1962 arrived, with both parties marking time in the cause of justice. In the Congress, reactionary Republicans were still doing business with the Dixiecrats.

And the feeling was growing among Negroes that the Administration had oversimplified and underestimated the civil-rights issue. President Kennedy, if not backing down, had backed away from a key pledge of his campaign — to wipe out housing discrimination immediately, “with a stroke of the pen.”

“When he had finally signed the housing order, two years after taking office, its terms … had revealed a serious weakness in its failure to attack the key problem of discrimination in financing by banks and other institutions.”

LEGACY OF DISCRIMINATION

This excellent messaging was setup by King for Democrats to exploit in 2016. Trump was learning from his dad how to discriminate against black Americans at the very time King was sacrificing his life in Memphis for a cause he had written and spoken against extensively: segregation.

While King was fighting against segregation, Trump was a grown man living a life of luxury. Trump was leveraging his privilege in a white world to attract bank financing repeatedly despite multiple failures and successful lawsuits pertaining to discriminatory practices.

The ongoing discriminatory practices in housing by banks would eventually lead to the Great Recession and a change in leadership in Washington that would excite not only the nation, but the world.

Still, the election of a black president wasn’t enough by itself to change the status quo. Even when all 50 states attorneys general banded together to battle a Bush administration hell-bent on defending the discriminatory practices of banks and other lending institutions, they failed.

The same problem that King specified in his book in 1963, which disappointed black Americans about President Kennedy, was still a problem in 2009 when the New York Times featured an opinion titled, “When Banks Discriminate.”

The same problem was described in a number of reports, including this one released in November 2018 titled, “The Devaluation of Assets in Black Neighborhoods.” Another report by Reveal showed the problem was so systemic across 61 cities that some of them sued the banks. Reveal offered an update to its blockbuster investigation last year in a report titled, “We Exposed Modern-Day Redlining in 61 Cities — Find Out What’s Happened Since.”

The banking discrimination problem continues to plague the nation today unabated, as though it is part of the core business model and getting caught is basically part of the cost of doing business. In the past decade (2008–2018), banks have paid more than $243B in fines due to discriminatory practices, according to a report released last year by Marketwatch titled, “Here’s the Staggering Amount Banks Have Been Fined Since the Financial Crisis.”

Wells Fargo last year agreed to pay all 50 states more than a half-billion dollars for harm to customers in both is mortgage and auto loan divisions. It was fined another $2B by the federal government, and has paid $4B in fines since 2016.

Despite systemic biases embedded in systems of segregation that reach back to the Negro American Revolution, neither party has ever campaigned on the priority of disrupting segregationist policies and practices. Why?

RACISM or REVOLUTION?

The question of systemic racism in the system is given. But talking about racism detracts from the point. The very specific language King used I would advise both political parties to adopt. And then focus on informing and educating constituencies about the Negro Revolution and its aim to disrupt, dismantle and discard segregationist policies and practices to pave the way toward building an Inclusive America around the framework of King’s “Beloved Community.”

All other messages we are hearing today as the field of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election grows, miss the mark. They all include similar policy positions that appeal to certain constituents. But they all lack an overarching vision that speaks to unifying a divided nation.

Dr. King envisioned a landscape of economic inclusion and economic justice. To build that requires removal of the obstacle of segregation. There’s no way around it. The irony of a revolution uniting a country seems far-fetched. But, it connects us all directly to a tumultuous time in our history not too long ago, and compels us to take a side.

Are you for or against segregation?

Even while Democrats dance around the issue of segregation, we’re witnessing the unveiling of a white America that has long viewed segregation and the complaints of black Americans as a joke. In the most powerful and influential sectors of society, white Americans quietly laugh at the pain and suffering that the systems they support continue to impose upon others.

In 2016, the inside joke, it seems, was yet again on black America. The power of white supremacy was made manifest in the fact that a field of 16 Republican candidates were soundly beaten with record-setting precision by a tabloid character with a hidden financial history who sat in his gilded tower and called the press to proliferate his propaganda. Ah, what a joke. Good one.

TRIVIALIZED SUFFERING

The blackface ridicule of the pain and suffering of black Americans by white people is married to the insult of trivializing more than 100 years of lynching, rapes, police brutality, convict leasing, Black Codes, kidnappings, public humiliation, medical experiments, eugenics, torture, murders … even murder for sport.

The white riots that forced the “Great Migration” of millions of black people from the frying pan of white hostility in the south into the fire of white resentment and NIMBYism in the north is hidden beneath the trivialities with which the governor and his friends, colleagues, family and associates ignorantly and callously maligned black Americans in general and dismissed the evil of murderous white demons of the past who took countless black lives while they laughed.

Those lives didn’t matter in the 100 years leading to King’s death. They apparently did not matter in the 1980s when a prestigious medical school was honoring its white graduates.

The question we are still asking: Black lives matter to who?

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

Today, the public disclosure of Northam’s 1984 college yearbook page, has dragged the governor, the Lt. Governor, the state Attorney General, the state of Virginia and the entire nation into an abyss of ugly politics that now focuses on whether the governor ought to resign.

In the shadow of that debate, which is overwhelmingly tilted by calls for the governor to step aside, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax prepares to be lifted into the history books as the second black governor in Virginia’s history and only the third in US history, if he can survive his own scandal.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter much whether Northam stays or goes if the real discussions we ought to be engaged in across Virginia and the nation as a whole remain hidden behind the debate over who will sit in one seat of power. This scandal is an opportunity for the nation to grapple with current ongoing segregationist policies and practices that are destroying the lives of black Americans.

MEASURING SEGREGATION

Today, schools are as segregated as they were the day King was killed. Across the nation more than 80 percent of all employer firms are owned by whites.

Despite a 30-year decline in white entrepreneurship, the nation still relies almost completely upon white Americans, mostly white males, to produce its global-leading $21 trillion GDP.

The fast growth of minority entrepreneurship, led by Hispanic and black entrepreneurship is thwarted by the lack of equitable infrastructure and investment to scale up productivity. The total of all 2.6 million black-owned businesses produce less than 1 percent GDP and zero percent job growth.

In every city and state where minority populations exist, they depend upon a landscape of white-owned businesses for employment, job creation and economic stability. Consequently, ownership of assets and wealth creation among black Americans is a joke. Generational wealth is virtually nonexistent.

Out of 2.6 million black businesses, 2.5 million are sole proprietors with no employees. No job creation.

Even with a 150-year-old educational infrastructure established across the landscape of 102 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), no state has an economic competitiveness strategy to leverage the value of these institutions, which have a long successful track record of minority talent development across all industries.

Why are we not calling for a major decades-long investment in creating a campus culture of interdisciplinary entrepreneurship among institutions of higher learning that already cultivate innovative talent in black America? It’s been happening for decades in institutions that have a long history of segregationist policies and discrimination against minorities.

In myriad areas of society segregationist policies persist: housing, banking and financing, equity investing, entrepreneurship, comprehensive economic development strategies (CEDS) planning, R&D, transportation, food access and even media.

Does any city in Virginia (or any other state) have adequate data to inform policymakers of the current state of the state of inclusive competitiveness?

The critically acclaimed book, “The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness: How Demographic Trends and Innovation Can Create Prosperity for All Americans” is published by ScaleUp Partners, a national consultancy specializing in strategies, systems and frameworks to improve the productivity of underrepresented populations in the 21st century tech-based global Innovation Economy.

Which leaders in Virginia and other states across the nation will bring to light these important issues with vision, strategy, policy and plans to address and resolve longstanding segregationist policies that divide the state, its cities and peoples.

Will Governor Northam resign or remain in office? Will Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax make history as the next governor of Virginia?

The answers to these questions are important to the people of Virginia, but more important are the hidden issues that ought to be addressed by committed leadership at every level across the state. In light of public disclosure of the twin demons of white ridicule and white terrorism residing on the pages of a high society college yearbook, if we miss this opportunity it won’t matter who sits in the governor’s seat. It will just be viewed as another joke.

Mike Green

Written by

Co-founder, ScaleUp Partners LLC; Consultant: Inclusive Innovation Ecosystems, Regional Competitiveness and Empowering Underrepresented Populations

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