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(AV17481) Diversity and Democracy in America

(AV17481) Diversity and Democracy in America


good evening everyone like he said I’m
Courtney Thomas president of Blackston alliance and first of all we’d like to
thank all of our sponsors for their support Carrie Chapman Catt Center for
women in politics Center for American intercultural studies College of
Agriculture and life sciences College of Engineering college of human sciences
College of Liberal Arts in science Miller lecture fund Dean of Students
Margaret’s Lost Women’s Center multicultural Student Center office of
the Provost Student Union Board YWCA Ames is you and the Committee on
lectures funded by GSB for their generous support before we introduce our
guests we’d like to encourage everyone to attend upcoming events including a
campus conversation on diversity at noon on January 29th upstairs in the Pioneer
room and a celebration of the life of George Washington Carver with an opera
Iowa performance of a dream fulfilled the saga of George Washington Carver on
Monday February 2nd at 8 p.m. in the Great Hall also you can hear trainer
Cathy OB air talk about campus civility on campus campus civility on Iowa
State’s campus on Thursday February 5th at 7 p.m. at the Sun Room also pick up a
schedule and flyers for these and other upcoming events on the table in the back
of the room and also check the website for future updates and now here’s the
professor and religious studies Mary Sawyer to introduce our guest speaker good evening it’s a wonderful to see
this turned out on this cold wintry night when I say it is an honor to
introduce our speaker for tonight these are not just words of convention
or courtesy it truly is an honor to introduce dr. Manning Marable
the facts about dr. Mirabal are important he has had a long and
distinguished career in academia his academic home for the past 16 years has
been at Columbia University where he is a professor of history professor of
political science professor of public policy and professor of African American
Studies now I have had joint appointments myself but not in four
academic units at the same time this in itself is testimony to the breadth of
his intellectual expertise that he is the author of over 200 scholarly
articles in some 15 books as well as a dozen edited books is a measure of the
depth of his scholarship many Mirabal has defined the parameters and the
standards of scholarship in the field of African American politics no other
individual has made a greater contribution to our knowledge and
understanding of the nature and contributions of black politics in this
country his contributions in the areas of American history including African
American history are equally substantial but dr. miravalle scholarship does not
tell the whole of the story the theme that runs through all of his work is the
theme of freedom the struggle for freedom the cost of freedom the
potential for freedom he is a scholar activist in the very best sense of the
term he has worked to advance positive relations between African Americans and
Latinos he is deeply invested in seeking justice for America’s prisoners he
brings together the issues of race and class through his
work with labour and faith-based organizations he is a consultant to the
Congressional Black Caucus he works as an advocate for the advancement of civil
rights in human rights in multiple arenas he is a scholar activist in my
estimation dr. Mirabal embodies what the discipline of african-american studies
and other ethnic studies programs were intended to be about the creation and
dissemination of knowledge in a way that empowers and furthers the liberation of
oppressed peoples dr. marbles work has been invaluable to me as it has been to
many other scholars I have board books of my personal library by this
individual than any other single author or writer he is currently at work on
what I am sure will be the definitive treatment of the life and contributions
of Malcolm X a volume that I eagerly look forward to adding to my collection
but ultimately it is his demonstrated commitment to the cause of freedom that
most inspires me I feel quite certain that by the end of his lecture you will
be impressed by his scholarship I think it quite likely that you will also feel
inspired please welcome our Martin Luther King speaker dr. Manning Marable Thank You professor Sawyer good evening it has been nearly two generations since
the powerful and compassionate voice of dr. Martin Luther King jr. was silenced
it has been over 40 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
outlawing legal segregation in public accommodations throughout our country
what was the impact of dr. King’s dream on the struggles for social justice here
in America over the past four decades what meaning does the life and legacy of
dr. Martin Luther King jr. have for our time I would like to explore this
evening three interrelated themes the first how do we underscore the life and
legacy of dr. King secondly how do we understand over the last 20 years the
movement away from reconciling diversity in democracy in American life and
finally what were the implications of the election of Barack Obama in 2008
with the reconciliation of diversity and democracy does dr. King’s dream has that
dream been realized and if not where do we go from here about 75 years ago there was a poet who
lived in my neighborhood of Harlem in Manhattan named Langston Hughes the poet
Langston Hughes captured the hopes and dreams of a people for whom the doors of
opportunity and fairness had been closed for centuries some of you will know this
poem by heart it is entitled Harlem what happens to a dream deferred does it dry
up like A Raisin in the Sun or fester like a sore and then run does it stink
like a rotten meat or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet maybe it just
sags like a heavy load or does it explode
there was a brief shining moment when it seemed like America would no longer
defer this dream of freedom at the height of the civil rights movement 1/4
million Americans black and white came to the march on Washington DC on the
28th of August 1963 to celebrate to realize the deferred dream the struggle
for freedom against Jim Crow segregation the high point of the demonstration of
course was dr. King’s I have a dream speech
stamped firmly on public memory the speech has become along with Lincoln’s
Gettysburg Address and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence one of the
fundamental statements about what American democracy and diversity should
be on that occasion Martin Luther King jr. used in resounding oratory his dream
deferred for American democracy he spoke of a land where freedom would
ring from every mountaintop we’re all Americans regardless of the color of
their skin could join hands together and proclaim in the words of the Negro
spiritual free at last free at last thank God Almighty we are free at last
what was the nature of the society that dr. King fought against now from the
vantage point of the 21st century for many of you for most of you in this room
judging by your ages it is still somewhat difficult to put into words
what for somebody who’s 58 years old what life was like in this country fifty
years ago for African Americans I know that you know it cognitively you’ve seen
the newsreels of Birmingham and the police dogs and the fire hoses but you
do not know what experience chili you don’t know it from the standpoint of
what we endured I want to take two minutes and just lay out what was the
nature of the struggle we were fighting in daily life in public accommodations
fifty years ago blacks generally were prohibited from staying in hotels or
eating in restaurants in the south it was illegal blacks were usually denied
access to public libraries some department stores barred black customers
but most provided selective services under specific guidelines blacks were
often prohibited from trying on shoes clothing or other items to purchase them
and were not permitted to return items that had been so
old most blacks could not attend white churches they could not be buried in
whites only cemeteries whites only covenants attached to the purchase
documents of private homes made it illegal for African Americans to buy
homes in many white neighborhoods public toilets water fountains bus and train
terminals were strictly segregated by race in major cities blacks were
generally permitted to enter public buildings but often had to use service
entrances rear stairwells and service elevators on public transportation
blacks sat in restricted areas and were expected to surrender their seats to
whites on demand white only businesses provided personal services such as
beauty salons or barber shops these were usually closed to black patrons many
whites even refused to shake hands with blacks in social settings and avoided
any acts of public courtesy or deference toward them behind all of these insults
and stigmatization was the reality of lynching in the late 19th through the
mid 20th century morphing into racist vigilante violence the murder of civil
rights workers that was the regime of Jim Crow we were fighting to overturn
you must never forget this this was not about dr. King having an abstract dream
this was about a system of racial inequality and injustice that was
against the spirit of the Constitution of the United States yet nevertheless
trapped a significant share of American citizens behind a true Iron Curtain of
inequality and injustice and that is what we were
fighting against now in the 1960s dr. King was the acknowledged moral and
political leader of millions of Americans regardless of their color and
after the march on Washington Martin books and articles were read by millions
his speeches were memorized he was honored with the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize
he was celebrated by artists and poets of all nationalities Kings achievements
gave the domestic struggle for multicultural democracy an international
audience now some people in recent years have argued that without dr. King many
of the reforms that were achieved during the era of civil rights might not have
been won perhaps the Civil Rights Act of 64 the Voting Rights Act of 65 might
have been delayed maybe never passed without the contributions of King as a
historian my own view is that a great leader like a dr. King or Barack Obama
sees farther than others a great leader desires things more
strongly than others but she or he cannot overturn the basic pattern or
direction of struggle that history is taking us let’s reconsider the civil
rights era from 1954 to 68 when we do dr. King seems like a colossus he
appears indispensable because too many observers in retrospect his great gifts
of oratory his dynamic use of nonviolent direct action appeared to stand alone
but you see Martin never made any claims for perfection
Martin didn’t create the civil rights era the movement made him its
spokesperson and it probably would have done the same for others had he not
existed had King been killed in Montgomery in 1956 when he was
organizing the Montgomery bus boycott and they put a bomb at his home Ralph
Abernathy his chief lieutenant was fully capable of winning that fight a philip
Randolph the trade union leader Roy Wilkins the head of the n-double a-c-p
were in the 50s far better known than King James farmer the head of the
Congress of racial equality was more willing to go to jail than King and to
lead non-violence Street actions Fred Shuttlesworth Ct Vivian and young Jesse
Jackson and others would have created something like the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference the SCLC which was Kings main organization the JL ins the
Freedom Rides the sit-in movement that the students started in 1960 had
absolutely nothing to do directly with King he didn’t start it he didn’t think
of it so why is King so important well Martin’s power and his influence
for history’s sake must be explained by a factors other than his
indispensability what are those factors well the first factor is his identity as
a black preacher par excellence among his contemporaries in the black Kersey
Martin had no peer as an orator from his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in
Atlanta to a country church in rural Georgia Martin delivered consistently
sermons with a grace a cadence in a power that were really unmatched by any
content author Louis Lomax describes a typical
scene from dr. King as he engages in a dialogue with the congregation at a
church this is Martin I got my marching shoes on King would shout yes on my mind
Martin said preach doctor preach the audience responded I ain’t gonna let
nobody turn me around let’s march brother between black and white no no
the people confirmed but between good and evil that’s it that’s it the people
shouted Martin said for God is not dead I know because I can feel him deep in my
soul the people shouted completing the line from the Negro spiritual
then our man armed with a local leader Martin leads the people into the streets
to face the dogs the tear gas the fire hoses and additional jailing black
novelists James Baldwin described Martin Luther King jr. quote as a great speaker
whose secret lies in his intimate knowledge of the people he is addressing
by keeping his hearers absolutely tense on the church pulpit Martin personified
their own best hopes their desire for human equality their love of God and
their will to resist this is what Jimmy Baldwin writes once he accepted the
place they had prepared for him their struggle became absolutely
indistinguishable from his own and took over his life and controlled his life he
suffered with them and thus helped them to suffer
the leadership of the oppressed from Martin Luther King jr. to Barack Obama
must be able to win over sections of the majority community to her or his cause
who appeals to fairness and conscience Martin understood that the black freedom
movement had to speak a language that could inspire and motivate the white
majority to demand to embrace demands for racial fairness the best example of
this occurs in April 1963 the letter from the Birmingham jail I just want to
read about 90 seconds of it in the letter
Martin is imprisoned during a series of demonstrations in Birmingham Alabama to
desegregate the city keep in mind in April 63
there is no Civil Rights Act hasn’t passed yet Civil Rights Act of 64 for
public accommodations you have a Jim Crow City they called Birmingham
America’s johannesburg okay this was a part aid City South Africa now Martin
gets arrested a group of eight ministers say you know things weren’t so bad for
the Negroes before you arrived you should pack up and leave
we don’t need demonstrations it’s upsetting everybody segregation wasn’t
so bad and we were making progress and you have upset all the good that we have
a team so Martin is responding not to the segregationists but to so-called
white moderates who say that these demonstrations are disruptive Martin’s
rights we have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and
god-given rights the nations of Asia and Africa are
moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence we still
creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch
counter I guess it is easy for those who never felt the stinging darts of
segregation to say wait but when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your
mothers and fathers at will drown your sisters and brothers at whim when you
have seen hateful police curse kick brutalized even kill your black brothers
and sisters with impunity when you see the vast majority of 20 million Negro
brothers smoldering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent
society when you suddenly find your tongue twisted your speech stammering as
you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public
amusement park that has just been advertised on television and see tears
welling up in her little eyes when she is told that fun town is closed to
colored children when you when you have to concoct an answer to a five-year-old
son asking in agonizing pathos daddy why do white people treat colored people so
mean when you have to take a cross-country drive and find it
necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your
automobile because no motel will accept you when you are humiliated day in and
day out by nagging signs reading white and colored when your first name becomes
nigger and your middle name becomes boy no matter how old you are and your last
name becomes John when your wife and mother are never given the respect
expected title misses when you were harried by day haunted by night by the
fact you are a Negro living constantly at tiptoe stance never quite knowing
what to expect next plagued by inner fears and outer
resentments when you are forever fighting a sense of nobody ‘no stand why
we find it difficult to wait the successes of the freedom struggle over a
period of many years finally convinced the majority of white Americans to end
their long-standing support for legal racial segregation and perhaps this was
King’s greatest victory that is a majority of white Americans supported
Jim Crow well to be honest people in the north basically didn’t think about it
but in effect they supported it Martin made it possible for a majority of
Americans who were white who said you know I don’t support this system you
know it’s not democratic it’s not fair it’s not American and he won over a
majority of Americans to that view more than any single person now the Civil
Rights Act finally passed by Congress signed by Lyndon Johnson on August 1964
outlawed the exclusion of blacks from all public facilities and accommodations
restaurants hotels parks swimming pools motels theaters it outlawed the use of
federal funds to maintain or support educational institutions practicing
segregation that same year the twenty-fourth amendment to the US
Constitution was passed abolishing the poll tax on voting throughout the
country yes they used to tax you if you were trying to vote it’s a way of
suppressing the vote yeah and you thought you lived in a democracy all
right this was a restricted position that had been had extensively used
to deny both blacks and poor whites the right to vote throughout the south on
the 6th of August 1965 President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act
that new law established directed federal examiner’s examination of local
voting registration processes The effect of the Voting Rights Act was immediate
and profound in every southern state the percentage of black adults registered to
vote rose dramatically in a state like Mississippi where in 1965 only 6 percent
of black adults were registered to vote by 1969 over 61 percent were registered
to vote but the civil rights was not the only issue that dominated America in the
1960s concurrent with the debate over civil rights was the issue of Vietnam
and Southeast Asia by 1966 US forces in Vietnam had numbered to nearly 200,000
by January 1969 536 thousand US troops were stationed there now for black
Americans the war had a direct impact upon every community African Americans
comprised one out of every seven US soldiers stationed in Nam and because
blacks tended to be placed in combat units more frequently than middle class
whites they bore higher rates of being killed and wounded than whites from
January through November 1966 for example nearly 25% of all army
casualties in Vietnam were black even though only 14% of the troops were
black african-american leaders were sorely divided over the war a group of
civil rights leaders in the n-double-a-cp and the Urban League
basically took the view that Vietnam is not a black issue we should not talk
about it Johnson supports us on civil rights we
can’t afford to alienate President Johnson now during the bitter national
debate over Vietnam almost every public leader was forced to take sides and this
included Martin finally in January 1966 Martin published a strong condemnation
of the Johnson administration’s pursuit of the Vietnam War Martin wrote this he
said some of my friends of both races and others who do not consider
themselves my friends have expen expressing disapproval because I had
been voicing concern over the Vietnam War as a Christian however Martin said I
have no choice except to declare that all war is wrong Negro leaders could not
become blind to the rest of the world’s issues while engaging soil in solely in
problems of domestic race relations Martin said he’d he added quote the
Negro must never allow himself to become a victim of the self-serving philosophy
of those who manufacture war that the survival of the world is the white man’s
business alone unquote by 67 Martin’s attention was increasingly drawn to the
necessity to redefine the dream deferred the dream was at one time an integrated
cup of coffee at a at a lunch counter at one time it was integrated schools for
public school children he began to see the dream in a different
way in 1966 he said for many years I labored with the idea of reforming the
existing institutions of society a little change here and a little change
there but now I feel quite differently gradually Martin was beginning to
express a radical Democratic dream for American life he favored the
nationalization of basic industries a massive federal expenditure to revive
the economic life of cities to provide jobs for urban residents a guaranteed
income for every adult American Martin concluded like Malcolm X head that
America’s political economy of corporate capitalism had to be fundamentally
transformed and reformed and that the civil rights movements older goals of
voter education and registration desegregated public facilities were
beneficial but only a beginning toward a longer road toward reconciling
diversity and democracy and like w eb Du Bois the founder of the n-double a-c-p
Martin recognized the correlation between his democratic ideals and the
peace issue massive military expenditure abroad and a bloody war in Asia meant
that the nation as a whole had less revenue to attack domestic poverty
illiteracy and unemployment these new ideas forced King to conclude that the
Vietnam War had to end immediately so on April the 4th 1967 exactly one year
prior to his murder Martin gave an address at New York City’s Riverside
Church about 13 blocks from I live in Martin announced that it would
be very inconsistent for me to teach and preach non-violence in this situation
and then applaud violence when thousands and thousands of people adults and
children are being maimed and mutilated and many killed by this war eleven days
later Martin was the keynote at a demonstration of 175,000 people in New
York’s Central Park denouncing the war a year later he was dead we tend to freeze
Martin Luther King giving his I have a dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial
it was a fine address there’s no question about it but King’s life did
not end in 1963 we tend to throw away and forget about Martin of 1966 1967 and
1968 a Martin who was closer to us in real time than the Martin we see in the
newsreels in Montgomery leading a bus boycott in 1955 why is that why is that
Martin Luther King jr. at the end of his life died organizing sanitation workers
in Memphis Tennessee Martin Luther King jr. died organizing a poor folks march
on Washington DC not a civil rights march a poor people’s March of whites
Appalachian whites of American Indians from from Native American reservations
of Latinos farm workers working with Cesar Chavez that is the Martin Luther
King jr. that history tries to ignore or erase I want to lift him up to you
tonight because this is the Martin Luther King jr. that is the closest to
Barack Obama and the closest to relevancy to our own time it is that dr.
King as well as the king of the civil rights era who had a dream deferred like
Malcolm X before him Martin understood that the civil rights movement agenda
had to move toward a human rights agenda his vision for racial justice also
became a vision of social justice full human equality and economic fairness for
all that was the dream deferred beyond considerations of race and color
his dream of economic democracy was not simplistically black versus white but as
Malcolm X declared at the end of his life it’s not about black versus white
it’s about the haves versus the have-nots what happens to a dream
deferred in America today since dr. King’s death diversity has now
become at least on college campuses our multicultural mantra everybody says that
they are for diversity at universities there are officers of diversity dr.
Martin Luther King jr. and the celebration around his birth is a
diversity holiday so too is Cinco de Mayo from programs for lesbian gay
bisexual and transgender awareness to those honoring the heritage of American
Indians administrators even in the private sector now routinely talk about
managing diversity creating workplace environments where difference is not
coded into institutional hierarchies yet there is a very crucial difference
between the recognition of difference and the acknowledgement that the reality
of difference has produced unequal outcomes
and divergent life chances for citizens within the same society I have a friend
Ron Wakabayashi who used to be the executive director of the Los Angeles
County Commission for human relations waka by ah she says that politicians
like to say that diversity is our greatest strengths quote unquote that is
BS diversity just is the question Wakabayashi says is how do we extract
the assets of diversity while minimizing the liabilities so diversity is a
two-edged sword difference is just difference the question is what are its
assets so instead of simply mindlessly celebrating diversity at this King
lecture we must theorize diversity we need to interrogate it we need to
actively seek the parallels and the discontinuities between the various
histories of people who over many centuries have all come to call
themselves Americans in other words we’re all Americans in this room but we
have very different life chances and there’s a reason for that and it’s
located in the various histories we all have so instead of talking abstractly
about race we should be theorizing the processes of racialization of how some
people got raced sometimes erased by race relegated to an oppressed social
status by the weight of law social policy and economic exploitation which
is what race is it’s not an app it’s not genetic it’s not biological it is the it
is the product of institutional forces that are designed to oppress and afflict
people for the purpose of their ex rotation it’s a deliberate process these
processes of subordination and stigmatization were never exclusively or
solely black-and-white and it’s very important to understand that as ethnic
studies scholars like Gary oka hero erotic hockey have frequently pointed
out the 1790 Naturalization Act that defines citizenship in the u.s. declared
that citizens could only be immigrants who were quote free white person’s in
other words from the beginning of the founding of the country to be a citizen
you had to be a free white person in other words race was central to the
definition of participation in the politics of the country racism defined who you were as an
American from the very beginning Asian immigrants born outside of the United
States were largely excluded from citizenship in the u.s. until 1952 US
courts constantly redefined who was white and who was not white for example
Armenians were originally classified as Asians and in US courts for most of the
time Armenians were not defined as white people but legally Armenians became
white in a 1909 court decision same people now they’re white Syrians were
white in court case cases in 1909 and 1910 Syrians became non-white in 1913
but they became white again in 1915 in another court case Asian Indians were
legally white in 1910 but in 1923 in a court case Asian Indians were classified
as non-whites and they remain so until the 1950s historians such as David wrote
eager and nolé ignatiev have Illustrated how a series of ethnic minorities such
as the Irish or Oscar naazy Jews experienced fierce racism and
discrimination when they arrived in the United States but for different reasons
they were able to scale the hierarchy of whiteness my all-time favorite book
titled is by Knoll Ignatieff he wrote a book entitled how the Irish became white
how they think about it the Irish for seven centuries were in a press race
there’s no doubt about it if you know anything about Irish history and the
British they cross the Atlantic in two generations and they become white so in
the experience racism and discrimination no Irish or dogs allowed the signs all
of that stuff but they became white how did that happen
so understand racism is a process that is not biological or genetic it’s a
product of power privilege and discrimination that is imposed on one
group that gets racialized and it doesn’t have to be black folk it could
be any kind of colored any kind of person that is discriminated and
stigmatized so for Americans to reimagine what the racism is in their
own country what many white Americans still refuse to recognize is that their
numerical majority in the country is rapidly disappearing by about 2016
that’s less than 10 years the population category defined by the US census
there’s non-hispanic white will peak in size and then gradually decline into a
minority group as Asian Americans Caribbean Americans Latinos
Arab Americans African Americans and other nationalities entered a national
dialogue about the future of democracy we will inextricably move away from the
heart of historic or honorific icons toward new names new symbols and new
leadership in our political life to a large extent one has to think about
Obama as inevitable given the racial demographics of the country by 2042 the
majority population of this country will consist of Latinos Asians recent non
what non-european immigrants and African Americans I’m surprised somewhat that it
occurred as early as it did in 2008 but it was inevitable and that you will see
a Latino president within the next 20 years you will see a woman president
within probably in the next eight years that kind of transition on gender and
ethnicity was inevitable because the transition in the demographics of the
country is simply taking place before our eyes how do we reconcile diversity
and democracy or what happens to a dream deferred in 2007 and 2008 how was the
legacy of the civil rights movement helped to shape the election of Barack
Obama we forget that as late as December 2007 roughly one-half of all African
Americans polled still favored Hillary Clinton over Obama as their choice for
the Democratic nomination for president some of Obama’s sharpest racial doubters
were even from Chicago his home base and he read chair of Chicago’s black
independent political organization for example predicted that quote nothing is
going to happen from the Democratic senators candidacy because Obama quote
doesn’t belong to us he would not be the first black
president he would be the first multicultural president unquote don’t
boo me boo him okay that’s what he said such criticisms were based in part on
the Obama campaign’s initial presentation of its candidate as both
non-racial and multicultural Obama’s diverse family and kin Network are a
multicultural collage of diversion ethnicities traditions and languages for
months the Obama campaign deliberately downplayed discussions about race even
their young campaign workers and volunteers had a chant race doesn’t
matter as they’re rejoined her to critics Obama and many younger black
Democratic politicians like Cory Booker the mayor of Newark New Jersey and
governor of Massachusetts Duval Patrick and former Tennessee
congressman harold ford represent in many ways a kind of post-civil rights
political leadership now attempting to come to power supplanting both the
traditional civil rights activist style of Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as well
as black elected officials who owed their re elections to the existence of
manure of majority minority legislative districts there’s this new generation of
black leadership that is emerging that’s a kind of a kind of post black or a
colorblind political leadership that increasingly is based electorally
on predominantly white districts about 30% of all black elected officials in
the United States as of 2008 are elected from majority white districts that’s
something new because that did not happen even as late as recently as the
early 1990s so there is a new trend that has emerged and increasingly white
voters are voting for black and Latino candidates and that’s a good thing
now but as the 2008 Democratic caucuses and primaries began Obama established
quickly his ability to in a surprising way to win large shares of whites votes
he consistently won majorities among all voters under the age of 30 regardless of
race voters earning over $50,000 annually and college-educated voters
after the South Carolina primary where Bill Clinton made several questionable
remarks about black voters and Jesse Jackson’s relationship all to Barack
Obama the African American electorate swung decisively behind Obama as the
percentage of black votes for Obama grew to ninety percent by the Mississippi
primary the tactics use to discredit or derail of the Obama campaign were
changed instead of questioning Obama’s racial authenticity the anti Obama
forces switched to a strategy of what I call blackening Obama or racializing
Obama in other words the man who was similar to Tiger Woods was stigmatized
and they tried to turn him into Malcolm X now one decisive attempt in blackening
Obama at least some people argued occurred with a
controversial Hillary Clinton 3 a.m. ringing telephone advertisement on
television now in theory the ad was designed as a national-security
advertisement designed to highlight Clinton’s superiority as a global
problem solver but as Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson observed
if one simply turned off the volume on the soundtrack the visual images of the
political commercial were almost identical with a sinister home security
ad innocent children and babies sleeping in the shadows the shadows revealing a
possible intruder you remember the curtains were moved by the wind the
urgency of an unanswered telephone in the middle of the night
Patterson argued in the New York Times that for many southern whites all that
was missing was a black man in a ski mask slipping through the open window it
would not be terribly difficult with in white American imagination especially in
the south to perceive an Obama as a kind of sophisticated articulate Willie
Horton the black murderer whom George Herbert Walker Bush manipulated in his
advertisements to his own election advantage in 1988 winning the White
House Barack Obama let’s say wearing baggy Levi’s and a sweatshirt might
easily be mistaken for in New York City the African immigrant amadou diallo who
came home in February 1999 to his Bronx apartment at about 2:00 a.m.
wearing baggy Levi’s and a sweatshirt then confronted and shot 41 times by the
New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit this
Obama strenuous efforts to present a colorblind campaign the American
electorate was so indoctrinated by race that the Illinois Democrat continued to
be largely defined by a blackened identity this became especially the case
when he was confronted with the controversy related to the controversial
his former pastor Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of
Christ Obama’s response to the Reverend Wright’s controversy was a masterful
address a more perfect union delivered in Philadelphia’s Constitution Center
which parallels King’s letter from the Birmingham jail and indeed I would argue
it holds up even even better than the I have a dream speech if you haven’t read
it you should you should if you’re an American because it’s the most
articulate critique of an elected official of the central problem of race
in American life that any public leader has ever written Obama began his lecture
by reminding his audience that American democracy was unfinished at its founding
in 1787 due to this quote this nation’s original sin of slavery Obama declared
that despite his rather unusual personal history and mixed ethnic background
quote seared into my genetic makeup is the idea that this nation is more than
the sum of its parts that out of many we are truly one Obama’s great strength is
his ability to discuss controversial and complex topics but in a manner that
conveys the seeking of consensus or the search
common ground just as a footnote that’s what he was doing half the day today the
Democrats have just as a footnote if you guys watch the news the Democrats have
enough votes they can pass whatever they want to in the house on this on this
economic bailout bill why did he spend half a day with the Republicans was that
for show no it’s because he truly wants to have a national consensus really yes
actually he does he doesn’t have to do it he has the votes to get what he wants
then why do it because the purpose is to govern the purpose is to reach out to
people who don’t share your values who disagree with you but to try to find
common ground in other words Americans you guys in the audience we have
something new we actually have leadership that seeks common ground
we’re lucky because we haven’t had that very often
that’s his great strength his Philadelphia dress reminded white
Americans that quote so many of the disparities that exist in the
african-american community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed
from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and
segregation but he also acknowledged the anger and alienation of poor whites and
working-class whites people who don’t live especially privileged lives who
feel unfairly victimized by policies like affirmative action Obama criticized
the Reverend Wright’s statements as quote not only wrong but divisive at a
time when we need unity racially charged at a time when we need to come together
to solve a set of monumental problems there
neither white nor black nor Latino nor Asian but problems that confront us all
the other astute dimension of a more perfect union in the speech was Obama’s
referencing of US racial history while simultaneously refusing to be defined or
restricted by that history for blacks Obama asserted the path forward quote
means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming the victims of our past
it means binding our particular grievances for better healthcare for
better schools for better jobs to the larger aspirations of all Americans
unquote now in the context of electoral politics in public policy Obama is
saying his argument makes absolute perfect sense in America’s major cities
there’s no explicit Latino strategy for improving public transportation
there’s no purely Asian strategy to improve public health care there’s no
purely black American approach strategy to enhancing the quality of K through 12
public schools there’s no white strategy to solve the housing crisis we’re all in
this together now that’s not to suggest that racial unfairness and disparities
in health care or education or employment or housing don’t exist they
do but it does mean than any real solutions must depend upon building
multiracial multicast coalition’s that can fight to achieve effective change
this was dr. King’s vision of social change for America
the dream could not be realized unless we broke out of our respective
identitarian isms the dream could not be realized unless we saw the common ground
that define the foundations of all Americans regardless of race and gender
and class building a multicultural democracy that transcended difference
that embraced the common ground was what dr. King was all about my final point
one of the wonderful things the gifts about living in New York is that you can
establish friendships with remarkable people who you see on television or you
see in the theater and you think you never have a chance to meet one of my
good friends who passed away not long ago was Ossie Davis the actor assi and I
had a public dialogue a couple years before he passed away and he said to me
that every generation needs a moral assignment we have yet to define the
moral assignment for the 21st century for our own time
what did Ozzie mean by that a hundred and fifty years ago progressive Americans black and white
had a moral assignment the eradication of slavery and there were white and
black Americans who gave their lives to that John Brown Frederick Douglass
Harriet Tubman Sojourner Truth Martin Delany these women and men gave their
lives to the belief that human bondage was wrong that it was possible to
overturn it there was a war in this country the fundamental war conflict was
the civil war it was about slavery but more generally it was about a moral
assignment a generation ago when I was a teenager there was a struggle in this
country for civil rights people bled they died they fought they sacrificed
their houses were bombed they were denied access to public accommodations
people your age sat in at restaurants they had cigars put out in their faces
on their arms and shoulders and yet they suffered without resisting because they
had a moral assignment which was the elimination of racial segregation and
they these were young people your age with remarkable courage what is your
moral assignment for yourselves and for your time
our country now stands in great crisis the economic crisis is all around us but
the crises of the Spirit also exists we stand in a new millennium the weight of
history pushes us ever forward your generation must urgently define its
moral assignment and in doing so you must be prepared personally to wage
possibly similar kinds of principled struggles
which were fought during the Civil Rights campaign’s led by Martin Luther
King jr. it might require one day the same willingness to sacrifice the same
tears the same willingness to challenge unjust laws and with your new moral
assignment with your understanding of the history of sacrifice and struggle
with your commitment to speak truth to power we may begin to realize the full
meaning of the democratic dreams of dr. Martin Luther King jr. and even
President Barack Obama in American society without hunger or unemployment
in America without homelessness and mass incarceration where the voices of hatred
and injustice and intolerance are weak and the cause of justice and human
freedom speaks loudly across this land can we afford to defer the dream of
freedom any longer can we imagine a democracy where America’s diverse future
has been remade where people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds
classes sexual orientations and genders all have a democratic place at the
national table I challenge you to imagine such a new world a new democracy
and be responsible for making Martin Luther King Jr’s Democratic dream a
reality for our time have the moral courage and the faith to live that dream
until every American can say together at last that we have overcome thank you okay all right this is the part I like
best uh if you have but this is like a smart audience cuz I’ve met at
university so please make your question in the form of a question no not even my wife agrees with
everything I have to say so I’m sure hi my name is Kristina Laura a lot of what
you said actually resonates with me just recently actually I read an article by
Amy Goodman where she talked about Obama Obama’s trip on his way to the
inauguration and it was reminiscent of Lincoln riding on a train and so forth
but one of the things that she said in her article was that Obama had at one
point President Obama had at one point said that we as citizens should make him
do what we need for him to do and and so I feel what you’re trying to I mean I
feel what you have said and I agree but my question is you know you know when
will we all really feel that urgency you know when will we all or will we I think
feel the feel that we can sacrifice whatever it takes and do whatever it
takes to you know I mean you know we’ve resonate I think I resonate very well
with what President Obama is going to do it’s going to do and I’m proud of
and everything but will we ask those necessary questions you know I feel
skeptical that we all all together as a community do right well that’s the
challenge of largely and I hate to throw this back at you but that’s the nice
thing about getting older I can do that and it ends basically because it’s true
that change comes not from the top down not from some tenured professor but from
the bottom up it comes from young people it comes from folk who have been
disenfranchised who have been pushed to the margins and
it comes from impatience and it comes from people saying there has to be a
better way and that is where the change comes from and that historically is just
true so I look to you to provide the leadership it’s not going to come from
people like me I can advise you I can write books and tell you about the
history of it and the history is very important to note cuz you avoid a lot of
mistakes by knowing the history but in terms of the leadership is gonna come
from you now what kind of leadership will it be on the on balance I mean I do
I travel all over the United States I’m like about a hundred days a year and I
feel terrific about the young people I meet and about the work people are doing
in community centers grassroots organizing the campaign in 2008 but not
just electoral politics but in social justice work in faith-based institutions
in organized labor there are a thousand and one different models the question is
if you want to become involved and relevant then struggle where you are
that’s what I always advise people struggle where you are there’s a
struggle and Iowa State University around and we
talked about this that tonight about issues that are of concern to
undergraduate and graduate students who are here but there are struggles where
you come from in your in your community whether it’s around criminal justice
issues they may be building a prison you know five miles from your house how do
you respond to that there may be criminal justice issues regarding
juveniles and you’re in your neighborhood there may be an issue
around public education and poor schools an issue around housing focus on an
issue that impacts people’s lives who you see every day social change should
never be abstract I’ve learned this from dr. King and I’ve learned this and
Barack Obama clearly learned this lesson by organizing on the southside of
Chicago you organized around people’s daily lives about stuff people see be
calanque which people that resonates with people that’s how you define the
moral assignment that’s what really focuses people’s attention it can’t be
abstract it has to be concrete that was the thing about Jim Crow it’s like being
slapped in the face every day how would you like it if somebody said you got to
go to the back of the bus but you can’t sit at a restaurant you can’t eat food
here you went into a bus depot you bought a ticket and you had to sit
outside how would you like that when I was a kid we’d go to a store I couldn’t
try on a pair of shoes we had to literally take a piece of paper and draw
a line around your foot and match it up to a shoe in a store I kid you not how
would you feel about that nobody’s answering you wouldn’t like it would you
right so you focus on stuff the indignities that are imposed on
people that resonate with them to get them to fight back and people will fight
back but you have to challenge people to focus on things they see every day and
there are in justices that exist elections do matter those clowns at City
Bank that wanted to spend 50 million dollars
on a plane as soon as Geithner got in that’s the first thing he shot down he
said forget it they phone citibank citibank said well maybe we shouldn’t
spend taxpayers 50 million dollars on that plane
so they’ve backed off I just heard this like three hours ago elections do matter
so struggle where you are around things people see and feel every day and a
social movement will emerge only this time it’ll be a movement that will
transcend color and class that makes democracy more relevant and real for all
Americans maybe we can do it I’m hopeful my question basically reflects off of
statement that you made you mentioned that Eddie Reid Eddie read basically
mentioned now do you think that stems from his by racial identity and no I
think Reid was wrong because Obama won like in the election like 97% of the
black vote so based on an objective analysis of black voter behavior
don’t you think Reid was wrong no definitely mentioned there was a
transition from confidence that’s a white woman to a black man with you know
very short time period which was I think publicity issue marketing positioning
standpoint I’m under the impression that rock obama struggled with the black vote
because he lacked trust within because he wasn’t saying jackson he was black in
saying urban context being biracial he did have you know
harvard education which puts them in a different context if he were
dark-skinned would he have gotten elected i’m not quite being that
superficial with it i’m just wondering if you think there was some sort of
interplay between his immediate community which you would assume that
given the history of blacks in america they would they would embrace a black
leader actually African American electoral behavior is pretty
sophisticated right that blacks don’t vote for blacks right as qua blacks they
vote for the most progressive candidate right so that like like steel James the
black candidate who ran as a Republican Michael Steele thank you I the majority
of blacks did not vote for Steele right and the reason and that’s not surprising
to me because most of the time black voters don’t vote race right they vote
ideology and whoever is the left candidate is who ninety-five percent of
the time black voters vote for
and the reason for that is common sense right because black people know that a
strong robust government and a robust state is the best guarantor of civil
rights and economic equality right and that if you have weak government and you
have what the Republicans want which is like no regulation of the market right
black people lose out in that right so I follow the question I understand your
question right let me answer it my sense is that his mixed ethnic background was
a secondary factor initially right and that’s what I was asking initially but I
think that a more fundamental factor was the campaign’s the emphasis on issues of
racial justice being at the center of their analysis of public policy issues
right and that was a larger issue not about his ethnic background in other
words this is a candidate who didn’t want to talk about race and really
didn’t want to because they had done focus groups that told them that white
voters as a group would not vote for a black presidential candidate but they
would vote for a presidential candidate they liked who happened to be black now
for most of you in the audience you’d say what’s the difference
but for pollsters there’s a big difference and so Obama crafted a
campaign that de-emphasized black identity now I have I am an I feel
deeply ambivalent about this deeply ambivalent I understand why he did it
I wouldn’t have done it that way because especially because he was so excited
in articulate in his a more perfect union speech he didn’t need to duck
issues of race because when he did decide to talk about it he talked about
it better than anybody I’d ever heard pretty much so he could have made it
much more central to his campaign than he did
now I’m not his advisor so you know so the president and I have a disagreement
I don’t think he’s losing any sleep over that the first one is I was wondering
what your thoughts are on the implications of Obama’s election to the
African and African American relations considering his Kenyan roots as well as
what the implications are to those other regions of the world that are exploiting
or are oppressing people of African descent like Europe the Arab world South
America and places like that and now my last question is I was wondering what
your thoughts are on the ambiguity of Carla based identity the reason I’m
asking that is I mean I could I could go on about like the negative images and
words that I come about in my daily life that are associated with the color black
and the positive things are associated with the color white and now my question
is like what do you think of these as like its basis of identifying people are
based on color when we say people of color are we saying that the color of
white people is is it not a color because when I look at a white person
and I try to compare that color to the white color I learned in art class as it
doesn’t match and when I look at black people you can go to Africa and you’ll
find people who have been light-skinned and people who are here so like
basically is there should we come up with a different way of identifying
people yep good idea
all right real fast yeah I think we do need a new category because everybody
has a color colors are relative and historically constructed and also
geographically specific so that in the United States I’m black
in Brazil dressed like this I’d be preto I’d be white in South
Africa I would be colored same guy just you know 17 hour plane ride so in Brazil
they used an expression money lightens the skin money lightens the skin so Pele
you know the black soccer star is white on his passport he’s white money
lightens the skin so to some extent we are moving from the old American system
with the one-drop rule one job genetically then you’re black forever
even with blue eyes and sandy hair to more of a Brazilian system you know cuz
functionally Clarence Thomas is like the whitest guy I know
you guys didn’t get that joke did you actually is not a joke if you think
about it whiteness and blackness should not be pegged on color okay it’s not
that it’s a relationship to the structure of power there are plenty of
white people who live black folks lives who feel disempowered who are unemployed
kids go to bad schools and in that sense there is that stigmatization and
marginalization you know one of the jennifer aniston did
a wonderful film about five years ago the good girl and it really is about you
know it takes place like in Oklahoma or someplace and she’s working in a Walmart
but it it it it resonated with me because it was very much like the lives
of disempowered black folk I know and yet there was only one black person in
the whole film it wasn’t about black people it was
about disenfranchisement and disinvestment an alienation and so in
that sense that transcends color you see and so how can we invest in human beings
so that people feel whole again and that’s what black folk have been talking
about for like 400 years if you’re if you’re defined as it as a chattel as a
slave or you live under Jim Crow you don’t feel like a human being but white
people who are oppressed through a poor who are marginalized don’t feel like
human beings either so there is a basement so we need a new construct that
actually can unite the many to defeat the few because the people benefiting
from this stuff they’re not a lot of folk and there are a lot of people out
here in pain right now um and this other question you had I’m not sure how to
answer it but we have one more person yeah and then I’ll be very quick my name
is Kimberly zeirko I’m a professor here in architecture and I actually graduated
from Columbia recently and I’ve lived in Ames for three and a half years I moved
here from Prospect Heights and I wanted to ask you in coming here if you could
say a little bit to us about what your view from New York is towards Iowa
because I think you know when I moved here I wasn’t sure what to expect in
terms of you know New York and Columbia University in particular is a pretty
liberal Enclave and everybody that you know thinks like you do and I grew up
similar circumstances in Massachusetts so I guess the the preconceptions about
the Midwest in New York are very specific I would say and I’m curious
what you think coming from that context about the fact that the Iowa caucuses is
where Barack Obama got his start right and if you could say something to the
audience just about how that in and of itself at least I hope changes something
about the conversation about the Midwest in New York all right I’m you know they
they use it expression to have a ringer I’m like a ringer in the sense that I am
not representative of New York in any capacity I was born in Ohio I’m a
Midwestern ER so that Iowa resonates with me I understand in many ways the
culture here even though I there’s a long distance between Ohio and Iowa but
culturally not a whole lot you know uh and Obama even though he’s had this
serendipity a life he’s basically like a Midwestern person you know his values
came from Kansas true he’s from the city Chicago but it’s like the capital of the
Midwest and I think that as he traveled throughout the state much of his
politics and the core values under his politics are profoundly Midwestern and
that comes through in even the culture the cultural politics he exudes the way
he is and that’s what I think in part resonated with Iowa voters that they
related to him as a person and that there is now a majority of white
Americans that we’ll vote regardless of color and
that’s a remarkable thing given it may not be to you because you guys are young
but you know I grew up in a country where you know that sentence couldn’t
have been said like 30 years ago you just couldn’t do that people would laugh
at you he said don’t be ridiculous but we’ve proved that you know we have
proven that Barack won Indiana as a state that Democrats haven’t won since
1964 he won Virginia for goodness sake it’s true he didn’t win a majority of
the white votes in Virginia but winning 42 percent is amazing right plus when
you add 90 percent of the black vote that’s it that’s it right he won North
Carolina right so he won States Democrats haven’t won in like a
generation two generations with overwhelming white support and what that
tells you is is that maybe just maybe we could imagine a world where we
deconstruct race maybe I’m gonna start sounding like John Lennon I imagine but
just imagine you know this thing has been so terrible on human beings and
such a waste and it’s stupid the whole idea of stigmatizing people and
relegating them into hierarchies and then oppressing them wouldn’t it be
better and simpler just to have a democracy and people to have equal
weight and access to opportunity it’s a much more rational way to run the
society and it’s more humanistic and you’d feel better about yourself
you know this is what Martin was basically arguing and
who knows I think we can win this thing and Barack is not perfect and there’ll
be a lot of issues we’re gonna have to fight him around we need to take this
the last thing I’m gonna say take his analogies seriously like equating like
people equate him to FDR Franklin Delano Roosevelt or the John F Kennedy that’s
absolutely true that’s what we should do because somebody had to play the role
with FDR of a philip Randolph to challenge FDR to carry out his promises
somebody had to play the role of dr. King to challenge John F Kennedy Kennedy
wouldn’t have done the stuff he did without King so we have to play that
role we had to force Obama to be Obama because the pressure from the right is
inextricable and so we do him a favor by demanding that he be he okay then he
carries out agenda that and I think that that is a possibility they’ll still be
things that we disagree on and that he needs to go further than what the system
will allow him to do but I think that the change that we seek sits in this
room and it resides with you that you are the leaders you’ve been looking for
you just have to have a moral assignment and the courage to carry it out I want
to stop you’ve been a great audience thanks very much

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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