I've decided to begin this blog by digging into my email crates and posting a lengthy response I wrote to a friend who introduced me to the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. Although this was written almost a year ago, it's still relevant. Unfortunately, I think it will be for some time.
The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson is the founder and president of the vague-sounding Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND). Peterson is a black conservative. Recently, he’s been making the rounds on television news programs editorializing about the state of black America. Last month, I was emailed a C-Span interview in which he skewered African-Americans for being lazy, weak and dependent. The Jesse Lee Petersons of the world operate as anti-sociologists. They are often completely dismissive of sociological explanations of inequality. Their reaction to racial, ethnic and gender discrimination is to blame women and minorities. As for Peterson, I wasn’t exactly certain how I would tackle him at first. He provided so much misinformation in such a relatively short period of time that I wasn’t sure where to begin. I’ve decided to start by examining the black conservative movement in general terms. Then I’ll attempt to provide a point-by-point rebuttal to the arguments that he made.
The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson may be many things but original isn’t one of them. During his entire roughly thirty minute C-Span interview, I didn’t hear one novel idea about the state of the African-American union escape his lips. None of the invective that he spat in the direction of black America is new. Unfortunately, I’ve seen his kind – vicious, poorly researched, self-hating apologist for racist white America – twist facts and cast aspersion at African-Americans many times before. People of his ilk identify themselves as black conservatives. They’re usually divided into three groups. The first group is comprised of intellectuals who operate in academic circles (think Thomas Sowell, Walter E. Williams, Glenn Loury and Shelby Steele). The second group consists of those who are on the front lines of the so-called “Culture Wars.” These individuals are a little more intellectually malnourished than those in the first group. They are mercenaries who primarily serve as go-to-guys whenever conservative clients (like Fox News and others) need a black person to speak badly about other black people (think Star Parker, Larry Elder and Armstrong Williams). Peterson falls squarely into this camp. The third group is the most politically shrewd. Members of this group are constantly jockeying for position and influence in the political sphere. They are usually the central players in conservative attempts to pass legislation curbing or completely eliminating civil rights advancements (think Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas, Alan Keyes and Condoleeza Rice).
Black conservatives joyfully adopt positions that the majority of African-Americans find completely repugnant. Most black Americans, for example, back the idea of affirmative action and government set asides for minority owned businesses. Most black folks are supportive of raising the minimum wage and want enthusiastic enforcement of voting rights and desegregation regulations. Black conservatives boisterously oppose all of these policies and more. Although black conservatives attempt to market themselves as independent of thought and action – a courageous and moral alternative to those in the black community who blindly follow “leaders” like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and unthinkingly vote Democratic – they are, in fact, fully funded, supported and controlled by larger, white right-wing think tanks like the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. In his expository essay, “Blackwashing,” Joshua Holland reports that Project 21, a recently formed collection of high profile black conservatives, has a white director. Holland goes on to divulge that Project 21 is, in fact, “a subsidiary of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which, according to the liberal watchdog mediatransparency.org, was formed in the 1980s to support Reagan's military interventions in Central America.” This is not an isolated incident. Even a cursory examination of high profile black conservatives reveals white Republicans gleefully pulling their strings.
The question may arise: why would powerful white Republicans waste their time funding these sellouts? Quite simply, they want African-Americans to stay home on Election Day. I’m not just being an alarmist. First, white Republicans realize that black Americans reliably vote for Democrats at every level at about a 8.5 to 1 ratio. Republicans aren’t as much desirous of those votes as they don’t want the Dems to have them. Second, As Holland observes, black conservatives, “...speak out publicly for conservative positions that might evoke charges of racism if advocated by whites.” Since the civil rights era, most white Americans, particularly those in public office, are savvy enough to eschew the label of racist. Third, and most importantly, black conservatives are paid to muddy the waters of socio-political debate. Everything that they do – venomously attacking nationally recognized (always Democratic) black leaders, attempting to categorize the Democratic Party as godless and immoral – is designed by white conservatives to discourage black democrats from going to the polls. White Republicans know that blacks are religious and disenchanted with this country’s political system. They are also fully aware that most blacks would never support them. They probably figure that if they can do enough damage to the Democrats’ image, we’ll just stop voting altogether. One can easily imagine a wealthy white member of a conservative think tank saying of black voters, ‘If they don’t like US and they can’t trust THEM, who are they left with?’
Now, let’s move on to the good Reverend Jesse Lee. I actually had to listen to his interview again to make sure that I didn’t misquote him. Peterson’s assertions are in bold. My responses follow…
- When asked about the current “state of the black union” Peterson replies, “It’s getting better…many blacks are getting married and starting to raise their own children. They’re taking them away from the government.” Excuse me? Even a passing familiarity with American history reveals that the overwhelming majority of black Americans have always been responsible for raising their own children. It is, in fact, American whites who have historically employed black (and Latinos recently) as nannies and child-rearers. It’s interesting to note that Peterson failed to include any factual data that he used to help him draw his conclusions.
- Jackson, Sharpton and Coretta Scott King have kept blacks on welfare and kept them angry. And what about whites who are on welfare? They make up well over half of its recipients. Who’s keeping them angry and on welfare? And what about public corporations that slash tens of thousands of jobs while they continue to receive billions of dollars annually in federal subsidies? Some consider this welfare. Is Alan Greenspan keeping them too angry to get off of the federal dole?
- Because black men seek leaders most of them are very weak and insecure. This was an interesting comment. Not because of its incendiary nature but because of the fact that right after he made it, he said, “I thank God for President Bush. God has sent us George W. Bush.” I’ve NEVER heard a black person publicly thank God for Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. At any rate, many white conservatives consider Bush to be their leader. I’ve often heard him referred to as “a good leader.” Does this indicate weakness or insecurity on their part? Or on Peterson’s part?
- There’s no such thing as screwed up children. There are screwed up parents. Another ridiculous, simplistic comment. I’ve seen conservatives take this approach before. Blame the Parents! Never mind the fact that bad parents were once children themselves who, more than likely, had bad parents. Anyone even remotely familiar with sociology of the family will attest to the fact that bad parenting is usually a cyclical process. People don’t typically transform themselves from dysfunctional adolescents or adults to stellar parents.
- In reference to racial discrimination on the job: “If he [the supervisor] doesn’t want you there, do what I did. I quit and started my own business. Get up off your butt and take responsibility instead of crying racism.” Take note of the accusatory tone. Suddenly, it’s YOUR fault if your employer is discriminating against you. Why? Because you can always leave and start you own business. Like Peterson did. In the world of conservatives no worker, minority or impoverished person is worthy of protection. It’s their own fault for not starting a business. We all know how plausible that suggestion is. Conversely, those who do merit protective status, according to right-wingers, are whites, the wealthy and business owners. Awfully convenient.
- When a black listener called in to challenge Peterson (he amusingly compared blacks voting Republican to chickens voting for Colonel Sanders). The caller mentioned not a word about welfare or affirmative action. Peterson creates an argument in which he rails about these two things (anyone, in fact, who called in to disagree with ANYTHING Peterson said, apparently, loves welfare) but never refutes anything the brother actually says. Classic straw man defense.
- God has given us President Bush. Given the personal and passionate nature of religion, this ranks as one of Peterson’s most inflammatory statements. Again, this isn’t anything new. Because of their anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia and, most recently, anti gay marriage stance, conservatives have always claimed the moral high ground. How people like Peterson can reconcile the US economic sanction-related deaths of roughly one half million Iraqi children or the deaths of approximately 18,000 Iraqi civilians with a mandate by God is beyond me, however.
- President Bush loves black folks. Why then did roughly 90% of eligible black voters not cast their ballots for Bush in 2004? Could it be because of the Bush administration’s attempts to roll back affirmative action? Did the dismantling of social programs that blacks felt helped level the economic playing field have anything to do with it? Could it possibly be the under-funding of public schools to which many black parents send their children? Could it be Bush’s zeal for the death penalty – the sentencing of which many African-Americans have historically found racially motivated? Or perhaps it’s Bush’s refusal up until recently to meet with the NAACP – an organization that most black Americans respect. Maybe it’s his administration’s attempts to rip apart social security that blacks find unsettling. Also, most black folks aren’t fooled by cynical political overtures like appointing black right-wingers Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to positions of power. Maybe many of us define love differently than do Bush and Peterson.
- The President did not lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction. In response to the caller who correctly points out that we were lied to about Iraq’s WMD threat, Peterson offers a dismissive “the President did not lie...he had the same information as Russian and European leaders.” Then, because even Peterson must realize the indefensibility of this position he quickly segues to the familiar “those who are not willing to fight for freedom don’t deserve it.” Evidence of the Bush administration’s attempt to connect Iraq to Osama and 9-11 and to convince the American public of Iraq’s imminent WMD abounds. Most thinking conservatives won’t even try to argue against it. What they tend to do – as Peterson does during the interview – is distract us with platitudes about freedom and horror stories about the evil of Saddam. An evil we encouraged when we backed him against former Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim, and later when he warred against Iran. Then, the US actually considered Saddam a bulwark of anti-Communism. So much so that Washington happily looked the other way when he gassed the Kurds.
- America is hated because we’re free. This one is laughable. No one hates America because we’re “free” society. We’re hated because of our reprehensible record of defending and supporting oppressive regimes, like the governments of El Salvador and Honduras during the eighties or Israel today. These people couldn’t care less that American women don’t have to cover their heads in public. As many have correctly pointed out, if “they” hated “free” countries they would have been attacking the Netherlands or Norway or even Canada for decades.
- Most black people are racist towards whites not the other way around. Here, Peterson encourages whites to make public their disdain for blacks. He realizes that there’s a fear on the part of well meaning white people of being called racist. “Let ‘them’ call you want they want,” he exhorts. According to Peterson, blacks are shiftless, lazy and morally bankrupt. Whites should let them know it. As for his original claim, that blacks are more racist than whites, this is sheer nonsense. Racism is the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. Most whites, to one degree or another have historically believed themselves or other whites to be more capable than most blacks. Most whites have, to some extent bought into the notion that blacks don’t want to work or aren’t desirous of excellence. This is the root of racism. It is absurd to suggest that these racist beliefs and attitudes don’t seep into many whites’ voting habits, hiring practices or treatment of blacks. Admittedly, most African-Americans are wary of whites. But this apprehension is connected to a history of enslavement, indiscriminate lynchings, segregation, Jim Crow, hatemongering, white flight, workplace discrimination, resistance to attempts at racial equality, racially insensitive remarks, recurring racial backlashes, and socio-political divisiveness. The fears and anxieties that most whites harbor toward blacks are self-manufactured and based on racial stereotypes. Further, the power structure of this country is overwhelmingly white and male. To equate white racism to black anger is to liken the slur ‘nigger’ to the ridiculous insult ‘honkey.’ A white person will hardly bat an eyelash if they are angrily called a honkey. A casually uttered ‘nigger’ from a white person to a black might, as Nina Simone once said, “burn the goddamn house down.”
- A lot of black men don’t like to work. Historically, this is baloney. An objective observer might easily conclude that it is whites and not blacks who avoid work. Our enslaved ancestors were forced to work past the point of exhaustion and until death for no compensation. After the Civil War, southern blacks – who became literate at a rate of about 77% only one generation after slavery, moved north to find work in factories and on farms. Many of those who stayed behind worked as sharecroppers – working under the same conditions and tilling the same land as their enslaved forefathers and for only a pittance. During the Jim Crow era, blacks were routinely denied the opportunity to earn a living for themselves and their families. During the civil rights era, blacks petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent employers from denying them positions based on their race. Currently, workplace discrimination lingers. In the June 2004 issue of the American Sociological Review, sociologists James Elliott of Tulane University and Ryan Smith of City University of New York, provide evidence of blocked workplace opportunity based on race and gender. They write, “Since no longer is the central issue in the struggle for equality limited simply to the issue of who is hired and who is not. Within an increasingly diverse workforce, equality is about who is promoted and given the keys to organizational power and attendant raises, and who is not.” Given all of this history, it is not surprising to find that a minute segment of the population becomes discouraged and gives up the hunt for a job altogether. Peterson’s agenda is to malign “most” black men as lazy. But black men (and women) have always worked. The issue for us has never been a lack of desire to work but lack of opportunities.
Interestingly, Peterson gives hell to those who, according to him, are looking for a handout. He (like most conservatives) is a proponent of “less government.” He even pats himself on the back for not accepting any government sponsorship of his organization, BOND. But he admits to receiving money from private sources like the Weinberg Foundation (another conservative organization/think tank that gives money to conservative causes). Incidentally, the Weinberg Foundation recently sought $75 million in special-interest tax breaks for land development in Hawaii. Apparently, Peterson and other conservative don’t object to handouts – private and public – when they’re given to them.
As a footnote, Jesse Lee Peterson recently reappeared on the C-Span program, Washington Journal, assigning blame to black New Orleanians for not having left the city before Hurricane Katrina hit. In his mind black Americans should have taken responsibility for themselves and black men should have taken the women and children to safety. This argument is akin to saying that Asian tsunami victims should have just whittled boats out of trees and Pakistani earthquake victims should have built stronger houses. Peterson also claimed that most of the inner cities are out of control because the infrastructures are controlled by indifferent, incompetent blacks.
Labels: The Right Wing, Tomism