Monday, January 14, 2008

Punditry: Hillary [hearts] LBJ

Unlike most of you, I was alive when they passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I was young, but I was not asleep. I mainly experienced all of that on the receiving end of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Let's get some things right. HIllary is correct. LBJ spent a great deal of the political capital he had amassed over his career as a Southern political leader getting the Civil RIghts bill passed. He strong-armed people, made threats, made promises, and gave concessions he did not want to make in order to get it passed. He did so in part because he believed it was the right thing to do. He also did it in part because the movement that MLK was leading was putting real pressure on him.

The news media has set this up as some sort of zero sum game. Don't believe it. What HIllary said is true. LBJ was a necessary part of that process in order to get The Civil RIghts Act of 1964 done the way it got done. So, was MLK. It wouldn't have happened if southerners weren't watching their police sadistically abusing people on TV. They were both necessary.

The reaction to her statement is what is racist here, not what she said.

I live in Harlem, it is the most viciously racist community in which I have ever lived. I have not personally witnessed the kind of outright hatred spewed at me because I am white ever visited on black people in other communities in which I have lived. I've seen credible documentary evidence of it--video, film, interviews, etc., but I have never seen white teenagers spit at black people as they walk by, for example.

That happened to me about 20 minutes ago on 116th street.

So, the media and the public discourse all have it wrong. Some black people are so angry that they cannot concede LBJ's good will even 44 years later. That's what this is about. They want to believe that LBJ was dragged kicking and screaming to the table over civil rights by these all powerful black revolutionaries.

LBJ was a kind man who was born to unspeakable poverty. He understood oppression, he understood what happens to a governed people when their government forsakes them. He was no visionary when it came to racial justice, but once he saw what was happening, once he saw dogs, fire-hoses and clubs being used on people peaceably demonstrating, he didn't need to be pushed to do the right thing. He was being pushed, and perhaps he would have followed a different schedule if he wasn't being pushed, but he was not dragged kicking and screaming by some mandate out of his control. He made it happen. He spent his most precious resource, his political capital, to do it.

One must also appreciate that in it's hey-day the Civil Rights movement was populated by a tiny minority of the black people in this country. It was not as it is portrayed today: a huge, pure, singular voice speaking black truth to white power. There were large numbers of black people who thought it was wrong, dangerous, mis-directed, weak and too conciliatory. MLK did not enjoy the position of sainthood he does today. He was roundly criticized by most of the black population at the time.

His message was basically this--we all have to learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we all are going to perish together as fools. He was not a black nationalist, he was an American, he deeply, profoundly, sincerely believed in the ideals of this country, he believed that racism against white people was just as deluded and evil as that against blacks. His hero was Gandhi, not Marcus Garvey.

So, those who don't heed that view of the world, those who believe in reparations and black nationalism, those who promote the notion that Obama is not "black enough," are going to come out of the woodwork as Obama exposes their excuse for being miserable failures, i.e.;, that the white man somehow keeps them down, as so much self-hatred, denial and self-delusion.

I've lived in places in Texas where black people endeavored not to remain after dark as recently as 20 years ago. I now live in a place that many of the white people reading these words might fear to remain after dark, particularly if you've never been here.

I've never had to put my hand in front of my face in either place to know my skin color.

That's what MLK was against, that's why he's a hero of mine, and you'll never find me apologizing to anyone, no matter what their skin color, for claiming him as my people.

If MLK were alive today he would reminding everyone that the people who deserve credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the ones who marched over the bridge, who boycotted the buses, and went out and accepted violence in the name of ending it. Everyone else was no more than an obedient clerk, filing papers on their behalf.

Clerks deserve credit, too.

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