Ralph Ellison wrote his novel, “Invisible Man,” in an elliptical style because HUAC was breathing down the necks of black writers. Langston Hughes, appearing before the committee, had to renounce his left leaning pro-Soviet poetry.
But stripped bare, Ellison’s book is about the left’s abandonment of the issue of housing foreclosures. Progressives of the day turned their attention to saving the Communist revolution abroad, under attack by German fascists. Ellison was furious about what he considered a betrayal.
I thought about this switch in concerns when I recently received an email inviting me to participate in No Torture week by a progressive Berkeley group. They meant torture at Abu Ghraib. Nothing about torture in Illinois, New York, New Mexico and California prisons, recently uncovered in an investigative report from The Sacramento Bee.
Recently, Amy Goodman found a case of torture in the Phillipines, when torture is occurring at Riker’s Island, not far from her firehouse studio. Ms. Goodman has become the progressive voice on CNN. Appearing there, she threatened President Obama that if he didn’t bring about universal health care, progressives would stay home during the November election.
One of her recent guests was Eve Ensler, the creator of “The Vagina Monologues.” She is directing an all black women ensemble in a performance called “Swimming Upstream,” about the Katrina disaster as though black men were out of town when the flood occurred. Maybe partying in Las Vegas with Tiger Woods and Mike Tyson.
There doesn’t seem to be any room for minority men in the world of this kind of feminist.
During her appearance on “Democracy Now,” Ms. Ensler was right to denounce the rape of Congo women by soldiers, but she spent only a fraction of her time on the multinational corporations that are financing “rebels” all over Africa and the arming of the soldiers by American firms (That’s not all that American firms are arming. Ninety percent of the weapons used by Mexican drug lords have an American source, and the illegal weapons are pouring into cities like mine from the suburbs). As Hugh Masekela, the great South African trumpeter told me, during an interview, “All African wars are surrogate wars.” Malian writer Manthia Diawara (We Won’t Budge) chair of Africana Studies at NYU says that whites still run Africa.
So blinded by her fury at black men in the Congo, Haiti and New Orleans, she gave little attention to the manipulation of African wars by the misogynists operating behind the scenes. She said that what united the Congo, Haiti and New Orleans was rape. Even The New York Times, which runs mug shots of blacks everyday, while giving scant attention to corporate crime (hidden away in the Business Section), exposed the fraudulent reporting that had widespread mayhem rape and looting occurring during Katrina.
But at least Ms.Ensler didn’t accuse the blacks of New Orleans of cannibalism. It took the progressive Huffington Post to float that lie, according to Robin Solit, a genuine progressive.The Huffington Post is run by Arianna Huffington the Multimillion dollar progressive whose telegenic smile and accent gets her on a lot of shows. She’s been Obama’s bane. Calling upon Joe Biden to resign, a stunt that got her more air time.
In the 1950s, I used to attend socialist meetings in Buffalo, New York. Once in awhile Corliss Lamont (son of the chairman at J.P. Morgan) would address the meetings. He was a multi millionaire progressive like Ms. Huffington. The socialists would take his money but snicker at him behind his back.A multimillionaire progressive was considered a joke in those days.
The crime of rape is historically one of the most atrocious acts of war. It doesn’t just happen in Africa, Haiti and New Orleans. Some of Ms. Ensler’s comments smacked of Gyno Fascism. She said:
“And I began to understand that violence against women is central to everything. You know, if you’re destroying the female population, if you’re destroying your mother and your sister, you know, and your daughter, you’re essentially destroying life itself. So, how do we as human beings continue on, if what is essential about life is being eviscerated and devastated?”
Men aren’t essential to life? British scientists have found a way to make human sperm from embryonic stem cells , but isn’t it still a good idea to have men around?
Morever, what about the millions of men who actually get murdered in these wars? I’m all for the emancipation of Iraqi and Iranian women, but what about millions of men who were killed in wars between Iraq and Iran- wars manipulated by the same crowd that is now fighting China over Africa’s resources? Men who were killed by chemicals supplied by American firms.
What about the high male casualties that resulted from the Gulf War and the thousands who’ve been killed as a result of the American occupation of Iraq- an occupation that has resulted in rape and the kind of prostitution that has occurred wherever American troops have found themselves?
One of the reasons that the left is teetering is because of women like Ensler, who suggested during her interview that men are not as essential to life as women.
In the 1960s, The Nation of Islam promoted a myth that became a vogue in black intellectual and artistic circles (while the majority of working and middle class blacks remained Christians). It had white people created by a black scientist named Yacub. This Yacub character grafted whites from blacks and set them loose upon the world to do evil.
Even someone as hip and smart as Amiri Baraka wrote a Yacub play called “A Black Mass,” (1966). At the end of the play, the newly created whites, played by black actors in white face, leap from the stage and, foaming at the mouth, begin to attack members of the audience. When Wallace D. Muhammad succeeded his father, Elijah Muhammad, he, an Orthodox Muslim, abandoned Yacubism. Baraka abandoned the idea in the 70s and became a communist. The man responsible for popularizing the myth, Elijah Muhammad, never really believed it. In connection with my new book, “The Fighter and the Writer,” I’ve discovered that Elijah Muhammad entertained whites at his dinner table.
A sort of gender Yacubism is operating in white and black feminist circles, but instead of evil whites being created by a scientist, it’s evil men.
Just as a movement that demonized whites failed, a movement that favors one gender over another is a loser and as a result the power of black men on the left has been diminished. Unfortunate because they once were a potent force on the left.
While Ms. Ensler’s “Swimming Upstream,” was made available in large spaces, including the New Orleans Superdome and Harlem’s Apollo theater, there is little space in the progressive branch of the Jim Crow media available for the testimony of New Orleans black writers like Mona Lisa Saloy, Kalamu ya Salaam, and Jerry Ward (his classic is “The Katrina Diaries”), writers who actually survived Katrina. They don’t get on CNN or “Democracy Now,” or “Air America.” We need Eve Ensler, David Simon and Harry Connick, Jr., and Dr. John, the singer who covers the legendary Professor Long Hair, to tell us what it was like.
While Goodman progressives long for the kind of homophobic dictatorship that now runs Cuba, Nation magazine progressives want another Roosevelt.
Appearing on Ms. Goodman’s show, The Nation’s John Nichols suggested that President Obama make a Roosevelt-styled speech about Us, the masses of people, against Them, the moneyed interests. What Mr. Nichols doesn’t understand is that millions of whites identify with the Them. Why else would they join faux populist groups bankrolled by billionaires who get them drunk on the cheap draft beer of white supremacy. (Carrying racist signs. One of them showed Barack Obama laying in a coffin. I couldn’t believe it! I put the TV set on pause and took a picture of it.) These Tea Partiers are loyal to the 14,000 families who own one quarter of the country’s wealth as long as members of the one percent use their media to flatter them at the expense of scapegoats, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims. The mental illness of white supremacy, an infectious super bug, is evident when you consider that the young black president ,who is hated by these media coached rabid howling mobs, saved them from a depression. The majority of economists agree about that.
Moreover, the status of whites during the 1930s was different in Roosevelt’s time. Nichols ought to read the fiction of Jack Conroy, or Tillie Olson, proletariat writers who wrote about the millions of whites whose 1930s existence was one of desperation. Read William Kennedy’s Ironweed. Though white poverty still exists (check the Jerry Springer show any day or the films of Debra Granik) millions of whites, after entering the middle class, became Reagan Democrats. Where once there were Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish Americans, there are now “whites.” Some of those who had forged alliances with blacks went uptown on them. Started playing the Harpsichord. Started giving money to the Metropolitan Museum. Some Irish Americans began publishing a magazine called The National Review, which supported quack Kantian anthropology about African inferiority. Ironic because early Nativists didn’t want the Irish to come here because they said that the Irish had a “crime gene.”
How did Roosevelt feel about black unemployment? He made a deal with the Dixecrats that excluded blacks from receiving some benefits of the New Deal. (See: When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America by Ira Katznelson.)
Robert Scheer, interviewed on Berkeley’s KPFA by Kris Welch, is another example of a progressive who hasn’t a clue about the situation of blacks and Hispanics.
During his critique of the banking policies that led to a near depression, he longed for a mythical Mr. Pillsbury, the neighborhood banker who used to hand out mortgage loans to qualified borrowers like candy. That might have been true for white borrowers, but whether Mr. Scheer knows it or not, there was rarely a Mr. Pillsbury for black and Hispanic borrowers as a result of the historic racist practices of the mortgage industry. These racist practices and those of the FHA have placed blacks in the position where their savings have been used to finance white businesses and home ownership. Since Reconstruction! That’s got to add up to trillions of dollars. A sort of reverse reparations! Denied access to capital, they become renters who help white investors pay off the mortgages incurred by their investment properties. They are denied the chance to develop equity. They can’t take advantage of the 60-year-old tax deduction for interest on mortgages, a white entitlement program. And these people who listen to people like Goebbel’s protege Rupert Murdoch and his Beelzebub assistant, Roger Ailes, believe that blacks are getting all of the entitlements?
Scheer seemed to blame those whom he referred to as “minorities, the poor and drug addicts” for the recession because of policies that opened the mortgage lending market to people like these who couldn’t afford to pay. He agrees with billionaire Antoinettist, Thomas Friedman, who came to the same conclusion, a conclusion disputed by Freidman’s Times colleague Paul Krugman. On 06/14/2010, Peter Hart cited a Tom Friedman column of the day before in which the columnist blamed the housing bubble on selling houses to poor people.” We--both parties--created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn't have the means to sustain them.” (Freidman’s colleague Ross Douthat, the Times’ idea of a conservative, says that there is “white anxiety” over Affirmative Action prompting yet another letter from Julian Bond reminding him that Affirmative Action is a white program and benefits whites the most.)
Moreover even The Wall Street Journal reports that over 60 percent of those who received subprime loans were eligible for conventional loans. Why didn’t they receive them? Something that Scheer overlooked. Recent studies from Brandeis University and the Center for Responsible Lending offer clues: According to the study by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University, the wealth gap between African-American families and white families has jumped dramatically in 23 years. In fact, the difference in financial assets between these two groups has increased over four times in a generation, from $20,000 in 1984 to $95,000 in 2007.
The Brandeis report also found that middle-income whites experienced a greater increase in net worth than high income blacks. Average white families earning $30,000 had accumulated $74,000, while blacks earning more than $50,000 owned only $18,000, for a wealth gap of $56,000.
To make things worse, 10 percent of African-Americans owed at least $3,600 in debt, nearly doubling their debt burden since 1984. And sadly, at least a quarter of black families had no assets to rely upon when times get rough.
So, what's the problem here? The problem is that income equality is not translating into wealth equality and economic security for black households. Some of this is due to bad public policy, including tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, and other measures that have redistributed wealth upwards-- to those who are already rich and arguably don't need more.
But there is another reason, namely, institutional racism in housing, labor and lending. The deregulation of the lending market has resulted in systemic discrimination against people of color and the poor, who pay more for credit. Those who live paycheck to paycheck borrow just to make ends meet, depending increasingly on payday lending, a.k.a. legal loan sharks, and check cashing stores that prey on these poorer communities. Blacks and Latinos have been steered into risky, costly and sketchy subprime mortgages, more than twice the rate of whites with the same income. The foreclosure crisis has wiped out what little wealth many of these families owned, placing a stranglehold on the ability of the African-American community to build wealth.
Similarly, according to another report, communities of color were disproportionately cut out of conventional mortgage loans after the housing bubble burst.”
Progressives have been telling blacks that class not race determines status in American society at least since the 1920s when Mike Gold of the Communist Party and poet Claude McKay had a falling out over the issue. But when it comes to the racist and corrupt mortgage industry this isn’t true. Whites with lower credit ratings receive better loans than blacks with high credit ratings.
This from the Center for Responsible Lending:
“It is well documented that African-American and Latino families disproportionately received the most expensive and dangerous types of loans during the heyday of the sub prime market. According to analyses of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, higher-rate conventional mortgages were disproportionately distributed to borrowers of color between 2004 and 2008. For example, in 2006, among consumers who received conventional mortgages for single-family homes, roughly half of African-American (53.7 percent) and Hispanic borrowers (46.5 percent) received a higher-rate mortgage compared to about one-fifth of non-Hispanic white borrowers (17.7 percent).14 Center for Responsible Lending 5In addition, a CRL study showed that African-American and Latino borrowers were more likely to receive higher-rate sub prime loans than white borrowers with similar risk profiles, while another study provided evidence that loans in minority communities were more likely to carry prepayment penalties than loans in white communities, even after controlling for other factors.15 Risky loan products—especially sub prime products—have been shown to be more likely to default.16 It therefore stands to reason that borrowers of color, which were targeted by sub prime lenders and steered into the most abusive products, would be disproportionately bearing the brunt of this foreclosure crisis.”
Minorties, the poor, and drug addicts taking out mortgages that they couldn’t afford to pay, Mr. Scheer?
While some progressives believe that class is, using multi-millionaire Gloria Steinem’s phrase, “the most restrictive factor in American life,” feminists, genderists, and others believe that it’s sexual orientation.
After my essay on “Precious” appeared in the New York Times I got letters from white gays arguing that blacks and gays share a similar history or in a couple of cases that gays have been more restricted in American life than blacks. Who do you think had a better chance of receiving bank loans in San Francisco, which is now regentrified? Blacks or Gays?
(Rick Santelli, appearing on Chris Matthews exploded a loud fib when he implied that minorities get all of the entitlements, a propaganda line that Ronald Reagan performed. Santelli, who calls himself “ the lightening rod” for the Tea Party movement, says that this is what galvanizes the Tea Partiers, people who have helped themselves to government programs: FDR’s, The Great Society, The War On Poverty, Medicare, Social Security, the G.I.Bill, etc.)
While Scheer went off on President Obama about his polices other progressives are annoyed with his style. David Corn says that Obama should put more passion into his speeches, but Corn said he liked Obama’s critique of the black family. He is one of those who believes that fatherless homes is a black problem, exclusively, in a country where 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and the nuclear family comes in at about 5 percent. As someone who has lived in the inner city for thirty years and grew up in one, I can assure you that there is a man in these homes.
As the late playwright August Wilson said, “On the weekends, the parking lots in the projects are full.”
(this essay originally appeared in Counterpunch)