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The Donkey and the Elephant

Dannie Sims
 


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In the most basic sense black people in America have always viewed white people as either the holders of power over them or as members of the group that holds power. In our efforts to be free of that power or to share equally in it we've endeavored to ally ourselves with members of the power holding group genuinely sympathetic (or seemingly at the time) to our plight and willing to give voice in service to our cause. This dynamic must have felt very much like beseeching one white family member to go against another family member on our behalf so that the one mistreating us would stop. Sometimes when asking or trying to reason didn't work there were instances when some whites battled violently with others on our behalf or otherwise placed themselves at great risk. We think of John Brown, his sons and followers. We also think of Quakers, the Underground Railroad and numerous protests and marches that turned violent and ugly. While there are virtually no white people today who would espouse violence to secure justice and equality for African Americans (and very few African Americans, for that matter) this overall dynamic continues to be played out in most facets of American life and, most certainly, in the United States Congress. Notwithstanding the many third, fourth or other political parties that exist or have existed in this country's history, no one will argue that in the present day it all comes down to the Democrats and the Republicans. The Donkey and the Elephant.

Whether in politics or everyday life African Americans have always, for the most part, been able to distinguish between which whites had our best interest at heart and those that didn't. When we carefully examine the histories and the people who make up the two major parties it really comes as no surprise that black folks’ loyalty today is overwhelmingly with the Democrats. Since the beginning of the modern Civil Rights era the Democratic party has done the better job of convincing black folk that they care about us and are willing to not only share America's material bounty with us, but also that they genuinely like us and aren't afraid to integrate with us on any level. Whether this posture is really genuine or not is debatable; that they have convinced most black folk of it is not.

Republicans, on the other hand, have come to represent those whites who would still have blacks as slaves or in life long Jim Crow. When one examines the actions and movements of the white people who took the country to Civil War all the way up to the whites who bolted en masse from the Democratic party to the Republican party between 1948 and 1972 what you find is today's Republican party. Those two major events, along with their legislative behavior, have placed today's Republican party firmly in the psyche of African Americans as indeed the political descendants of our enslavers. Philosophically, however, African Americans are attracted to much of the rhetoric of the Republicans, especially their platforms around religion and personal responsibility, buttressed by their “party of Lincoln" mantra. God and morality are bedrock beliefs among most African Americans, which Republicans see as fertile ground for their ideology and agenda. What stops African Americans from turning the corner with the Republicans, however, is still history, racism and their unwillingness to share equally. Plus, as long as the Confederate flag and the various groups of white supremacists continue to find refuge in the republican party they will never bring into their ranks an appreciable number of black folk. Period.

If we are to get our cues from the American political establishment the very first hard truth we must swallow is that the Democratic and Republican parties are nothing more than the left and right arms of the same white body that's been vying with one another for control of the government and that the extent of our useful participation in it is still powered by our historic dynamic with the holders of power. Slaves, Freedmen, Coloreds, Negroes, Afro Americans and now African Americans have always presented to white America the dilemma of “what to do with them" as it pertains to governing this country. This posture is not exclusive to either party; both have a rich heritage of paternalism and indifference towards our people. As it pans out neither party ever considers true power sharing with us, thus the fighting they do (political or otherwise) is always centered around how much inclusion to bestow upon us and how much of a voice we'll have in determining the affairs of the nation. Believe it or not, virtually every major piece of domestic legislation since Reconstruction has directly or indirectly been about codifying the exclusion and/or inclusion of African Americans socially, politically and economically.

I strongly encourage our people to be involved in the political process at every level, but also cautions us not to put all of our eggs in the political basket. I'm encouraged by the efforts of many in the black community, particularly the Hip Hop community, to educate and inspire our youth to get out and vote. If that's as far as it goes, however, it invites the danger of feeding our people false hope. For too long we've sacrificed full pursuit of our birthright in our quest for full participation in the American political process. In any number of ways we keep allowing ourselves to be sidetracked from true unity and freedom by politicians and hope merchants of every persuasion. It is often said that the best definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We need to finally wake up to the fact that there's no contradiction in pursuing everlasting African American wealth simultaneously with pursuing full American citizenship. Every other ethnic group does precisely that and no one accuses them of being militant or nationalistic. Why are we the only people in America discouraged from taking our upliftment into our own hands? The historical answer is that it's hard for people to let go of a good thing. And we've been other peoples good thing for too damn long.

Well, the presidential and vice presidential debates are over and the political pundits saturate the news with their analysis, spin, predictions and guess work. I found the debates somewhat substantive only when the candidates were pressed to actually answer a direct question, but still riddled with the usual campaign rhetoric and slogans at every turn. Kerry, I think, looked highly presidential and did much to combat the negative image of him put forth by the Bush-Cheney campaign, but missed many opportunities to impress upon the nation the urgency of replacing the Bush administration. Bush, on the other hand, was adept (while Cheney was masterful) at tapping into fear and uncertainty, seizing every opportunity to stress the urgency of keeping the nation safe and maintaining a strong, aggressive approach to fighting terror. All of them, in my view, danced and dodged around the reality that no matter who wins the election the so called war on terror cannot be won because terrorism is only a tactic and will be with us as long as there are people on earth.

Obviously the issues that matter most to African Americans are the domestic issues. We don't delude ourselves into believing that we actually have a say in foreign affairs. And while much was said about domestic issues not much was said about African Americans in particular or the prevailing conditions that continue to render African Americans excluded from wealth and power. Of course, politicians insist that when they speak about domestic issues they're speaking to all Americans; that's the politically correct thing to say, but the devil is always in the details. It's the details that include the actual particulars, the itemizations, the appropriations, the special interest pork and, when the smoke clears, the continued disenfranchisement of African Americans.

Aside from the long standing routes of sports and entertainment one can very easily get the impression nowadays that power, recognition, influence or financial success for black folk comes from either being a political appointee a televangelist or competing in some billionaire's reality television show. The truth, however, is that we have plenty of African American entrepreneurs and businesses poised to participate in a viable black economy within the overall American economy; plenty of knowledgeable African Americans in the areas of finance, insurance, real estate, manufacturing, farming, marketing and much more, all of which can be brought to bear on a true exchange and fluidity of black wealth. This reality is not widely heralded through the mainstream media outlets or other formats; those tend to lean more towards slanted coverage of individuals who commit murder, rape or other heinous crimes and whatever in house sensationalism also on the lineup. Consequently we don't know one another within the context of a true black economy and our best and brightest have little choice but to seek employment and advancement within the larger mainstream apparatus, as opposed to competing equally and powerfully in the marketplace without the impenetrable ceilings.

The Donkey and the Elephant are the least qualified to lead African Americans in crashing through ceilings, glass or otherwise, for they stand as the foremost model of impenetrable ceilings. The political establishment and its corporate counterparts truly reflect the majority American sentiment from which all bastions of wealth and power ultimately take their cues. You see, it's not the political or corporate cultures which dictate the fabric of our nation in terms of race relations or so called minority inclusion; it's the social culture and the deeply ingrained fear of real equality that most white Americans act out of when their hegemony over the “American" way of life (as they see it) is perceived to be under attack or threatened by what many view as mongrelization. Though we may describe racism, bigotry and discrimination as “entrenched, " “systemic" and “institutionalized, " the fact of the matter is that racism, bigotry and discrimination lies in the hearts of people themselves, not our constructs. Isn't that what we're really saying?

Well, George W. Bush will occupy the White House for another four years and judging from his very first post election press conference we can confidently predict that his second term will be very much like his first. This takes me back to the period in his first term when his favorite quote seemed to be “freedom is a wonderful thing, " particularly in response to mass protests against his policies. The quote would always preface his gleeful reminder of how free people have the right to protest their government's actions and voice their opposition to its policies. What is not said is that no matter how much the people protest or express opposition nothing's going to change and you can see that sentiment in the smirk on his face. Certainly nothing he says afterwards leads one to believe that their protest and opposition will affect his decisions one iota. In fact, the tone of his rhetoric suggests that a government could lead its people straight to hell, but ain't it a wonderful thing that the people can yell, kick and scream every step of the way. Oh well, so much for government of the people, by the people and for the people. We are now told that when we vote someone into office we've effectively voted away our political capital and sublimated the voice behind the vote to whatever policies the office holder wishes to ram down our throats. Welcome to the New World Order. Your vote is now a blank check.

Perhaps a sadder truth is that most Americans simply don't care how their government acts in the world so long as they can freely and happily pursue the American way of life for themselves and their families. This kind of apathy was concretized during Jim Crow America and now seems to stand as a microcosm of how America positions herself around the world. The major parallel is this: people and countries around the world can't go places, do things or have things that America does and when they get it in their heads that they will go, do and have these things America either steps up to set the terms by which this can occur or she will issue and carry out threats. Just as with Jim Crow these people and countries must stay in their place. When they don't it's perceived as a “threat to the American way of life, " the pet phrase our government uses to whip Americans into a blood thirsty mob or simply to get its populace to acquiesce to bad policies. We must never forget that the greatest and most effective propaganda campaign a government wages is against those from whom it derives its power.

This is the power the Donkey and the Elephant seek to wield. Our power! We should not give it blindly and we should never allow zealots to be in charge. Zealots:

a) outlaw scientific advancement
b) burn people at the stake
c) start religious crusades
d) implement inquisitions
e) conduct political witch hunts
f) start organizations like the ku klux klan
g) assassinate doctors
h) allow minorities to exist and/or prosper only as minor mirror images of themselves
i) believe that a god put them in charge
j) do not resemble Jesus in their behavior or in their response to violence

The history of the American political landscape has given us many glimpses of the type of rhetoric that does not deserve our embrace, yet that rhetoric continues to find ways to cleverly reinvent itself and clothe itself in attractive garb. Be it the Donkey or the Elephant, I say again, the devil is in the details.

(2343)

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