ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
the Black middle class is bound more and more to the economic issues outside
of the inner-city where the masses of the Black working and poor classes reside
that make it less likely to challenge the political status quo in America
The Black Middle Class and a Political Party of the Poor
By Amin Sharif
One of the themes briefly mentioned at the recent Millions More March by Brother Minister Louis Farrakhan was that of a political party of the poor. For several days prior to the march, Rudy Lewis and I were struggling with the question of why in the face of so much poverty and desperation, as evidenced in New Orleans, there has been no suggestion that the black and poor should form there own political party. Perhaps, the most obvious answer is that among middle Black class, there has been reluctance to break with the Democratic Party.
For the Democratic Party has for decades defended black middle-class aspirations in the form of support for Civil Rights and other anti-racist measures. And, it is also through the Democratic Party that members of the Black middle class have been able to rise to positions of political power as elected officials. This historical relationship between the Black middle-class and the Democratic Party was established in the New Deal progressive politics of Roosevelt in the 1940s and cemented during the Johnson administration of the 1960s.
Black middle class leaders were so highly identified with Rooseveltespecially Eleanorthat many were referred to as Roosevelts niggers. Yet this term belies the sometimes contentious relationship that exists between the Democratic Party and the Black masses. In 1964, the Democratic Party in Mississippi was controlled by an openly white racist leadership. Though the national Democratic Party was well aware of the degradation and oppression suffered by the rural black masses, it did nothing to curtail the racist policies of the Mississippi Democratic Party.
As chronicled in Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamiltons book, Black Power, so outrageous were the actions taken against Black people that, a momentous struggle began to wrestle power from the entrenched racists of Mississippi. The struggle began in 1963 when SNCC organized the Freedom Vote in which 80, 000 people in the black community cast ballots for their own candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor in that state. Then:
After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, SNCC decided to devote its resources to building grass-roots political strength. The decision was finally made in February, 1964 to establish a new political entity in the state of Mississippi. Formally constituted on April 26 in Jackson, it took the name of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP).
The history of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party is one that should be closely studied by anyone seeking to establish a black political party or, as suggested by Farrakhan, a party of the poor. The MDFP was organized by African Americans who lived in the South when the poverty levels were staggering. There were no food stamps, no social service, and no medical assistance in Mississippi in the mid 1960s. Most blacks were sharecroppers who planted and picked cotton and lived under a system of segregation that was as brutal as slavery.
Yet, with only the idea of securing justice for themselves and their children, these poor Black Mississippians put together their own political apparatus and challenged the political status quo. While the history of the MDFP is too convoluted to layout at this time, it should be noted that the MDFP never became the official Democratic Party of Mississippi. The national Democratic Party attempted to co-opt the MDFP. And then when that didnt work it adopted a myriad of tactics to keep the racist white Mississippians in power.
But the real story of the MDFP was that it gave birth to the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama. As pointed in Black Power, the Lowndes County Freedom Organizations name does not carry the word Democratic, for the people of Lowndes did not intend to depend on the national Democratic Partyor any otherfor recognition. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization gave Black folk a fighting organization which successfully changed the political landscape of Mississippi forever. These examples make it clear that in the middle 1960s, there was considerable momentum for Blacks to search for and build new forms outside of the Democratic Party. The question now pondered by Rudy and me is why hasnt that happened?
There are many reasons why there has been no effort to build a political apparatus controlled by the Black people outside of the confines of the Democratic Party. The first reason involves how the American power structure decided to defuse the furious and dangerous activities of black and other progressive forces in the last decades of the 1960s. The wholesale destruction of Black militant organizations and their leaders was first among many tactics used to stop Blacks from effectively challenging the status quo.
The second tactic was the co-optation of the Black middle class, and to a lesser extent the Black intellectual class, by use of economic incentives derived from the Civil Rights laws. As the legal gains of the Civil Rights era took hold doors were opened to the Black middle class that were heretofore closed. The Black middle class who under segregation derived its status from providing goods and services exclusively to the Black urban masses was now free to offer their services to a newly desegregated America.
And, as urban Blacks could not compete with America for the purchase of these goods and services, they soon found themselves devoid of them. Black teachers, doctors, lawyers, and the common shop ownersall headed for greener economic pastures. The Black intellectual class was fractured into academics who sought tenure in the white Academy and those who stayed true to the cause of educating Black students at predominately Black institutions.
It may be said that white flight, especially after the urban rebellions of the 1960s, devastated the economic base of the black urban centers. But black middle class flight from these urban centers has left the Black urban poor to fend for themselves. And, as the distance between the lack middle class and the black poor has increased, so too have the problems of the urban poor multiplied.
This is not to say that the urban poor have not at times been their own worst enemy. Drug abuse, the lax attitude toward education and other issues of personal responsibilityall are issues that urban Blacks must wrestle with on their own. But, even the affect of these issues might have been lessened to some extent had the Black middle class not deserted the inner cities. Can there be any doubt that the Black middle class would not have stood by and watched the near total destruction of the educational system without putting up resistance?
It is precisely because the Black middle class is bound more and more to the economic issues outside of the inner-city where the masses of the Black working and poor classes reside that make it less likely to challenge the political status quo in America. In fact, the black middle class has no incentive at all to see a black political party or party of the poor emerge in America. Progressive politics might have been acceptable to the black middle class when it was held down by the chains of segregation. But with the removal of these chains, what incentive do they have to change the political status quo?
Indeed, we find that the black middle class has become the most conservative force in Black political life today. We even find that a small minority of the black middle class has joined the Republican Party and tout the blessing of the American economic system. That this same system is the one that holds a million of their black brothers and sisters in prison cells and dooms the rest to poverty seems lost on these Black Republicans. Nor does the fact that several thousand sons and daughters of the poor have died in a bogus war give them any pause.
Brother Minister Farrakhan has said that the black middle class must use its wealth and skills to help the Black and poor. But he may want to reconsider this notion in light of the growing conservative nature of the black middle class. Minister Farrakhan sees the need for Black Unity across classes as a vital component of his Million More Movement.
He is a spiritual man filled with optimism. But those forces who seek the political transformation will need more than sheer optimism. They will need to be aware of who is for the poor of America and who stands against them. Am I saying that there are no middle class blacks that will be useful in building a Black Political Party or Party of the Poor? No.
There will always be those Black middle class individuals who are ready to lend assistance to the poor. To characterize the entire black middle class as an obstructionist element to black progress would be as foolish as saying that all whites are obstructionist to black progress. What I am saying is that as a whole the Black middle class cannot be counted on as a whole to defend the interest of the black and poor. They do not have the incentive or motivation for such action.
Here we come to the real reason why there has been no effort to build a black or political Party of the poor. There is no effort to build such a party because the working and underclass of the minority and poor communities have not willed one into existence. They have not seen the need to break with their own conservative middle class political leadership and strike out on their ownat least not yet. There can be no more apparent example of this misguided loyalty to conservative middle class political leadership than in the Black Community.
The Black masses are prone to vote Democratic despite the fact that the Democratic Party candidates, Black and white, fail to act in its interest. Black Democratic mayors like the one in New Orleans routinely seek to attract businesses to the inner-city without demanding a living wage or unionization that could secure a living wage for inner-city workers. And, why should urban mayors have any real interest in whether black folks can feed their families when their own families feed at the tables of white power?
Why should Black mayors provide affordable housing for the poor when they are elected by interest groups who want the poor cleared out of the way? And, the problem gets worse at the Congressional level where it may take hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for office. Who is the source of all this money? Certainly, not the black and poor. The source of this money is forces that have little interest in what happens to poor people.
I can already hear the cry raised across the land by black politicians who say that they are only playing by the rules of game. Why play, at all, if you must be beholding to forces other than those who elect you? Would you have black people not represented in the hall of power, they ask. Yes, I would rather there be no black congressmen or women in the halls of power than ones who cannot or will not act in the interest of the weakest ones of my brothers and sisters.
Do not bring to this argument the time worn slogan about it being better to choose the lesser of two evils. Choosing the lesser of two evils only, in my mind, ensures that some form of evil will always prevail. Who would tell his child that it is permissible to shoot heroin and not smoke crack cocaine? The result would still be addiction though one would seem preferable to the other. The choice between a black Democratic candidate who will not support the interest of the poor and any other candidate that is of the same disposition will only ensure that the interest of the black and poor will never be addressed.
It is time put an end to these false choices. The lack and poor must come to see the necessity of building a new political apparatus that will defend their interest. Some will say that what I advocate is class warfare within the Black community. To these I say that I am not at war with the black middle class or even black politicians. I am at war with poverty, hunger, and hopelessness. If the black middle class and its politicians are not for the eradication of these conditions, it is they who are at war with the poor and those who argue for the black poor.
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Fourth World Essays
Other Fourth World Essays
(Waldron H. Giles)
Dark Child of the Fourth World Reaches Out (Dennis Leroy Moore)
Fourth World Introduction (M.P. Parameswaran)
Fourth World: Marxist, Gandhian, Environmentalist (M.P. Parameswaran)
The Fourth World Multiculturalism (Rose Ure Mezu)
Fourth World Programme M.P. Parameswaran)
Neo-Liberalism Dictatorship of the Market M.P. Parameswaran)
The Rise and Fall of the Socialist World M.P. Parameswaran)
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Fannie Lou Hamer (born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights. . . .
On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. . . . Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scaredbut what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”
On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi to register. In what would become a signature trait of Hamer’s activist career, she began singing Christian hymns, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine,” to the group in order to bolster their resolve. . . . Bob Moses . .. dispatched Charles McLaurin . . . to find “the lady who sings the hymns”. McLaurin found and recruited Hamer. . . . On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop. Stopping in Winona, Mississippi, the group was arrested on a false charge and jailed. Once in jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death.
Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. . . Hamer was invited, along with the rest of the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] officers, to address the Convention’s Credentials Committee. She recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the ordeal of the jail in Winona, and, near tears, concluded: “All of this is on account we want to register to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beingsin America?”
Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), [along with] Walter Mondale, and Walter Reuther, as well as J. Edgar Hoover . . . suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:
“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”
Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968.Wikipedia
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#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
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#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 19 November 2005 / 3 July 2008