Racism and Responsibility

Against the Current, No. 133, March/April 2008

George Fish

MALIK MIAH WRITES in Against the Current 131, “[Orlando] Patterson, and others in Black academia and middle-class civil rights organizations, are right to point to internal problems within the Black community. But the ‘take personal responsibility’ critique targets only a secondary factor. It has little to do with addressing racist attitudes still prevalent among many whites, even as a large majority of whites and society oppose blatant racial discrimination.”

Miah undermines his own thesis. Positively addressing this “secondary factor” by “tak[ing] personal responsibility” is an absolutely essential necessity for continuing the nascent, reemerging civil rights movement put in motion by the protest over the injustice done to the Jena 6.

This is why Black critics of lower-class Black America such as Patterson, Bill Cosby, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. are so right, and so right on, “to point to internal problems within the Black community” that embrace, but are not limited to, the large proportion of young Black men incarcerated and with criminal records; epidemic numbers of Black children born to single, often teenage mothers; dropping out of school; drug use and alcohol abuse; violence; and other major social problems facing African-American communities.

While white racism, both in individual and group attitudes and in institutional practices still prevalent, is one factor, it alone doesn’t create Black victimization. The African American people today too much resemble the “sheet of sand” that Chinese nationalist revolutionary Sun Yat-sen characterized as prevailing among the Chinese people, and thus holding them back in fighting for their liberation from the twin yokes of both Western imperialism and its own comprador Chinese leadership.

The demise of the Black working class due to the sea changes in the U.S. capitalist economy have caused good-paying manufacturing and construction jobs to disappear, while the limited gains that came about because of the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s have produced openings in that economy (and the society supported by it) for a certain few African Americans who are able to take advantage of them.

This has tended to bifurcate the Black community into compradors on the one hand who move easily in white society (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas are highly visible examples), while, on the other, the poverty and despair prevailing for the many have tended, especially among the youth, to produce a new class of lumpenproletarians antisocial in outlook and behavior.  To the extent that they possess any type of rebellious consciousness at all, it all too often manifests itself in materialism, parasitic behavior, thuggery, outright irresponsibility, sexism, and homophobia.

Malik Miah points out to the positive role played by rap singers and the hip-hop community in galvanizing support for the Jena 6, but this is but one side of rap and hip-hop. This is perhaps the hip-hop of the conscious, but certainly not the hip-hop of Jay Z. and Ludacris, the hip-hop of BET and MTV, the hip-hop of big money and “get rich or die trying” that is all too pervasive, and all too much the incessantly-blaring commercial “gangsta” mainstream accepted, absorbed and glorified uncritically among Black and white youth alike.

Nor can violent Black crime (which is overwhelmingly Black on Black) be blamed simply on white racism and the institutionalized injustice of the criminal justice system. I’m a trained paralegal, and I’ve known several public defenders and criminal lawyers who are appalled at the injustices built into our “justice” system, but as they have to admit themselves — 90% of the criminal defendants they represent are guilty as charged!

The “take responsibility” ethos of Patterson, Cosby and others within the Black community is nothing other than positive Black Nationalist and working-class consciousness, the consciousness leading to discipline and self-respect so necessary to re-forge a positive movement.  In this it is the exact opposite of the lumpenproletarian consciousness that is part of holding Black America back.

ATC 133, March-April 2008