Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Race:On Civil Discourse and Decorum

By Gary L Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

I read with breathtaking bafflement an editorial by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post (dated Sunday, September 20, 2009) entitled “Playing the Racial Deck.” In sum, Ms. Parker asserts that while Congressman Joe Wilson’s exclamation, “you lie” to President Obama was a “rude display”; the comment was not necessarily racist. With all due respect, is she serious?

In short, I agree with Reverend Al Sharpton when he said: “One cannot play the ‘race card’ if every card in the American deck is racial.”
A review of world history reminds us that civilization is barbarianism all grown up. From the earliest civilizations of humans on the Continent of Africa to more recent nations, all have respected differing opinions by codification of social mores and rules of decorum.

With centuries of civility behind us, the un-civility of Representative Joe Wilson is averse to the American way of amicability, and not a good look for our nation as the “civil police” of the planet. As a relative “baby” of the world family, the United States of America at 230-something years old has established, for the most part, civil codes of behavior. Of course, I am aware of the rape, pillage, and plunder of Native Americans, the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, the American Civil War, and the racial Apartheid system that followed are uncivilized behavior at its worst.
Yet, America has always at least sought honor—albeit by hypocrisy—through civil discourse. For example, the American transference of leadership without bloodshed is commendable. The discouragement of personal attacks in writing with the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution is a good thing. Thus, the American agreement to disagree with temperance is our nation’s contribution to world civilization. Not to do so is inherently un-American.

As a former field director, and activist for progressive public policy, I understand that policy protest is healthy for our democratic republic. However, there are rules. Congressman Wilson traveled way across the line.

That is why the argument of Mr. Wilson’s comments not being race-oriented falls short of believability. In her historical journalistic sojourn, Ms. Parker admits that the Congressman: 1) Is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; 2) Referred to the revelation of Senator Strom Thurman’s African American daughter out of wedlock as a “smear” on the Senator’s legacy; and 3) his opposition to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. She also admits South Carolina’s support of the racially disenfranchising policy known as the Southern Strategy that baited southern whites to vote against politicians who supported racially inclusive legislation.

To view such public positions as anything but racist is at least naïve. Perhaps, as a South Carolina resident, Ms. Parker cannot view such anti-Americanism with objectivity. By the way, it is illegal to fly the swastika flag is Germany. So too should be the case relative to the Confederate flag in America.

After all, the Confederate flag symbolized slavery, succession, sedition, and racial segregation. Notwithstanding her point that many southerners view the Confederate flag as a symbol of their ancestors’ valor, I, too, am from a former Confederate state, Virginia (the Capital of the Confederacy).

Truth is, the Confederate flag was not publicly displayed until after the Brown v. Board Supreme Court ruling in 1954. Why? The “symbols of vanquished nations” must be surrendered after losing a war. South Carolina and the south lost the war. After 1954, White southerners, sympathetic to the traitorous Confederacy, used the flag to represent their racial hatred and opposition to racial desegregation of public facilities.

There is a direct historical connection to Congressman Joe Wilson’s racially rude outburst and a sign I saw at one of the Tea Party gatherings. A woman held a sign reading, “We want our country back.” We? She was White, and definitely not Cherokee, Blackfoot, or Apache. The glaring historical reality is that some people in this nation have never—and may never—accept that the United States of America is the embodiment of the Latin phrase, I pluribus Unum (out of many, one).
Congressman Joe Wilson and his Confederate supporters should come across the American bridge and get over it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Health Care: Private Profits vs. Policy Prophets

Health Care: Private Profits vs. Policy Prophets
By Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO

We the conscious people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union, must, by way of votes of our elected representatives in Congress embrace the need of health care recipients rather than the greed of the health care providers.
America must listen to policy prophets rather than be victimized by the profits of privateers. To do so is not new for Black America.
For Black Americans who are Christian they need look no further than the Biblical book of Jeremiah in which, according to scripture, the Prophet Jeremiah initially carried immense favor amongst the people until his vision for their well being led him to expose views that were not popular. Scripture holds that God’s blessing of the Prophet’s plan was greater than the evil of his adversaries due to the righteousness of his words (not unlike Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s speech, “Difference Does Not Denote Difference”). In order to move his people forward he chose to speak truth to power.
President Barack Obama must do as the Prophet Jeremiah did relative to his policy priority of insurance reform in health care—be audacious enough to challenge the status quo and throw a policy punch in the fat belly of the insurance industry that rakes in enormous profits by denying health care to needy Americans.
After all, change is spelled with the bended line of a C, Inadequate is spelled with a straight line of an I. In other words: if there is not a single payer/public option in the final health care legislation, the promise of meaningful change in the cost and delivery of health care will be reduced to rhetoric, and thereby inadequate to the ill.
Yet, throughout the continuum of public policy leadership within the Black community men and women have influenced legislation based on the needs of the people and not what was politically expedient.
For example, just after the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells joined forces to push for a federal policy outlawing the lynching of Black people. They won.
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement of African Americans Dr. Martin Luther King and Dr. Dorothy Height partnered to influence the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Dr, Marian Edelman teamed up to bring about legislation to increase educational and health opportunities for poor children of color, resulting in the PUSH for Excellence Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Policy (CHIP) in each state.
This week, President Barack Obama (with the assistance of Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett) prophetically clarified the Administration’s plan reform the insurance industry by offering Americans the option of purchasing health insurance from the government (much like the Medicare Program or Veteran’s benefits). Makes sense to me. Without such a public option profits will soar while the people remain sore of no health care.
After watching the movie John Q starring Denzel Washington and Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko a few years ago I was baffled as to how the insurance industry could predicate their enormous profits on the by denying coverage to ordinary people, and do so in the wealthiest nation on earth. The equivalent would be to only offer fire protection to those who could afford fire insurance. Imagine that?
We as a nation must join the world community in providing—not denying—health care to all of our citizens.
And for those who shout down supporters of a single payer/public option, the Prophet Jeremiah symbolizes that one need not be guilty to be vilified.

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.
Washington, DC 20004
Office: 202.689.1965
Fax: 202.689.1954
Cell: 773.230.3554