(Living abroad, I have little cause to think much about American race relations but the coverage of Morgan Freeman’s remarks on CNN September 25 caught my attention. Like millions of Americans,I’ve long been a Freeman fan.)
Given past statements on race, Morgan Freeman taking on the Tea Party is not as predictable as might appear, and is thus deeply disappointing to many. Freeman has played America’s wise grandfather for so long, that many thought that he was that for all of us. His semi-coherent diatribe on Piers Morgan Tonight is just one more, and quite prominent, indicator that post racialism is as far away as ever,
Early in, there is an echo of the Freeman, who in an interview with Mike Wallace in 2009 said the best way to solve the race problem was to stop talking about it, when asked whether he wanted to be perceived as a black actor:
MORGAN: You don’t think the word “black” should now really be used in any context to–
FREEMAN: Not really, you know, it — what use is it? What good does it do? You know, what we’ve almost always done, when you label someone, you know, say for example, while he’s the best Chinese this or he’s the best Latin that or the best black that, nobody ever says the best white anything.
But that doesn’t last.
In his later remarks, Freeman exhibits the same vague unease, but lack of facts, that accompany much Tea Party Criticism. He doesn’t care for Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, but seems unsure of just exactly who the senator is.
MORGAN FREEMAN: Made it(the election of President Obama) worse. Made it worse. Look at, look, the Tea Partiers, who are controlling the Republican Party, stated, and what’s this guy’s name, Mitch O’Connell. Is that his, O’Connell?
.He ascribes this sentiment, but not a statement, to the Minority leader and the Tea Party
“…we are going to do whatever we can do to get this black man out of here.”
What can one say? Mr. Freeman, it’s politics and this goes on in all election cycles, regardless of party?
Then we get to the money quote:
“Yes. Well, it just shows the weak, dark underside of America… “
“…And then it just sort of started turning because these people surfaced like stirring up muddy water.”
Vicious racist pond scum just waiting to spread.
Sad. I hope, and really don’t doubt, that most Americans are still well disposed to Black people. When people have asked me what I miss about America, I found myself responding, the sound of Spanish, and Black people. Like many white Americans, I can’t say I really know any black people. In the course of my life I’ve only been fairly friendly with a couple, but am in touch with neither anymore.
So many decades after the March on Washington, it is deeply troubling to see these
controversies go on and on. I’m sure many ,if not most of my generation, had you asked us in the late sixties, would have confidently predicted a post racial America by now.
I have my issues with Black folks, the high crime rate, bloc voting, elevation of charlatans like Sharpton and Jackson to prominence, although in the last instance, one wonders if the white dominated media are the real culprits. Rowdy kids acting out on buses. And yes, a certain hollow feeling when I have strolled unthinkingly and suddenly found myself in a neighborhood that was entirely black.
And then to return to one of those neighborhoods for services at great small businesses. A friendly bar where I could have a beer and a bit of chit chat between work and night classes. A fantastic takeout where the Korean War vet owner presided over amazing smells, and great food that the Asian kids he hired served up with big smiles, as if it were not a a job but just a great big goof. Hot links, and brisket sandwiches, slaw an potato salad. Sweet potato pie if you possibly had any room left.
I get to the States only occasionally and a few years back, staying with a friend and lifetime resident of largely white West side LA, I remarked that the black people we encountered, working at restaurants, cashiers, salespeople and so on, seemed not only quick at their work, but genuinely outgoing and friendly. Many were young, and casual chats revealed that they were working part time and going to the colleges and universities that abound in West LA. My cynical friend thought that this relaxed interchange between races was due in part to a feeling of solidarity with whites, versus the Latino migration. He had to agree, however, that things seemed to have improved, “It’s not all Compton, anymore,” he said,
A long time back, a different friend was railing against blacks, and my response was, “If they all disappeared one day, you would miss them.“
Who, after all, is more American than black people? Schoolchildren still learn, as I did, that the first cargo of African arrived In Jamestown in 1619. What wasn’t taught back then was that there were some who were free men from the start.
This certainly beats snooty Mayflower descendants. As the legal importation of Africans for slavery ended in 1803, it’s a safe bet that the ancestry of the average Black American will predate that of many whites.
I make a choice in this post to use the term “Black.” People of my age
clearly remember signs saying “No colored,” “No Negros,“ and while these were polite terms at the time, it was easy to understand why Blacks would shed them.
How many remember Jesse Jackson decreeing in a Chicago speech sometime in the 80s that henceforth, Blacks would be called African-Americans? And the Orwellian speed with which the media and academia adopted it?
At the time, and now, it seemed to me that hyphenating this group whose migration, involuntary as it was, predated that of most of the ancestors of their fellow citizens, was insulting, and more importantly, inaccurate. Black Americans are foremost among the very first Americans and their unique history and culture, and their contributions to the nation they inhabit were made here, not in Africa.
Of course, as a white person, I have no “right,” to take a stand on this, but everyday usage indicates that Black is still preferred. After all, W.E. Dubois wrote about “Souls of Black Folks,” not African-Americans. Yet, the term African-American does indicate the distance that many blacks still feel from their country, an estrangement that in some quarters seems to be entrenched, and growing,
The clearest signs are bloc voting, with 95% of Black voters going for President Obama in 2008 and the frenzied, and paranoid stockade mentality many prominent blacks are taking in defending his, at best debatable record as Chief Executive. Take Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on conservatives and the Tea Party, when commenting on the Freeman CNN Interview:
“I can tell you that it’s clear from the evidence that the ‘Heck with the interest of the common good and whatever we need to do to derail this presidency’ has characterized some if not all of Tea Party behavior in the Congress of the United States, no doubt about it,” Patrick said.
46% of the electorate did not think electing Obama as President would foster the common good, and after the fact, more have come to the same conclusion. If many more blacks approve of the president’s performance than do whites, is this because they are right, and whites racist? This divide trumps any facts because it is consistently so lopsided. I remember too well the sinking feeling at the conclusion of the Simpson trial, when my black colleagues gave out a shout and fist pumps when the acquittal came in.
If the Tea Party, and conservatives in general, are predominately white, is Governor Debal a racist for criticizing them?
“The governor also described conservative behavior as ‘seditious,’ saying that patriots come together in crisis to work on a solution.”
“Sedition: Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch. ”
Or even worse: “Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state.
2. Insurrection; rebellion
“The notion that the singular focus of the hard right today is to defeat this president, even if there’s an idea he puts forward to help-that they used to support-is incredibly worrisome to me and a very different political climate, I think, that we’ve been dealing with for a long time,” he said.
The governor does not specify which of the administration’s ideas might be ones
Republicans once approved, but now oppose. Once again, there is nothing particularly remarkable here. It’s called an election, much as Governor Bev Perdue of North Carolina might like to dispense with them.
“Patrick was not the only one to respond to Morgan’s comments. GOP presidential contender Herman Cain had told Fox News that Morgan’s remarks were “short-sighted.”
“Most of the people that are criticizing the Tea Partiers about having a racist element, they have never been to a Tea Party,” Cain said.
“Short sighted,” indeed. This hysteria among the black electorate, that the Tea Party wants to bring back slavery and lynching as Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana and others have said , is more than silly: it is a sad and depressing indication that much of Black America has no memory of its proud history before its open-ended indenture on the Great Society plantation.
“Black History is American history,” Freeman said in a better and very lucid moment in the Wallace Interview. It is indeed, and a proud part of it. I said the same thing in introducing my self to the Black Literature Club, of which I was the sole white member, where I worked in the 90s. ( This was no statement as to my enlightened racial outlook. I like to read, and the stuff these people were doing fit well with some night classes I was taking.) We had lunchtime meetings, read Zora Neale Houston, slave narratives, MLK, and Toni Morrison, who sadly racist that she is, is a wonderful story teller and stylist.
A high point was MLK day, when members brought their scrubbed and dressed up kids, to deliver memorized speeches and sermons of Dr King, Fredrick Doublass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and others, The art of memorization and declamation was alive there, long after being lost in the public schools
Downsizing and brutal hours put an end to the club’s activities, but that was the not the only glimpse I have had into black America where I think something good, decent remains, an older culture in opposition to the underclass rage, one that if revitalized would not only help black America, but the nation as a whole.
One reads of inner city hell hole schools. I did sub in one predominantly Black and Latino High School on the western edge of Phoenix. The first day I had that same trepidation as in entering an unknown black area. Immediately I was flagged down by some big black adults, sitting on a courtyard bench. They were security, ex military mostly, some studying for the police academy exam.
They knew everything that went on. A kid even thinking of acting up got his name called out, and a meek “yes sir” and apology usually followed quickly. They were funny guys and made me welcome at break times. This assignment came after a few weeks at a school in an affluent area, where kids drove their own new SUVs to school. There were a lot of spit wads and backtalk,
It struck me immediately that these kids said “Sir,” and “Mr.”. There was an old fashioned level of courtesy towards adults. Sure ,they acted out, and sometimes it was hard to discipline them because they were so hilarious. Two in particular I remember, Jimmy a gawky kid, Mississippi dark, with a constant smile who simply could not keep still. More than once I had to send him out, but he just went with the same smile. And came back the next day and did it all over again.
Then there was Sheniqua. (Yes, that was the name) a tall Nilotic exotic just a little too aware of her looks, who once flashed me her tummy, and very taut it was. The shorts that barely met dress code requirements were bad enough.
Yet she submitted a highly readable and passionate assessment of her favorite singer, Usher, complete with musicology references and footnotes, making an argument for placing him in the tradition of black jazz and blues singers.
I had much less trouble with these kids than with their far more well off peers in the other side of the valley, Indulging in amateur sociology, looking back at the small business men in San Francisco, the church going book readers in the literature club, the firm but caring security guys and the sassy but bright students at that Phoenix school, did I see an echo of an earlier black America, one that began in the rural South where blacks had no choice but to do for themselves, and which carried over into the urban neighborhoods that people like Bill Cosby fondly remember, before they were destroyed by welfare and redevelopment?
One must take political biographies skeptically, yet a look at people like Herman Cain seems to say that this Black America is still out there. Whether it can prevail against those who would exploit it for political purposes, as they have for so long, is a question that will effect not only the election outcome, but the lives of all Americans. Campaign 2012 will be about many things, but one will be the souls of Black folks.