The Neo-Bigots and Black History Month

Rep. Michele Bachmann and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, two right-wing Republicans eyeing presidential campaigns in 2012, provided a big boost for Black History Month recently with remarks challenging contentions that this recognition of ignored contributions is an irrelevant relic in this post-racial “Age of Obama.”

Although conservative dogma considers this annual observance during the month of February an anathema, neither Bachmann nor Barbour face censure for heresy from their ideological confederates.

Far from being a ringing endorsement, the offensive utterances of Bachmann and Barbour highlight the importance of Black History Month founded in the early 20th Century to counter factual inaccuracies about blacks then rampant across America’s racially segregated society.

Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party maven, said America’s Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery–a gross distortion of historic fact easily evident in the life of George Washington, America’s first President and Revolutionary War leader, who was born in the month of February.

Washington owned slaves and, as president, signed the federal Fugitive Slave Act mandating return of runaway slaves seeking freedom.

Further, Washington spent the waning years of his life diligently working to recapture two favored slaves who had fled his executive mansion, according to the new book The Black History of the White Houseby Clarence Lusane.

Bachmann’s failure to check facts is not inadvertent, said Professor Ewuare Osayande during a recent lecture entitled “Why Black History Month Still Matters” offered at the Camden, NJ campus of Rutgers University.

“Why does a national figure not check her claims? She does, and she doesn’t care about the truth,” Osayande charged, saying Bachmann’s Founding Fathers assertion is the type of “willful falsehood that becomes patriotic truth” in America.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s recent refusal to even question efforts in his state to issue a license plate honoring a Confederate Army general who had served as the first national leader of the terrorist Ku Klux Klan epitomizes a rancid practice in America’s roiling racial caldron: the denial dynamic of not dealing with truths.

The fact that Barbour has repeatedly white-washed historic fact during just the past few months, for example praising the segregation-defending White Citizens Council of his hometown for what he falsely claimed was its support of desegregation, recently elicited criticism from Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

Robinson scored Barbour’s historically inaccurate accounts as “either a pathology or a plan” to pander for conservative votes.

America’s racial realities past and present heighten the importance of recognizing the black facts comprising major chapters in the ignored volumes of American history.

Racist incidents in America have actually increased since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the first non-white to hold that office. President Obama, for example, has received more death threats than any of his predecessors, with most of those threats reportedly being motivated merely by his race.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania State Representative Ron Water warned about upsurges across Pennsylvania in racist incidents perpetrated by white children as young as 12 years old. Waters, head of that state’s Legislative Black Caucus, noted that “children do not pick up this behavior in a vacuum.”

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have 72 hate groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That is more hate groups than Mississippi and Georgia – two states that set records for the mob terrorism of black lynchings during nearly a century after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

New Jersey, generally perceived as a liberal state, compiled one of the nation’s worst records of racial profiling by state police during the 1990s, a record of misconduct infamously sanctioned by a former Attorney General in the Garden State, Peter Verniero.

Last year NJ Governor Chris Christie, a Republican lauded by conservatives nationwide, nonetheless appointed Verniero to head that state’s judicial selection panel after most members of that body resigned in protest of Christie’s refusal to reappoint the only black serving on New Jersey’s state Supreme Court.

Christie nominated a white Republican partisan with no judicial experience to replace the veteran black jurist he removed.

Recently Dr. Jared A. Ball, writing in the online Black Agenda Report, stated that the “same Americans that claim to empathize with the mass revolt in Egypt support police terror against blacks in the United States…”

Ball correctly noted the depressing disconnect between Americans strongly condemning abuses by police in Egypt while remaining silent about police abuses in American cities.

Chicago, the city that is home to President Obama, spent an average of $39.1 million per year just settling civil rights abuse claims against its police between 2004 and 2006.

The Obama Administration’s inaction on police abuse, comparable to its White House predecessors, belies conservative criticisms that Obama favors blacks to the disadvantage of whites.

Bachmann, a cost-cutting conservative, is silent on the nearly $20-million spent to settle lawsuits against police misconduct during the past dozen-plus years in Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota which abuts Bachmann’s 6th congressional district.

Cost cutting, not righting a wrong, is what drove Mississippi’s Barbour in December to release sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott from their grotesquely unjust double-life sentences for an $11 robbery they didn’t even personally commit.

Barbour wanted to free his state from having to pay the costs for kidney dialysis and/or a transplant required by Jamie Scott. Barbour, who rejected clemency for the Scott Sisters in 2006, conditioned their release on Gladys donating a kidney to Jamie.

Institutional inequities like persistent police abuse and unjust incarcerations were among the elements prompting Dr. Carter G. Woodson to create “Negro History Week” in 1926 to promote public awareness of Black History. Woodson’s week-long recognition at the end of February was expanded to the entire month in 1976.

Woodson selected February because it is the month for the birthdays of two Americans legendary for fighting to end of slavery: activist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.

Curiously, some blacks criticize Black History Month, inaccurately claiming that whites relegated it to February specifically as an insult because February is the year’s shortest month.

That disconnect Dr. Ball referenced is remarkably similar to the duplicity ex-slave Frederick Douglass ridiculed during his famous 1852 speech about the meaning of July 4th celebrations to African-Americans.

Douglass pointedly criticized the duplicity of Americans who backed freedom for Europeans fighting against tyrants, while simultaneously turning a blind-eye towards the tyrannical enslavement of African-Americans.

“You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland but are as cold as an iceberg at the thoughts of liberty for the enslaved of America,” he declared.

Black History illuminations, whether extolled only during February or examined year round, clearly detail the dangers for wider white society in ignoring the discriminatory deprivations “society” dumps on blacks and other non-whites.

As anti-racism activist/author Tim Wise noted during a January speech in Philadelphia, today’s massive levels of unemployment among whites is rooted in societal sanctioning of structural unemployment among minorities–something that goes on even during economic “good” times.

“Would we have problems with double-digit unemployment if we had dealt with double-digit unemployment when it just affected people of color?” asked Wise, who is himself white.

“We are still more afraid of a young black male in a hoodie than Wall Street traders who stole billions, he says. “Bankers terrorized the US economy causing its collapse but white Americans think terrorists are only Arab Muslims.”

LINN WASHINGTON is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-sponsored online alternative newspaper.


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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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