Political power: Using it or losing it?


This has been an especially difficult week to avoid writing about President Barack Obama.

Did you happen to notice how the Speaker of the House made the president change the date of the all-important speech he planned to make to a joint session of Congress on “Jobs and The Economy?”

I mean, how can you sit back and not offer a comment when you have to watch the first Black president, once again, refuse to fight back while right-wing conservatives blatantly take his “political lunch money” — in broad daylight?

How can you put your hand over your mouth and refuse to shout out when you see Speaker of the House John Boehner, once again, demonstrate his complete and total disrespect for Barack Obama, as an individual and as president of the United States?

Unfortunately, however, this same scene plays itself out so frequently now — i.e. the President “caving” in the face of pressure from his political rivals, even on occasions when he’s absolutely right — that it’s not even newsworthy anymore.

By now, President Obama has clearly demonstrated that there isn’t an ounce of “fight” in his makeup. Regrettably, for him and for us, he’s simply not “cut that way.” He’s made it clear that when faced with adversity he’d rather “switch” than “fight.”

That’s not good, especially if you’re trying to come off as the “leader of the entire free world.”

The more I’ve watched our president demonstrate this tendency, the more I’ve come to accept that maybe his lack of specific, visible support for Black Americans doesn’t really reflect any lack of empathy for our plight in this country, after all. In fact, from watching how he responds to adversity across a broad range of issues, I’ve come to believe that he’s simply afraid that a vigorous support of African-American issues, in a political environment that has grown increasingly insensitive to Black folks, represents just one more battle that he would rather avoid.

We shouldn’t take it “personal.”

It just appears that he’s not willing to fight for much of anything — including us.

So, as I said, I’m not even going to bring up the president’s embarrassment in that date-switching skirmish.

On the other hand, there were two other issues this past week that really did get my attention. The first, and this was probably the more ridiculous of the two, was the series of global news reports from CNN, the Christian Science Monitor and numerous other outlets that made it clear that racial antagonism and ignorance of African geography are dangerously wide-spread — even among leading journalists.

According to the BBC, for example: There were “... reports both of killings by pro-Gaddafi forces and of attacks on African troops who fought on the government side.”

The BBC went on to point out that: “African soldiers recruited by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi have begun streaming home.”

There were numerous, similar reports in the Guardian Newspaper, the New York Times and on various Internet news outlets.

What seems to have escaped the otherwise astute journalists who work in those places is the fact that — surprise, surprise! — Libya, itself, is an African nation, and every single, native Libyan — from Ghaddafi down to the most anonymous peasant farmer — is him/herself an African.

Even within the national boundaries between African nations that were arbitrarily drawn at the Berlin Conference by Europe and the U.S. in 1884, there have always been not only Africans but Black Africans living in what is now called Libya for as long as anyone can remember.

How sad that western media have resorted to distorting and confusing the very definition of what is “African” and what is not, in their consistently shoddy coverage of the recent unrest in that country.

We should all pay closer attention to what that kind of labeling actually means.

But, hey, maybe what’s being done is not malicious, at all. What else should we expect in a country wherein a Gallup/Harris poll revealed, just three years ago, that 37 percent of Americans were unable to locate America itself on a U.S. map?

This is the same country, after all, where two-thirds of Americans in 2006 couldn’t find Iraq on a world map, a nation where war had been waged continuously by their own country since 2003.

It may sound scary, but it’s actually true, and maybe geographic and demographic ignorance were part of the explanation for western media representatives being shocked at seeing “Africans” actually fighting on behalf of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

But, even the entire “Libyan thing” and the blatant disrespect of the president by Rep. Boehner weren’t as outrageous last week as the statement by Glenn Beck — former Philadelphia radio talk show host, former FOX News analyst, former Catholic-turned-Mormon, right-wing conservative activist and self-admitted former alcoholic and drug abuser whose only diploma is held from Sehome High School in Bellingham, Wash.

That same guy, whose base of experience is perhaps more distantly removed from the national Black community than virtually any other prominent mainstream journalist, had the temerity to decide Tuesday on his radio show that Black people in this country should stop referring to themselves as “African Americans,” because, in his opinion, continuing to do so was “stupid.”

Instead, “Professor Beck” went on to say that Blacks in the U.S. should begin to refer to themselves from now on as “colored” or, simply, as “Americans.”

Colored. That was the term that was used to count and describe Black people in the first 12 U.S. Census reports. Then, from 1910 to 1960, the term “colored” evolved to become the term “Negro” in all official government records.

Based on Beck’s recommendation, it seems that those who have been worried that the country’s stance on racial issues seems to be slipping back to “Reconstruction mode” are not very far from the truth.

Come to think of it, maybe Beck was the guy who convinced lackluster Black, Republican presidential primary candidate Herman Cain to announce to the world two months ago that he didn’t want to be referred to as “African-American” anymore. Brother Cain went on to say that day that he didn’t really want people to “label” him “because I’m American.”

I hope for Cain’s sake that “African-American” is the worse label he’ll hear people use to describe him out there on the campaign trail among his tea party “supporters.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think the Cain presidential campaign is going to be terribly short-lived.

When I think about all of this, I can’t help thinking back to the classic, political cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winner Jules Feiffer, wherein he depicted a close-up head shot of a very militant-looking Black man whose stern expression never changed through any of the six panels of that day’s cartoon.

Here’s what the man said: “From now on, the term ‘Black’ will be used to replace the term ‘Afro-American’/ which replaced the term ‘Negro’/ which replaced the term ‘colored’/ which replaced the term ‘darky’/ which replaced the term ‘Black.’”

If you happen to run into Herman Cain out on the campaign trail, please feel free to share that with him.

The more I think of it, maybe it doesn’t matter so much what we call ourselves, anymore, or even what we permit others to call us — to our faces.

Maybe it really does all boil down to having a sustained effort to gain true political and economic power and to having the courage to use it, as necessitated by the circumstances.

Hmmm, maybe this did turn out to be a column about President Obama, after all.


A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.

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