Black Authority, White Racism

My first thought about Tarrant County councilman Tommy Bryant using the n-word this noxiously –“Do we have a house (n-word) in here”–was that he was reaching back to slavery to express his contempt for the black women on the city council. In her Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins emphasizes the extent to which controlling images of black women like the “mammy” and the “jezebel” reach back to the slave period. The same is the case with language like the n-word. One of my favorite Morehead State (KY) students observed some time ago that whites had retreated from segregation only as much as they had to. The same is the case with the language of slavery as well.

No doubt Bryant was reaching back. As MSNBC anchor Joy Reid observed on twitter. Bryant seemed comfortable with the language of racial smears. “It’s how easily the word rolls off his tongue… clearly he puts it to frequent use…”

But there’s also a contemporary context. Bryant’s on the city council of Tarrant, AL with two Black women and serving along a Black mayor. Given its 53% black population, Bryant is “forced” to recognize black people as having an authority that’s at least equal if not greater than his. In this context, Bryant’s outburst might be seen as a scream of pain against the black authority in his life and Bryant himself saw it in terms of attacking Mayor Wayman Newton.

Public discourse ignores the extent and significance of both black moral and political authority and white conservative panic over black authority. If there is a historical touchstone of moral authority in American society, it is Martin Luther King and the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. That’s not just the case for Black Americans or whites on the center-left, it’s also the case with white conservatives who use King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the anchor point for their arguments for a “color-blind” ideal. As he was dying, the late John Lewis became an American icon because his suffering a cracked skull during the Selma March made him an embodiment of the suffering and accomplishment of the Civil Rights Era. Other historical figures of moral authority include Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois while a moral authority also exemplified by Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Black Lives Matter protesters in the present.

A very long book could be written on the presence of black authority in American society. Let me just say that black authority has more than enough of a presence to cause disorientation and panic among white racists like Tommy Bryant and that this kind of racial panic is one of the motivations behind the rise of Trumpism, conspiracy theories, and white nationalist insurrection. Many white conservatives would rather withdraw from society, fall seriously ill, or die than live in a place with as much black authority as can now be seen in the United States.

Keeping Out the Mainstream

What conservatives are smearing as Critical Race Theory is mostly just the civil rights perspectives that have long been mainstreamed into American society. In the final analysis, Laura Ingraham and other white conservatives are objecting to children being taught the underlying perspectives and values of mainstream America.

Luis M Alvarez/AP

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): “Universal pre-K is also in the bill. I’m all for educating our youth, but really educating them, not brainwashing toddlers with racist drivel. You think that can’t happen in preschool? Guess again.”

Make Pride a National Holiday

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Jacksonville to stop lighting up the bridge but #Pride is a patriotic celebration of #LBGT communities and the multicultural, inclusive character of American society. The June 28 anniversary of the Stonewall Riot should be a federal holiday.

And Juneteenth is just around the corner.

A Note on Blackness, Democrats, and American Identity

For all the discourse around Black Americans, there is not much of a sense of the part played by Black people in American politics and society. Social and political discourse is overburdened by dichotomies like conservative vs liberal, moderate vs progressive, identity vs class that don’t fit most Black voters particularly well. The main questions usually posed are whether trends in Black voting help or harm the Democrats. Is Black turnout up or down and what percentage of Blacks are voting for the Democratic candidate? Is that enough for the Democrat to win or lose?

I get it!

On the presidential level, huge Black turnouts and 90% of the Black vote are the only ways for Democrats to win. But the role of Black voters, politicians, and celebrities in shaping contemporary American life and history goes far beyond that and I’d like to briefly suggest ways Black people are the driving force by which the Democrats are defining a new kind of national political culture.

Most of the social movements informing the Democratic Party values and policy are permutations of the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. That includes feminism, disability rights activism, LGBT rights movement, and immigrant movements all of which have long been dominated by the civil rights principles and language. As a result, Democratic Party and American discourse is permeated with a language of diversity, inclusion, anti-discrimination, social justice, equity, abortion rights, contraception rights, and salary disparity. There is also a continuous stream of Black, women’s, LGBT, Native, and Hispanic “firsts” which represent civil rights milestones for each group as well as individual achievements. The discourse of “firsts” is one way but an important way in which Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg, and Deb Haaland have broad historical significance. The language and the values embedded in civil rights discourse are also personified by the most iconic figures of the last 60 years. A short list includes Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Barack Obama, and John Lewis but also reaches back to W.E.B DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and others. Likewise, works like the #1619Project are indications that the conditions and perspectives of Black Americans are becoming central to the historical sense of American identity.