Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Disagreement With "Black Progressives" On Strategy

I have been recording a series of radio programs that are streamed on the Internet so that I can later review them during long business trips or other times when I can multi-task. It is important for me to listen to the messages that are being pumped out to my people in order to both stay abreast of multiple viewpoints and to apply these perspectives onto what I believe and determine if my current beliefs stand up to alternative reasoning.

It goes without saying that the majority of the messages that are heard on Black media outlets are "progressive" in nature. Atlanta's "WRFG" tags itself as the "Progressive Information Station". They give preference to those who have experienced discrimination in getting their messages out in the mainstream media because of their "race, age, gender, sexual orientation or political status". Amy Goodman of Democracy now and a host of Pro-African Revolutionaries (who are residing comfortably in an air conditioned studio in Atlanta Georgia USA) frequent this station. I must say that I enjoy the muckraking and challenges to the American system that they so often bring. It is not that they are "wrong", in my view, it is so often the case that they abstract themselves from the benefit that they receive from the very system that they live in, seeking change as they eat from the tree.

I record "The Friday Night Drum" each week. This is an interesting show because the show with "Sista Courage" puts forth a particular political perspective which is in constant struggle against the repressive forces of the "United Snakes of America". She also uses terms such as "We'll be right Black in a moment" and "We Overstand the importance of certain things". It is actually an excellent show with respect to the detailed community interest issues that they bring up. I don't have to agree with their viewpoints in order to greatly appreciate the value of bringing up that which we are not likely to hear in the mainstream media.

This week's episode was a discussion about Reparations. I learned that the long sought after study to consider the impact of the study of Reparations for American slavery (HR 40) was going to be reviewed by John Conyers' House Judiciary committee.

There was a Black physician who was on the show. She made the case that the legacy of slavery and "Jim Crow" has had a deleterious impact upon Black people and our community's development in relation to other people in this country who were accepted in without the same obstacles. She told of how the cultural admonitions that were created from our history are still apart of parental warnings to their children which limit them. For example where as it was often deadly for a Black person to look a White person directly in the eye the doctor noted that today parents distribute similar warnings to their children before they leave the house which end up perpetuating a sense of inferiority within Black people. Some of these points show up in the lower academic performance of Black kids compared to White.

The more interesting part of her conversation was when she argued that there is a direct link between current Black medical ailments and the legacy of slavery. Obesity, increased cases of diabetes, suicide, stroke, high blood pressure and depression all have their roots in the fact that we live in a society that continues to oppress us because we are Black. This was the basis for her call for Reparations.

The doctor argued that Black people should be offered free health care because the conspiracy that America has concocted against Blacks for its duration as a nation. Black people are dying for the want of quality health care. These medical ailments are directly linked to the deeds of America and the psychological effects on our ancestors and the culture that has communicated them intergenerationally. The remedy for that which ails Black people today and in the future is government paid health care as a reparation.

Upon hearing the above linkage I realized how fundamentally my thoughts differed from those of this doctor, the "Friday Night Drum program", the average progressive Black person and those who support Reparations for these purposes.

First let me identify my common view points. I agree that access to quality health care is a fundamental requirement for a people and a community to sustain itself. It goes without saying then that the Black community should do everything necessary to insure that our people obtain quality health care. I believe that as a society would should MAXIMIZE the provision of health care to everyone while not attempting to violate the fundamental principles of economics nor private property rights in order to achieve this worthy end.

The point where I differ fundamentally with my ideological adversaries is the tendency of the Progressive to focus almost exclusively on lobbying and protesting toward the government in order to be provided such health care services. By definition this creates an external dependency upon a system that Blacks have no direct control over. All the while Black people remain in want of health care services and some are dying in the process.

In the program the host and the guest listed all of the surplus revenues that the state of Georgia had amassed. The governor recently made note of a $750 million to $1 billion balance in the "rainy day fund" for the state. The guest and radio show host claimed their right to these funds for provision of health care. "Black people have only come as far as we have through protests and letting our feelings of outrage be known". They focused upon the unfeeling and unsympathetic politicians that were seemingly out of tune with the needs of the Black community when it comes to health care. Thus again their strategy for providing health care to Black people was NOT to have Blacks organize to provide health care to Black people. Instead the strategy is to LOBBY the powers that be to provide health care to Black people.

I can just image years later when the contracts have been let to provide the government based services that these advocates have lobbied for that some of these advocates will turn their future protests into the issue of how Black owned firms are not receiving their "fair share" of contracted revenues to provide these services to their own people. I can image that these same people might raise a protest about the race of the people providing these services in the Black community and how Blacks are not provided with adequate medical training to work in these facilities. The common point of their message is the fact that the need is for the Black community to ADVOCATE FOR rather than ACTUALLY POSITION OURSELVES TO PROVIDE health care services to Black people, indeed to "save our own selves" where others are not interested in doing so.

I was reminded of a statement recently made by radio host Steve Harvey which said "in life it is often the journey toward your goal rather than the actual point of achieving the goal that knowledge and character is built the most". I believe this to be a true statement. In the course of seeking to improve one's condition per the goal that is present - it is the SYSTEM of changes that are implemented that form the structure that all else is built upon. Upon realizing important lessons along the way and them making sure that harmful elements are not passed along is how the concept of "don't forget your history lest you are doomed to repeat it" should be implemented.

Based on this radio interview and the general direction of the Reparations movement it seems that they are building a legacy of advocacy and lobbying EXTERNAL FORCES so that Black people might be given the resources that are seen as their "rights". This view point seems to prioritize the RECEIPT OF SERVICES over the PROVISION OF SERVICES and and the question of WHO the people are that are providing these services to the Black community.

My criticism of such a strategy is that there is no guarantee that the Black community will be improved from a technical perspective with regard to our capabilities to provide both the resources and then the medical expertise to take care of our own interests. As we consider the impact of " flight" from our cities (ie: White flight or Black middle class flight) it is clear that the citizens that remain are often highly concentrated with poor and unskilled individuals who are looking for jobs and to define their very place in the society that seemingly has discarded them. It is my opinion that the "lack of opportunity" that is so often heard about in these communities is a direct consequence of the outsourcing of the financing for and the the provision of such services within our community to the government. As strange as it might sound - it is indeed true that the state and federal government must be seen as external resources to the main interests of the Black community in order for this long sought after repair to take place. (Or at minimum as "resources of last resort" rather than first response). It is a serious strategic mistake to settle for the CONSUMPTION of these services while failing to create a framework for the economic funding of, the technical provision of and the community contribution to their own health care related state of affairs. In literal terms - you are placing your own life in the hands of an external force that has long proven not to have your exclusive best interests in mind.

The "unemployment problem" within urban America is really an "under-utilization" problem within the Black community. Will there be calls for Black people from these same underserved communities to focus their educational efforts into becoming doctors and other highly skilled medical professionals? Will the community be willing to develop a fund raising charitable organization to pay for the college education of these individuals and have them return to their own communities to deliver such services to the people? Think of the organizational and management skills that are squandered by NOT seeking to address the problem from within. Instead internal skills are shifted to EXTERNAL LOBBYING. I know that many people will say that it is OFFENSIVE of me to dare believe that the people must help themselves when they need help today. The key is to focus on the FUTURE COMPETENCIES that are developed rather than the CURRENT CONSUMPTION that is received. The demand is perpetual. The question is will the supply of resources be available and how is your community negatively impacted if the system that you have no direct control over fails?

Update 2007/12/08 12:26pm :
I would fully support the call made by these operatives to have the state of Georgia to transition the property of the now defunct Morris Brown College into an urban medical institute for the education of medical professionals that are focused upon preparing doctors and nurses to provide medical services to the underserved communities across the state of Georgia.


louischauvin said...

I must say that I really agree with the last paragraph. I think it is probably too easy to provide some of these services ourselves.

I bet some of these old upper middleclass families probably have more time than money. When I think about the investments black people make in themselves it is definately an area for oppurtunity.

MIB said...

This is my first visit to your blog, CS, although I've read your opinions periodically on 1-2 other blogs.

My first reaction is this physician's idea of a single-payer health insurance plan doesn't reflect the thinking of a 'typical' Progressive, although I don't doubt she's politically (far) left-of-center. FWIW, the role of gov't in Progressive politics is mostly to balance market forces against civil liberties. State subsidies, services, and/or monopolies then are appropriate for specific items, i.e.; law enforcement, scientific research, etc., depending on the circumstances.

It's a mischaracterization to suggest Black Progressive strategy is largely predicated on appeals to external institutions. Similarly, it's unrealistic and impractical for Black people or predominantly Black communities to assume a proprietary attitude on public issues like health care and crime. The Progressive view is that there's a place at the table for all elements of society.

Constructive Feedback said...


To address three points that you made which jumped out at me:

1) Single Payer Health Care plan and the "typical progressive"

2) The mischaracterization to assume that the Black Progressive strategy is predicated on external institutions.

3) Impractical to assume a proprietary attitude on public issues like health care and crime

With all due respect MIB - it is hard for me to see how you can say otherwise to either of the first two points.

1) You can look around at the bulk of the "Progressive" blogs and newspapers and you'll see exactly this:
Here is their special report on Socialized Healthcare (

or listen to

I can go on and on with my evidence of just this point about the "progressive agenda".

2) MIB. If nothing else please accept that I have been studying the political force that swirl within the Black community with the focus of understanding what makes them tick. With this said I have noted the yen and yang of the political and ideological struggle going on with Black people.

The duality of "Fighting against external forces that are perceived to stand in our collective way" and that of "Managing our internal human resources so that they will be able to fully contribute to our cause at hand". In my view the current crop of individuals who assume the leadership role are more experienced at "struggling" against external adversaries in order to achieve relief for Black people, having this benefit rain down upon us. There are no fundamental changes required from WITHIN our community for us to receive this benefit that is flowing from the outside in.

At the same time many of these individuals seem equality inept at MANAGING the human resources of the Black community, implementing organizational structures and periodic checks to insure that the efforts are on track to achieve a particular goal.

We only need to consider the two key issues that were popular this summer "Noose Hangings" around the nation versus high rates of "Black on Black violence and death". The Noose/Civil Rights violations drew the civil rights apparatus to Jena LA in a statement of "unity". The rampant violence within our streets, however confound these same "leaders". Protests and outrage, the usual quick hits - are not going to solve this problem. We are facing the after effects of key social and cultural choices that certain liberal/libertarian social biases within our community have allowed to fester. Comprehensive improvement will only come from a more discipled effort to achieve a directed outcome.

3) Please note - I did not say that the state and federal governments could wash their hands of the situation WITHIN the Black community regarding health care or crime within. At the same time so frequently it is the Black community itself that reacts negatively to the attempts by these same forces to do a complete take over of our "problems" as THEY tell us what WE should do. (Or more accurately - as they cast their social norms upon the Black community.)

My basic point is that the Black community needs to step up and put forth a more EFFECTIVE system that brings more of our community members into the fold. Those who desire THE BENEFIT will be assigned the duty of committing to the "covenant" that is prescribed. Mr. Smiley provided a "position paper" that had guidelines as to what Black people should follow.

I suggest that there needs to be a bond that those who are interested in receiving benefit must commit to. If they fail to uphold their end of the bargain either some element comes along and attempts to manage them back into the fold OR they via their own efforts are showed that they are not interested in receiving the benefit and thus the collective CUTS THEM LOOSE.

I only wish that the same type of "cultural shunning" that is applied to those who disagree with the "Black Progressive" would be applied to those who act as TERMITES WITHIN as a means of getting them to operate in a more constructive manner. Instead their individual actions are often given a blanket exception due to the past oppression that has been communicated to them - just as the doctor in the audio report I hear included in her prognosis for Black people's repair.

MIB said...

"... it is hard for me to see how you can say otherwise to either of the first two points."

Perhaps this is because you're not as familiar with Black Progressive politics as you believe.

Unlike the physician in the interview, Black Progressives aren't doctrinaire about 'single-payer' medical insurance, reparations, any particular policy, or strategy. Much of Progressive thought centers on pragmatic solutions that advances the common good. A reparation in the form of a class entitlement as the doctor outlined is a politically untenable position, and therefore inconsistent with Progressive politics.

Your indictment of Black Progressives as a class of state capitalists overlooks countless examples of them leading 'market-based' and/or grass roots activities and reforms. In example, most Progressives support the concept of charter schools. A better example is Progressive's support of 'motor voter' initiatives.

"In my view the current crop of individuals who assume the leadership role are more experienced at 'struggling' against external adversaries in order to achieve relief for Black people, having this benefit rain down upon us. There are no fundamental changes required from WITHIN our community for us to receive this benefit that is flowing from the outside in."

It's likely your definition of what constitutes 'Black leadership is too narrow. Again, there are numerous examples available to cite as evidence of Black Progressivism's emphasis on self-determination in every human endeavor and institution.

"My basic point is that the Black community needs to step up and put forth a more EFFECTIVE system that brings more of our community members into the fold."

The problem with this sentiment is twofold: 1) there's no unitary, omnipresent 'system' as you suggest
for Blacks to replace or modify, 2) no system exists that will result in equal outcomes for every individual. Progressives accept
(1) and (2) as axioms in American society to better focus on justice in access and opportunities.

I'll add that there aren't many Black Progressives (relatively speaking), and that this fact undoubtedly impacts your observations. However, much of your argument seems to about culture rather than politics or socioeconomics, and therefore only tangentially subject to organization as you've implied.

Constructive Feedback said...


It seems to me that you are arguing a "difference" without a "distinction". For too many African Americans the term "progressive" is nothing more than a label and a litmus test. They look at WHO is proposing certain policies and then inspect if that person is "conservative" in nature or "progressive". Bill Clinton successfully passed several initiatives that would have never had a chance had a "conservative" proposed the same thing word for word.

But let's focus on your central point which I find quite interesting. This was your comment about a SYSTEM that is not present. You are correct and incorrect at the same time.

While it is true that there is no "Black Political Machine" which has a mailing address and a Federal Tax ID number that we can all reference, you had better believe that this machine that works on "Black Political Popularity" and enforces it as such as alive and well.

The fact is that upwards of 90% of the Black community votes the same way. In the current "Black general election" that is in action right now within the Black community - the various factions are indeed showing themselves. The "Civil Rights stalwarts" are seemingly backing Hillary Clinton. The new vanguard are backing Barack Obama. A radio journalist pointed out the divisions that was present during the Congressional Black Caucus Weekend that took place in August.

If we take a step back and try to find out how this supposed fracture within the Black community expresses itself from a POLICY stand point one would be hard pressed to find it in place ANYWHERE among the hundreds of Black majority voting districts around the nation.

I chuckled last week as I read about how certain younger Black Progressives were angry at the older operatives (mostly about their lack of support of Obama). I couldn't help but notice that these OLDER CLASS that are being attacked as having done nothing for the past few decades would dutifully call themselves PROGRESSIVES as well.

This SYSTEM that you speak of is a widely cast network of reinforcement of what THEY DEFINE AS "the Best Interests of Black people". The 5 arms of this system are:

* The Black Media and Opinion Writers
* Black Entertainers
* Black Civil Rights Organizations
* Black Politicians
* Black Ministers

All of these voices are in general lock step to promote a POPULAR Black ideology upon the masses and to attack dissent against this popular ethos.

I am simply calling for these entities that act in a systematic way to stand accountable for the EFFECTIVE RESULTS that they produce for the masses and to CHANGE so that the claimed results can be had.

(PS: I have no problem with Black people voting for Democrats. I have a big problem with Black people who SEEK TO ACHIEVE THEIR RACIAL GOALS BY VOTING FOR THE DEMOCRATS. This ONE OFF references has NOT worked in our favor. While it has made the Democrats a POWERFUL entity WITHIN the Black community)

MIB said...

Well... you're committing a fallacy of composition in denying the distinction between Liberals and Progressives. Rather than attempt to explain the difference once more, I'll just say that it's a common error to use the terms interchangeably (as synonyms), along with 'Democrat'.

To wit:

All Democrats aren't Liberals.

All Liberals aren't Progressives.

All Democrats aren't Progressives.

Next, I shouldn't have to explain to anyone Black people aren't a political, cultural, or economic monolith of thought and action. That you've drawn this inference from the voting results from a couple of recent presidential elections illustrates the flaw in your general premise. I'm mystified how you can make the assertion when further down your last post, you cite at least two rival "factions" of Black politicians struggling for the dominant positions of leadership.

I'll not bother with the rest of your conspiranoid theory other than to point out you haven't once described the strategy (tactics) you allege to be failing or in need of reform.

Constructive Feedback said...


We can go back and forth on these points if you will. The BOTTOM LINE is that WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY there is a POLITICAL MACHINE that dominates the current set of policy initiatives that are promoted as being "IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF BLACK PEOPLE". You can argue if you will that that the fact that there are factions within this machine point is sufficient enough for you to be pleased that "your side" of the faction should not be held accountable for the leadership that they have provided to our community and the foibles that accompanied these initiatives.

I still maintain that after we get through this "Black general election" period which is the Democratic Primary season for the rest of America that these so called "factions" will come together and promote that Black America collectively pursue the following:

* Vote for the Democrats because the "Black Best Interests" will be born from doing so.

The REAL options that are available to us but not recognized because of our binary conditioning are as follows:

1) Continue to purse racial development goals via the framework of American political

2) Acknowledge that American politics can only solve for Black America that which is SOLVABLE by participating in a system that reaches beyond our exclusive interests and BEGIN TO ADDRESS INTERNAL MATTERS that don't lend themselves to EXTERNAL politics

3) Give up on the American political system all together and pursue Black Nationalistic interests from a more global rather than US centric focus.

It is my view that we as a free people should be at #2 and moving toward #3. (Certainly the Globalization folks are moving toward #3).

SUCH A STRATEGY is far, far more important than successfully labeling "Progressives" or "Liberals".

RESULTS, not LABELS or even POPULARITY contests are what are needed to be drive by our people.

MIB said...

"WITHIN THE BLACK COMMUNITY there is a POLITICAL MACHINE that dominates the current set of policy initiatives that are promoted as being 'IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF BLACK PEOPLE."

I believe your original point was this machine was run by people of the same ideological bent.

It's not. Are you familiar with Andy Young's recent comments about Barack Obama? Look at the CBC members who've already endorsed Sen. Clinton. Furthermore, as I wrote before, there are very few Progressives of significant stature within the Black political mainstream.

"You can argue if you will that that the fact that there are factions within this machine point is sufficient enough for you to be pleased that 'your side' of the faction should not be held accountable for the leadership that they have provided to our community and the foibles that accompanied these initiatives."

I'm not arguing 'my side'(?) bears no responsibility. I'm merely pointing out there are few Black Progressives in influential positions.

The 'failure of mainstream Black politics', OTOH, isn't a fact, but your opinion. An uninformed opinion, at that.

"... after we get through this 'Black general election' period which is the Democratic Primary season for the rest of America that these so called 'factions' will come together and promote that Black America collectively pursue the following..."

I'm not sure if you know this, CS, but the majority of Blacks who are eligible to vote in primaries don't. Many more (including myself) aren't permitted to vote in primaries as we're registered as independents. Even if these two groups joined Black registered Democrats in deciding to vote as a bloc, there's nothing intrinsically wrong or inappropriate with that decision.

The three steps you recommend Black folks follow aren't viable at all. "Racial development goals"? That's straight nonsense. Black people aren't a sovereignty onto themselves; we're a statistical minority that has to accept certain compromises (collectively) and form coalitions with like-minded groups. That doesn't mean we're dependent wards of the State, but that the country's prosperity is tied to the fact of an identity-in-common as Americans.