Can reparations make us free? — July 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman July 25th, 2014

A caller on the Carl Nelson Show (WOL 1450AM – Washington, D.C.), at least each time I have heard him, talks about reparations and freedom. He called again when I was Carl’s guest on July 16, 2014. The caller’s passion, concern, anger, urgency, and frustration were all woven into his comments. I could not help but empathize with his position, nor could I refute what he was saying despite his angry tone. He did apologize for the way he spoke, but both Carl and I told him there was no need to apologize. We definitely understood the reasons for his tone.

That brother’s comments stayed on my mind throughout that night, and I kept thinking about the true meaning of freedom as it pertains to Black people in this country. Notwithstanding the acclaimed piece on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, it is time once again to write something on reparations, as I have done many times during the twenty-one year tenure of this column.

Having said for years that the culmination of true freedom, especially for Black people in the U.S., is economic freedom, I often imagine what our enslaved ancestors did when they were told they were “free.”
slave family
If all you have ever known are the limits of a plantation, where do you go when you are set free? If you have never had money and are given none when set free, what do you do? If you have no land of your own and don’t know any other enslaved person (or free for that matter) who has land, how will you feed yourself and where will you live? Free? That’s a very relative term.

Nonetheless, many formerly enslaved Africans in America answered those questions by striking out, despite the circumstances of their newfound freedom, for parts and conditions unknown. They figured it out as they went along. Some walked until they ran out of land, all the way to Nova Scotia. Freed slaveSome went to Ontario and western Canada. Some stayed on the plantations to scrape out a living as sharecroppers, and others maintained hope in General Sherman’s Special Orders that promised some 400,000 acres of land to formerly enslaved Africans, from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, in “Forty Acre” plots. President Andrew Johnson rescinded those orders.

Efforts by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner to obtain reparations through Congress failed, and Black folks were disenfranchised once again, “freed” and left to fend for themselves in an environment that had little or no regard for their lives other than how much money it could continue to earn from their labor. Interestingly, prison “farms” were opened and many Black people were sent to them to be leased out as prison slaves.

The caller on Carl Nelson’s show suggested we take the reparations issue to the courts. I asked, “Who controls the courts?” Can you imagine pleading reparations before the current cast of Supremes? OgletreeCharles Ogletree took the reparations case for the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma riot survivors to the Supreme Court. He would later write “…without a word or a hearing, the Supreme Court refused to consider the case.”

How about the International Courts then? After being turned down by the SCOTUS, Ogletree petitioned the Organization of American States International Court that reviews claims of discrimination against people of African descent. No reparations for riot survivors granted yet, folks; and their case is only ninety-three years old, not 149 years old. Immediately following the riot, the President of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce said, “The deplorable event is the greatest wound Tulsa’s civic pride has ever received. Leading businessmen are in hourly conferences and a movement is now being organized… to formulate a plan of reparation.” Yeah, right.Tulsa survivors

Reparations for Blacks can (and should) be given in several forms other than cash, i.e. tax abatements, education tuition benefits, land grants, and business subsidies. Whatever the means, reparations should be paid for the 250 years of free labor that brought tremendous wealth to this country. Our current President does not support reparations, the courts have demonstrated their recalcitrance on the issue, Congress will not take up John Conyers’ HR 40, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article, while it is great, has a very limited shelf life. You know how short our attention spans are.

Could reparations truly make us “free”? I say, “Yes,” but in a larger more collective context. To quote Coates, Coates“Reparations could not make up for the murder perpetrated by the Nazis. But they did launch Germany’s reckoning with itself, and perhaps provided a road map for how a great civilization might make itself worthy of the name…More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.”



UNCF and the Koch Foundation — July 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman July 18th, 2014

The controversy over the recent donation by the Koch Foundation to the UNCF begs a discussion of politics, education, and business. After receiving a $25 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation, the UNCF and its President, Dr. Michael Lomax, took in-coming fire from the AFSME union, which discontinued its funding to UNCF because it disagrees with the Koch’s Republican-leaning views Was AFSME’s annual $60,000 donation to UNCF tied in some way to its support of Democrat views?

Here are some facts about the issue: $18.5 million will be used to provide scholarships in various areas of study, and $6.5 million will fund HBCU’s that have been adversely affected by the Department of Education’s modifications in the Parent PLUS Loan Program. HBCU’s lost $155 million due to changes in that government initiative.

The Koch Scholars Program will run for seven years. Full-time students with a minimum 3.0 GPA are eligible to apply. Koch representatives have two of the five votes on the scholarship committee. The funds will provide approximately 2800 awards for undergrads at $2,500.00 per semester, 125 awards for grad students at $10,000 per semester, and 50 awards for PhD students at $25,000 per semester.

Additionally, the program will provide mentoring in entrepreneurship, economics, innovation, reading groups and speaker series, an annual summit, and an online community to foster collaboration and learning. The grant will also help pay for administrative costs, research and evaluation, and tracking of students who participated in the program.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the “use” of the funds; it’s the “source” of the funds that some folks find problematic. “They are taking over ‘our’ organization,” is the hue and cry of some. (If it’s “our” organization, why aren’t “we” taking better financial care of it?) “Koch money is funding political causes we don’t agree with.” “The Koch’s are evil; they support the Tea Party.” Some say UNCF should return the $25 million, and some have called for a boycott of Koch products in response to its political donations.

Wanting to find out more about the Koch’s and their business, I asked a friend of mine, a conscious Black man in the mold of Marcus, Malcolm, and Martin, and who lives in Wichita, Kansas, where Koch is domiciled. Here is an excerpt from his reply: “From a local perspective, the Koch’s are revered personages. They make generous donations to good causes. They run a tight ship business-wise…They have a very conservative (in the non-political sense) culture, but are not impossible to work for. They hire Blacks, but I am not aware of how many Blacks are promoted inside the company. They pay well and offer good benefits.”

In response to my question regarding the UNCF donation, my friend went on to write: “In these days and times, who will step up and write $25 million check to replace what they want the UNCF to refuse? Not our liberals/ left/ progressives or Negro ‘friends’. They won’t come up with 10% of that.”

Koch has given to the UNCF since 2005, the year they acquired Georgia-Pacific. They have also given funds to Spelman College, Albany State, Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State, and Florida A&M Universities. Where’s the call for those funds to be returned.

Another Republican funder, Las Vegas casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, contributed $100 million to candidates that Black people do not support. According to a Forbes article, in one year Adelson earned $32 million per day!Adelson He looks happy; I am sure a lot of Black dollars were included in that haul. I have not heard a call for a boycott of his casinos.

DreDr. Dre, who made much of his money from Black folks, gave $35 million to USC; is there a call to boycott his headphones because he didn’t give that money to an HBCU? Can you see the misguided nature of this UNCF argument? Although they do work together, we must be intellectually capable of separating politics from business.

George Leef, contributing writer to Forbes Magazine, says, “Money is fungible. Any dollar has exactly the same worth as any other dollar. Money is also sterile – it does not magically transmit whatever real or imaginary evil the person who earned it may have done to the next person who takes the dollar in trade or as a gift.”

University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman Gasmanargues that UNCF should reject the money because it is “tainted” with the Koch brothers’ political advocacy and work to undermine the interests of African Americans, namely, federal programs that built the Black middle class. I say, if federal programs “built” the Black middle class, they can also destroy it.

Michael LomaxKudos to Dr. Lomax for “standing his ground” in support of HBCU’s. I trust he will not allow the political influence of any donor group to alter his commitment to maintain the integrity of the UNCF and to help Black students attend college.



The State of Black Euphoria — July 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman July 14th, 2014

How amazing it is that Black people in this nation, collectively, are the worst off but yet the most comical, entertaining, ostentatious, and self-defeating of all other groups. It is striking how, in spite of all the negative aspects of our lives, we spend a great deal of our time living vicariously through the lives of super-stars and mega-heroes. They say “Ignorance is bliss,” so maybe we should use that phrase to our advantage by reporting the other side of the bad stuff we face.

For example, according to police, Chicago’s murder rate is down 20% from last year. According to the Urban League Report, Black people are “optimistic” about the economy. At least the cops in L.A. didn’t kill the woman on the expressway. The FCC and some Black Caucus members’ attempt to kill “net neutrality” will not take away our Twitter accounts.

The Black unemployment rate is no longer half of the national rate, having fallen from 12% to 11%. Poverty statistics indicate that 60% of Black people are not poor, and 60% of the 2.1 million men in prison are not Black. Even though we are at the bottom politically and economically, a Black family is still in the White House. Feelin’ better?

Because our blissful state of mind is so pronounced, I suggest publishing a report titled, The State of Black Euphoria. It will permeate our collective psyche, and through it we could look at the other side of the negative stats we always hear. Maybe that would entice us to do more for ourselves instead of languishing in a festering heap of apathy.

It seems we are numb to 80 shootings in one weekend in Southside Chicago. “Well, that’s just the way it is;” “Ain’t nuthin’ we can do about it;” “These kids today are just crazy.”

We have become immune to the fact that Black people in this country are at the bottom of every good category and at the top of every bad one. “The man got his foot on my neck;” “I can’t get no job;” “Ain’t no use; the deck is stacked against me.”

We are immersed in a fantasy world of feel-good rhetoric and empty promises from our Black political leaders. “We know he’s a crook, but he’s our crook;” I know they haven’t done anything for Black people, but neither has anyone else;” “Yeah, but did you see the Prez sink that three-point shot?” “That gown the First Lady wore was slammin!” Obama b ballMichelle

Since nothing else seems to work, let’s use our euphoria to move us forward because the bad stuff is too hard to take and only makes us more complacent in our misery. The almost daily shootings and murders in Chicago, Cincinnati, Ohio, and other cities are all too real, so let’s focus on the killings in Iraq and Syria and Israel. Chicago killingIsrael killing Instead of actually doing something to stop the children from riding on top of train cars to get into this country, let‘s wait until they get here and then, in a very humane way, house them in concentration camps, that is, if they don’t fall off the train and get killed on the way here.

Black folks are tired of bad news; we don’t want to hear any more. It’s too debilitating. The bad news affects poor and middle-class families, but the good news hardly ever does. So reporting on The State of Black Euphoria and pretending we are living in Nirvana might just help us. After all, we can still sing and dance, tell funny jokes, drink top-shelf liquor, and revel in the status of the First Family.

So, here’s some more good news. Even though the price of gasoline is at a six-year high, at least it’s not $5.00 per gallon—yet; employers added 1.1 million jobs thus far in 2014, most of which are low pay or part time; Jay-Z and Beyoncé put on a great show; Oprah is a two-billionaire; the housewives, divas, and award shows are doing well; and Black folks’ so-called “buying power” exceeds $1 trillion! Feelin’ good?

So, who is going to take up this gauntlet and publish The State of Black Euphoria? It is obvious that all the other reports on “The State of Black America” have not elicited appropriate responses from our people, so maybe we should try to make the best use of our euphoria. It will keep us in a positive state of mind, and even if we miss the mark and fail to “do good,” we will still “feel good.” To borrow a phrase from the Presidential State of the Union address, “Brothers and Sisters, the State of Black Euphoria is strong!”



Award Shows – Confusion, Delusion, Exclusion — July 2014

Articles | Posted by Jim Clingman July 6th, 2014

Searching through a dictionary of obscure words, I came across the word, “Babeldom,” which means “a confused sound of voices.” Babel, of course reminded me of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.tower-of-babel-19-jun-091 Next, I thought about the BET Awards and, of course, economic empowerment. What? C’mon, Jim, that’s a stretch. Yeah, maybe, but go with me on this one and let’s see.

I did not watch the awards show, but I did see a news clip of Nicki Minaj’s acceptance speech as well as many of the various comments about the show on Face Book and Twitter. Despite Ms. Minaj’s esoteric words, I did pick up on her reference to BET being Black owned. I wondered how many in the audience thought the same—or even cared.

Having seen some of these shows in previous years, when I saw the word, “Babeldom,” I made three connections to the collective economic condition of Black folks. The first one centered on language and the “confused” state of many of our people; the second dealt with arrogance, ignorance, and acceptance of mediocrity; and the third was responsibility.

The builders of the Tower of Babel were arrogant, not only because they thought they could build a tower up to heaven, but also because they wanted to “make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” They were also ignorant of God’s power over their lives because even though they considered Him their deity, they chose to “do their own thing” despite His instructions to their forebears in Chapter 9. They thought they were “all that,” but He stopped them in their tracks.

A few years ago I did a sermon titled, “Babbling or Building,” in which I compared talking “in a confused state” (Babeldom) and actually building something, according to what we say we believe and spiritually hold dear. This is not a sermon, but I hope someone in the ranks of hip-hop will see it and respond appropriately to this message.

The quandary for many of our people is that we are walking contradictions to much of what we say; our actions belie our words and in some cases make a mockery of them. For example, virtually every awardee on these shows begins by saying, “I want to thank God…” Their actions, however, reflect the exact opposite of one of God’s most important principles: Being a good steward of their financial blessings.Rossplies jewelry

There is probably a few billion dollars in the bank accounts of the BET awardees and attendees, more than enough to do great things for Black people. Question is: How are those dollars being managed? There was a lot of babbling in the room that night; I wonder how much building was taking place, notwithstanding Minaj thinking that BET was Black owned.

What is the end game for many of our talented young rappers? Is it receiving an award? Is it being able to buy all the expensive vodka and brandy they want? Is it blowing $100,000 at a strip club?raining money Is it having ten cars, five homes, and a $100,000 wardrobe? I don’t know, but much of what we see does not speak to good stewardship of their blessings, especially in light of their consistent and obligatory need to say “I want to thank God.”

I know there are a few conscious hip-hop builders, but the babblers get the most recognition, which is by design. Here’s a thought: A “Black Consciousness Award” for next year’s show, based on the redeeming value of the artist’s actions not just his or her rhetoric.

Hip-hop artists, please refrain from the “Babeldom,” and offer words of wisdom to the nation when you speak. You are wasting your influence and squandering your precious resources. Use your tremendous leverage to get Viacom/BET to do more than give you awards. Build and leave an economic legacy from your work; we hardly need to see an award show every month or so anyway.

Don’t be arrogant or ignorant, and do not accept or allow your name to be associated with mediocrity and buffoonery. Use your wealth to build something positive, not just for yourselves individually but collectively for your people as well. You have the ability and resources to do that. Do you have the consciousness to do it?

I am sorry this message could not be communicated in 140 characters, but some things are just too important for such brevity. I leave you with a few more words, directly from God, about those who tried to build the Tower of Babel. He said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”