Prof. Blanchard gives us his thoughts on the Imus situation. Patrick Garrity gives some thoughts on Jackie Robinson and Peter Lawler ruminates on the American South. Meanwhile I am reading this speech by Booker Washington with this essay and this essay from W.E.B. Dubois's Souls of Black Folk in preparation for class. See my post below on the rumblings I hear of a Civil Rights Initiative movement coming to our state.
I was thinking while watching Tori Hunter during the Twins game today (Hunter is wearing Robinson's #42) that if the worst thing facing the African-American population today is Don Imus, then we are really doing well. A far cry from what the nation was like, and what Jackie Robinson faced, in 1947. Progress has been made, as to be sure more progress is to come. What form should this progress take is still a question, which is why the disagreement between Washington and Dubois is still a lively subject. Washington, the more moderate man, believed freed slaves should learn trades and become successful economically before making political claims and before moving on to more advanced liberal education. In short, the black man will be free when he can support himself. (One of the things Washington taught was the simple art of brushing the teeth, because a man who cannot maintain proper oral hygiene is probably not a man who can be trusted with the vote). Dubois, one of the founders of the NAACP, thought quite differently. Freedom, Dubois argued, means political freedom and the freedom of an elite education. Reading Dubois brings one of those perverse pleasures one gets when one is doing something naughty, like watching a dirty movie or reading Machiavelli. Dubois was an elitist. He thought uneducated people of all races should be denied the vote. Not exactly a popular opinion today. But overall he thought a commitment to excellence in education and a non-negotiable demand for political equality were the wellsprings of true freedom for the "black folk." So Washington was the defender of vocational education, and Dubois of university education.
The virtues and vices of each are obvious. Dubois gains points for demanding absolute justice and his defense of the life of the mind, but can be criticized for "putting the cart before the horse." Washington saw the truth that it made no sense to give blacks freedom if they could not use it well, so this people who had been enslaved for 300 years should take time to learn basic skills of a free people, and then the time would come to demand political equality. But the criticism of Washington is that he was willing to make peace with certain injustices in the service of his "gradualism."
I find myself attracted to both men, although I think on the whole Washington has the better argument. But were do we stand now? The Imus situation has been illustrative. I make no apologies for Imus and essentially second Ken Blanchard's post, but it has revealed some things. When one looks at the spokesmen on race today, what does one see? Let me pose a provocative question: Is Al Sharpton interested in racial reconciliation? Is Jesse Jackson? Or are they not like George Wallace, demagogues who stoke racial fears and racial animosity for their own gain (both in terms of dollars and ego)? I do not mean to draw an equivalence (Wallace's defense of segregation was far worse than the sins of Sharpton and Jackson), but I do want to point out that up to a point a racial demagogue is a racial demagogue. The sooner the racial demagouges of all stripes are discredited, the faster we can get on with the work of true racial healing. I, unfortunately, am not optimistic.