By Tavis Smiley
Review by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun
The book consists of a review of black progress on the same ten issues covered in the first publication of the covenant in 2006. The ten issues reviewed are: Securing the right to health care and well-being; Establishing a system of public education; Correcting the system of unequal justice; Fostering accountable community-centered policing; Ensuring access to affordable communities that connect to opportunity; Claiming our democracy; Strengthening our rural roots; Accessing good jobs, wealth, and economic prosperity; Assuring environment justice for all; and closing the racial digital divide. Each issue reviewed contains three parts: an introductory essay by an acknowledged professional in the area discussed; a statistical, graphic, and/or bullet summary of what has been achieved over the last decade, and examples of activities engaged in by communities across the nation, where programs have been tried to help advance progress on the issue in question.
A bullet summary of the progress by issue made over the last decade, revealed the following rather dismal results:
-- Although more access to health insurance was made available to low income Americans by the ACA, all other health related issues for blacks in America continued to deteriorate precipitously. Heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, suicides, poor access to food, pollution of communities, all continued unabated.
-- In education, school choice (once a conservative Republican idea for killing public schools), increased via Charter Schools, as did some teacher and school accountability projects. As well, investments in K-12 programs increased. Also some reforms in curricula were made that are expected to affect the way education is delivered in the future. But at the date of publication, it was too early to assess these results.
-- It was mentioned by none of the professionals reviewing, that progress in education was overshadowed by the Supreme Court's decision to gut the 1954 ruling on school integration, one of only two programs that have actually helped blacks close the achievement gap between blacks and whites. The other program that has done so, was Affirmative Action, which was also gutted by the conservatively-dominated US Supreme Court.
--In the criminal justice system, state lawmakers, making a cruel virtue out of necessity, in about ten states (but not at the federal level), motivated mostly by attempts to cut costs, finally realized that mass incarceration takes a big bite out of their respective state budgets. And as a result have become anxious to build off-ramps from the war on drugs, which has been responsible for the steep costs of over-imprisonment of blacks and Latinos for mostly minor non-violent drug violations.
-- Belatedly as usual, Mr. Obama during his lame-duckhood, has tried to get aboard this fast moving train. But this apparently did not stop the juggernaut of the prison-industrial complex. Bigger and better prisons continued to be built and more and more money is still being pumped into the "child-to- prison pipeline" that will ensure that black youths will continue filling prison beds into the foreseeable future.
-- Overall, no discernible progress was made over the past decade in community-centered policing. In fact, the U.S. slid backwards, as racial profiling increased rather than decreased -- as did hyper police reactions to inner city crime, resulting in more shootings of black and Latino youths. This has all happened with a backdrop of a precipitous decline in crime over the last 30 years.
-- In housing, again all the news over the last decade has been bad: rents are up and wages are down; the percentage of income needed to pay for housing has increased; reverse-redlining has become a reality; more blacks are being rejected for housing loans; and black homelessness has skyrocketed.
-- And although more low-end jobs are finally coming back on line, a typical family of four will need 2-3 such jobs to pay for life's essentials. Not to mention the fact that blacks lost fully two-thirds of all their wealth during the fiscal crisis and are still a long way from getting back on their feet.
--Likewise, except for electing the first black president, the country slid backwards in ensuring democracy. As a result of the Supreme Court's "gutting" of the voter registration law, the right to register to vote, the last bastion of American democracy, is now being challenged in no less than 15 states. While questions still remain about the integrity of computerized voting machines, and the systematic reduction and elimination of voting venues in minority communities, states are challenging the black right to vote with various ID laws and procedures.
--The same bad news is repeated in the area of "strengthening our rural roots;" as well as for better access to good jobs, wealth, and economic prosperity. Ironically, the gap in wealth between blacks and whites was smallest during the recession. Afterwards the gap widened considerably.
Summary of the results
By any sensible measure, and leaning in the direction of putting forth any evidence whatsoever that might look rosy -- if for no reason other than as a face-saving report to cover the dismally conscious efforts by our first black president not to give blacks a helping hand -- these ten experts, frankly could find little in the statistics on black life over the last decade to crow about.
Since the only two successful programs designed to close the gap between blacks and whites -- Affirmative Action and the 1954 School integration Decision -- have both been "rolled-back" or "gutted" due to sustained white resistance, no one should be surprised that over the last decade, even with a black president in office, black progress has never been more dismal.
This is curious, given that the white women's movement effectively took only one decade to assure almost complete success (1971-81). And now the LTBT movement has taken only a few years more, (2000-2014). In the face of such obvious progress in our times, it again raises the perplexing question of why, after 250 years, and on the watch of a two-term black president, John Lewis is still standing on the Capitol steps singing the same song: "We have made progress, but we still have such a very long way to go?"
Why indeed, a reasonable person might ask, is there still such a long way to go for any definitive signs of black progress? And why is black progress the only unattainable social goal (an asymptote really) flowing straight through the veins of American social history since it's beginning to the present day?
Why is it that full economic, social and political equality for blacks remains the only social asymptote in American society, a limit that cannot be achieved in this democratic nation? Why can't black progress happen on a timetable equivalent to one like those achieved with White Women's rights, and LGBT rights? Indeed, why has John Lewis and the distinguished professional panel writing these essays, not recognized that all attempts at black progress follow a well-defined pattern: in which progress is made in one generation, stalled in the next, and then finally reversed in a subsequent one? This cycle continues to repeat itself, ad infinitum.
Given America's stellar record of progress in solving other intransigent social problems, like white women's and LGBT rights, a reasonable Social Scientist might conclude that something much larger is going on within the white American mind and within the white American heart when it comes to ideas and feelings about progress in America towards full black equality? Such Social Scientists might well conclude that whatever this unknown cause is, it probably resides in the American DNA, and thus must also be the same cause that affects Native American and Latino progress too?
I am a reasonable man and a reasonable Social Scientist who has lived in America; been on the "receiving end" of this problem all my life, and have studied this problem since I was a teenager.
The cause, the responsible phenomenon, the agent that allows, then stalls, and then reverses all black progress again and again, has a name. And whether you study it "on the receiving end" as a teenager, or as a Senior Researcher at a major University, or as part of a panel of experts writing about it in a book like this one: it has the same name and address: It is called "systemic white racism."
The dispassionate, highly motivated but "small bore" community projects on display throughout this book, posing as black solutions to America's systemic problem of white racism, are destined to fail because they are all "piece-wise attempts to try to solve a systemic problem." It can't be done, period!
American problems cannot be segmented by race. There is only one America -- a whole nation. It's problems admit to no race-based solutions even though America itself remains a profoundly racist society.
Allow me to repeat this point: There are no race-based solutions to American problems, only American solution to American problems.
But this panel of fine people, like our well-meaning president of the last eight years, are trying to solve this systemic problem without first acknowledging it's source. All of the presenters in this volume went mute when it was time to identify and locate the correct name and address of the problem?
Implicitly, (and unconscionably) they have all assumed these problems are about black cultural deficiencies, and thus can all be solved by a firmer upward pull on our collective ethnic bootstraps:
Would that it were so easy?
Indeed, I would like to see them tell me how Detroit, which now has more stray dogs and crumbling empty houses than tax-paying citizens, can pull itself up by its bootstraps? This, and other inner city American dystopias, was created by the 800-pound gorilla in the back of the American family room: White flight, otherwise known by its full name: White systemic racism.
It does not matter how many times Congressman John Lewis hollers from the steps of Congress that "We have made progress, but we still have such a very long way to go," the asymptote his mantra refers to has existed for 250 years, and will continue on its narrow unending path, out to infinity, unless and until white people themselves have decided that enough is enough. And then say to themselves collectively: it is finally time to end this despicable racist social order And reclaim our humanity. They must recognize, and then say to themselves collectively: Jesus, we are no more human than we make our black people?
It is time to end this two-tiered racist caste system, and finally admit "America's racist democracy" to the rest of the human race. Then we will no longer need a Black Covenant, for racism can be ended in one year instead of in another two hundred and fifty years, or, on its present course, out to infinity. (And then John Lewis can finally shut his frigging mouth!)
There is a recent precedent as to how the racist DNA can be "quickly excised" from within a profoundly racist but self-conscious and aware society. Michael Moore's film "Who do we invade next" shows how post WW-II Germany did it.
Germans, the sons and daughters of Nazis, who murdered six million Jews, had a collective "come to Jesus moment with themselves" and stopped lying to themselves; gave up denial about what the holocaust had done to their own humanity. They then made an about face and peace with their collective conscience, enacted laws against racism against Jews that they not only now enforce to the letter, but also provide Jew continuing reparations, and teach all Germans from kindergarten up, that they are all responsible for what was done to the Jews in the war. Their shared sense of collective guilt has been turned into a positive bludgeon to reclaim the loss German humanity.
American whites must also reclaim their lost humanity for the crimes of our collective past.
Had Mr. Obama been a man of courage rather than one who "pocketed his Nobel Prize," and then consistently led from behind, he had the power and political capital to have ensured his legacy for all times by starting in America a movement to end American racism just as Germany did. But instead, he too elected to do as most Americans have done throughout American history: hide from the problem and pretend that systemic white racism is not America's number one problem -- that it simply does not exist; and worse, Mr. Obama sullenly, deftly and defiantly, like the whites who elected him, pretended that race was a problem of black deficiencies, one that could only be fixed by those "professional liberals," getting off their couches and into the game," pulling themselves up by their collective bootstraps.
In short, Mr. Obama's message was that the victims themselves were responsible for creating and sustaining their own conditions of systemic racism, not whites. In short, our first black president, consciously placed the burden of changing America's systemic racism squarely on the shoulders of those who suffer most from it -- not on the shoulders of the perpetrators where it belongs, racist white America. That is the only reason many of them still love him so.
Pure and simple, American racism is designed to shield racist whites from the consequences of their own racist actions, and thus gives themselves and others who share their worldview, permission to practice racism passively and unconsciously, and with impunity forever. And this will never end until whites decide that having permission to be a racist nation, having permission to practice racism passive-aggressively, can only eventually lead to much, much worse. It thus must be ended today, before a Donald Trump, or someone like him, becomes president.
It is a certainty that if America continues on its present course, of living in passive-aggressive racist denial, we will have another Nazi Germany or worse, period.
One thing our basketball playing black president can be sure of, if blacks are given half a chance and an "even playing field," more than any other ethnic group, we too will excel and will carry the ball across the goal line and score every time. Five stars
Editor's note: This review was written by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.