Archive for Dr. Basil Wilson

America, the Bewildered Civilization

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , , , on August 10, 2013 by playthell

 Detroit Slums

The Once Great Motor City

     What Happened to the American Dream?

To the rest of the world, America remains a bewildered and troubled civilization.  Often poets have a far more profound understanding of civilization than social scientists or public intellectuals.  The African American poet Langston Hughes wrote in his poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 There are signs that the American dream has been deferred not just for black folks but also for the struggling white working class.  There is much evidence that the bodypolitic has become a festering sore that is chronically infested.  Historically, nothing seems to even get settled in America.  The bodypolitic fell apart in 1860 and the question of slavery was settled by a bloody civil war that left over 300,000 Americans dead on the battlefield and even more shattered by wounds sustained in that catastrophic war.

          The thirteen, fourteenth and fifteenth amendment to the constitution was to settle the issues of slavery, citizenship and the right to vote. With the compromise of 1877, the Union troops were drawn from the South and the defeated Confederate racists were allowed to create the Jim Crow segregated structure that re-institutionalized white supremacy and white privilege.  The Jim Crow system confined the newly unchained black sharecroppers and laborers to an immiserated position in the division of labor.  That dastardly system prevailed, particularly in southern states until the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some degree of restoration of rights which were lost after the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 was restored in the 1960s.  Black folks now could exercise the right to vote and to exercise the human dignity of access to public places. The Jim Crow era lasted from 1877 to 1965, approximately 78 years.  Now the restoration of constitutional rights and the Voting Rights Act are currently imperiled.  The Roberts Supreme Court, over-riding Congress, has struck down the extension of the Voting Rights Act.  The same Jim Crow- inclined court has dismantled affirmative action and given us Citizens United that has allowed corporate money to undermine the democratic process.

The backward notion of state rights has raised its ugly head with a new vengeance.  State legislatures controlled by pea-minded Republicans have used their power not to create jobs, to rebuild the infra-structure or to reduce poverty but to pass legislation on abortion to restrict a woman’s right to choose that was settled in 1973 in the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs Wade.

The same state legislatures have sought to undermine the Affordable Care Act and are oblivious to the benefits of a healthcare system that would include the working poor and the millions of uninsured.  In the same vein, the new Jim Crow political mentality is designing new ways of excluding minority voters from participating in the democratic process.  These measures were adopted by some states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia but the United States Attorney General was able to thwart the undemocratic practices.  In the absence of certain provisions in the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures are already seizing the opportunity to restrict the people’s right to vote.

This bewildering state of dysfunctionalism was vividly manifested in Boehner’s House of Representatives when the Republicans had to appease the Tea Party elements by passing the farm bill bereft of the nutritional programs that feed the working poor and children who benefit from school lunches.  The Tea Party elements in the Republican Party want to gut the food stamp program in an age when inequality is at its zenith in comparison to the decades 1930-1970 that Paul Krugman calls The Great Conveyance.

As we write, the Trayvon Martin jurors have exonerated George Zimmerman.  That case, which resulted in the death of seventeen year old black male, has split black and white America.  The atavistic nature of race in America did not evaporate with the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States of America.  Like the Civil War of the 1860s, like the post-Reconstruction period in America, white racism is ingenuous in reinventing itself.  It is a persistent theme that recurs at intervals in US history like the chorus of a song.

The same racial dialectics raised its head in the battle for immigration reform.  An onerous bill has been passed by the Senate but the Republicans, inside and outside of the House, are adamant about giving the eleven million undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship.  Nonetheless, the America of the nineteenth century is not the same America of the early twentieth century or the late twentieth century.  The coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 is the America of the future.  The Phyllis Schlaflys represent a dying America.  The Republican Party that has cultivated and benefited from white privilege from 1968 is like a dinosaur that is on its way to becoming extinct.

As the African American poet Langston Hughes exhorted “Let America be America”.  An America, based on the new demographics, will extricate itself from the lingering racism and establish a genuine multi-racial democracy.  That will not be accomplished overnight but it is inevitable.  In the meantime, in the words of the poet, Robert Frost, “We have miles and miles to go before we sleep”.  And there are epic struggles ahead.

A Harbinger of the New America?
Barack's Brown Babies 
What are they Dreaming?
 

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By: Basil Wilson
 August 9, 2013
Queens, New York
Originally published by the Carib News, 7/17/13

On Wall Street Protests and the Legacy of Dr. King

Posted in Occupy Wall Street, Playthell on politics with tags , , on October 22, 2011 by playthell

King of the Great Mall

The dedication of the monument to Martin Luther King was unveiled on Sunday, October 16, 2011.  Forty-three years after his assassination, every segment of American society can identify with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Conservatives sing his praises and liberals honor his contributions to racial justice.  There is a remarkable consensus on the historical significance of the civil rights movement and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Social movements are unpredictable.  Throughout American history, social movements have had a profound impact on American civilization.  Social movements tend to propel the society forward yet there are instances when social movements have been regressive.  The “Know Nothing” movement in the 1850s aimed at Catholics manifested a bigoted sense of who or what constituted America.  The Know Nothing’s were vehemently opposed to immigration that would ethnically diversify America.

Another social movement that kept America backwards was the “Jim Crow Movement that captured the race interest of southern whites in a strange quest to preserve the privileges of the ante-bellum life that supposedly flourished prior to the 1860s Civil War.  Jim Crow reigned supreme until the challenge of the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Regressive social movements are usually born of fear. Progressive social movements are born of hope.  Progressive social movements invariably deepen the democratic process.

Jim Crow!


The minstrel character that came to exemplify racial segregation

Although there is a certain unpredictability about social movements, there are discernible forces that serve as a catalyst for mass uprisings. At the end of World War II, there had occurred a sizeable expansion of the black industrial workforce who were organized into unions.  Many African Americans had fought in the war against the fascist undemocratic forces. Obviously, once they returned to American shores, they were quite strident about asserting their democratic rights.

Many from this burgeoning working class/middle class generation were sending their children to black colleges in the south and elsewhere.  Church leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. were ready to throw off the yoke of racial subservience and take to the streets to demand fundamental changes in the cruel world of Jim Crow.  The world was changing rapidly. The Third World was breaking the shackles of colonialism and marching towards self-determination.

The civil rights movement was inspired by the anti-colonial struggles and challenged the Jim Crow status quo. America’s political establishment unwillingly accommodated themselves to the demands for equal accommodations, the right to participate in the political process, and for the statutory elimination of employment and housing discrimination.

Martin Luther King’s mass movement had precipitated historical changes and pushed American civilization closer to becoming that city on the hill.  But King’s vision of America took him beyond civil rights. He became increasingly critical of America’s involvement in the war in Viet-Nam and was incensed by the plight of the poor.  He became pre-occupied with rampant economic injustice.  He intervened in the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He made plans for putting together the poor people’s campaign in the nation’s capital.  At that juncture in the midst of a new struggle that had yet to become a mass movement, Martin Luther King was assassinated!

The momentum for social justice was buried with Dr. King.  Nonetheless, other social movements deepening the democratic process in America emerged. The feminist movement sought to transform male hegemony in the home and in the public sphere.  Women sought to enter the workplace, equality, to shatter glass ceilings and to change the gender dynamic in American society.

The feminist movement changed the gender complexity of American society.  Nowhere is that more manifested than in the sphere of higher education.  Women are equally represented in undergraduate education, graduate education, and doctoral programs. In the case of black women, they have outdistanced the men.  In the words of Julius Nyerere, while the men walk, the women run.

The gay and lesbian movement has made painstaking progress in recent decades.  The struggle for sexual equality has been advanced but there is still great resistance in civil society, in religious circles, and in the political system. Those objectives are essential to deepening the democratic process.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement epitomizes the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.  In an age of revolutionary technology, conventional political actors take the position that the jobless and powerless must wait for the magic of the marketplace.  The Nero-like Congress plays the fiddle while the circumstance of the sixteen million unemployed workers and the multitude of underemployed continue to deteriorate.

Occupy Wall Street has not only gone national. It has gone global.  Globalization as it took root bred a certain degree of mass paralysis.  Now the communication revolution that is an integral part of globalization is also instrumental in fostering a culture of resistance. At the time of his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. had become a drum major for justice and his life had a remarkable impact on America and across the world.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement is a clamor for social and economic justice.  At this juncture, the vision is not being projected by any one leader but by a grassroots mass uprising that has captured the imagination of what is left of Fanon’s wretched of the earth.

Night falls on tent city outside Philly’s City Hall


As the Occupy Wall Street Movement Spreads

Anti-Wall Street Protestors in Rome!


The wrath of the people in the Eternal City

The Protest Bug spreads to Asia


Anti-Wall Street ghosts On the streets of Seoul

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By: Dr. Basil Wilson

Originally published in Carib News

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