If you could choose one word to represent the centuries of bondage, the decades of terrorism, the long days of mass rape, the totality of white violence that birthed the black race in America, it would be “nigger.”
Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote this in a New York Times oped piece on November 24, “In Defense of a Loaded Word.” He is a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author of the memoir “The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood.”
Coates summarizes: “Nigger” is the border, the signpost that reminds us that the old crimes don’t disappear. It tells white people that, for all their guns and all their gold, there will always be places they can never go.
Black women, politics, and the media — were the topics for Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks. Here is the video.
Why is the white doll the good doll? In a study of kindergarten children, both black children and white chidlren chose the white doll as their favorite. Blacks and whites alike have been programmed since birth to think that whites are better. Black children are taught to be aware of their behavior at all times, because of possible danger, while white kids have the privilege of just being kids.
I’m so glad for this news. It somewhat makes up for the various discussions and remembrances at the time of the observance last August of the 50th anniversary of March on Washington that mentioned Rustin’s role only a little (as if minor) or not at all. As someone who has studied Rustin and admires him, despite some of what happened later in his life, I was distressed, or shall I even admit “angry”, about these “slights”. It is well known that at that time he often stayed in the background
because of his homosexuality and the fear that accusations about that would impede
the work on civil rights.
Here I just want to point out a few things in his life that put it into perspective regarding the history of 20th century campaigns for civil rights. (I have spent too much time studying Rustin’s very complex life to be able to write about him briefly.)
Some remarks follow these 6 points and a fairly complete timeline is at the end. There’s also a partial bibliography.
Rustin was an activist from high school days in Chester, PA.
1. In 1936 he became a Quaker, declared himself a pacifist and in 1944 refused
to be drafted or do alternative service and spent 3 years in jail for it.
2. In 1941, with A. Philip Randolph as his mentor, together they planned
a March on Washington against racial discrimination in war-related
industries and told President Roosevelt they would carry out the march if he
did not establish Fair Employment. They also wanted the armed forces to be
integrated. Roosevelt responded with Fair Employment but not integration.
The march was cancelled. (This is 22 years before the march we remember.)
3. In 1942 he, with others, were beaten for sitting in the front of an interstate
bus in the south. (14 years later, Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus in
4. In 1948 Randolph and Rustin threaten President Truman with a March
on Washington if the armed forces are not desegregated. Truman orders
5. In 1963 various civil rights leaders meet to start planning a March on
Washington for Jobs and Justice. Rustin becomes the lead organizer.
After the passage of the Civil Rights act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965
Rustin changed course and believed in working with the government to achieve his
goals rather than protesting in the streets. This change alienated his fellow activists
and there was never again the kind of common goal with common efforts to achieve
them that there had been.
Editors note: Bayard Rustin was the subject of a program at Princeton Public Library that was cosponsored by Not in Our Town.
In celebration of Bayard Rustin’s having been awarded a posthumous Medal of Freedom, here is part of what Ann Yasuhara wrote for his 100th birthday for the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Quakers) event.
There were underlying dreams that lasted throughout BRs adult life, but they often
came into conflict because the social realities. So, many times he had to make
extremely painful choices depending on the situation at hand as he read it. (As
activists, we can definitely identify with these kinds of situations.)
The Main Themes/goals were:
Economic justice/equality (socialism).
To Rustin, these were not in conflict, but actually all of a piece. And, I think they are.
But in real situations where he was involved in trying to make them happen, he
often had to sacrifice one (or more) to make progress with another. In particular, it
was very difficult to focus on economic equality (actually inequality). As has often
been the case, it got sacrificed – as it still does – to an argument about which is more
basic: racial equality or economic equality? Further, as bad as racial inequality is, it
has been easier to talk about than to try to address economic inequality. Economic
inequality has been almost buried – hard to get talked about in the general public.
This is an important point of 2012 – finally, thanks to the Occupy movement,
economic inequality is part of the public discourse. Nothing can be done about it if it
isn’t a category that people have in their minds and are able to talk about.
The Internal Conflicts that he faced and knew he was facing were the pressures
thoughtful people often face:
Moral Purity vs Pragmatic Compromise.
Being an outsider vs being an insider
Long term dreams vs short term gains
Unlike many radicals he came to believe that government that a real democracy
could realize his dreams/goals. He had seen what the government did toward
achieving economic equality during the Roosevelt era and that made him think
it would be just the first step. National state as employer as in the WPA. Faith in
the power of goverment to improve, even save, lives. He became more and more a
believer in “big government liberalism”.
He also believed in and was a master builder of coalitions – which also brought
his underlying dreams into conflict as well as internal conflicts. This showed up
many times, often when it was a question of civil rights (equality for blacks in a
white society) and economic equality for all (which he thought could be brought
about by the labor unions). This particular problem arose in the design of the March
anniversary observance of his march on Washington – between incorporating some more conventional groups like the NAACP and involving some young radicals like John Lewis.
Historically he was inspired by these Americans: Jefferson (declaration of
independence),Thoreau (civil disobedience), Lincoln (ability of ordinary Americans
to govern themselves), Whitman (quest for true American community), DeBois
(legal & political rights of African Americans), Debs (American socialist – rough
equivalence of economic conditions for all; labor unions). He was also inspired by
Gandhi whom he went to visit but arrived after Gandhi’s assassination.
There are several books about Rustin and a DVD. He was also a beautiful writer
(and singer). These are what I am familiar with:
DVD “Brother Outsider”
Books about Rustin:
“Bayard Rustin, American Dreamer”, Jerald Podair
“Lost Prophet: the Life and Times of Bayard Rustin”, John D’Emilio
“Bayard Rustin:Troubles I’ve Seen: a biography”, Jervis Anderson
Books of Rustin’s writings:
“I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters”, Michel G. Long, ed
“Time On Two Crosses: Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin”, Carbado & Weiss eds.