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What these three issues suggest is that America has been, and remains, a culture of pretense. 

Americans lie to themselves.  Even blacks have been coerced into believing in a variety of American myths. 

More than 50 years ago, Richard Wright noted in his philosophical novel, Outsider



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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Book by Lloyd D. McCarthy

In-Dependence from Bondage

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Need for a Scholarship of Indictment

A Discussion with Dr. Floyd Hayes, III


Baraka Message: Taking Up Obama's Mantle—My line at Black Left meeting & Black Radical Congress is solidify a political line, with that admitted united front as broad leadership and then mobilize masses of Black and Progressive people to descend on Denver for Dem convention with demonstrations, signs, petitions, literature and strategy and tactics for influencing what is sure to be the attempt at the crookedest of all conventions. The people are already excited by the primaries and the crude tricks of the bourgeoisie. We shd take up Obama's mantle, both serving as his defense (the defense of democracy) and using this presence to make impact on the campaign. The Rev Wright "flap" was actually positive, now the race question is squarely in the campaigns and the bourgeoisie will push and push it, but it should serve to further inflame the masses, who have real ties with the Black church and know what Wright said is historically true.  Amiri Baraka. I will raise this at a meeting in Harlem next week. 

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Dear Rudy, Thanks.

Did you read Colbert I. King's op-ed piece in yesterday's WASHINGTON POST (p. A-13)?  It is titled "Why Obama Stands With His Church."  Colbert puts in historical perspective the founding of the black church in 1787—the responses of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen to white religionists' anti-black racism.  I tire of discussions, like Pat Buchanan's, that refuse to put in historical context why many black people often are angry about racism and its effects.

It is past time for blacks to continually find themselves on the defensive; we need to develop intellectual, discursive, and activist strategies that indict America's white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.  We need a scholarship of indictment!—Floyd

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As far as I know we have had a history, a politics, a scholarship, and now, it seems, a theology of indictment, and none of these is really passed down from generation to generation except in small circles. Can these fields be true and balanced and wise if there focus is on indictment?

What then is the use of a renewed scholarship of indictment? All these indictments usually end up being appeals to some unidentifiable oppressor (the higher ups, the bourgeoisie, as Baraka calls them) to stop an offensive that is assumed is racial in nature. What then if the oppressor has little or no interest in race at all and is interested first and foremost in just monetary greed. Then we have wasted our efforts . . .
If that is the case should not we be dealing with first and foremost getting laws enacted and enforced to curtailing this monetary greed that is having an impact on  all of us whether we are black and brown or yellow and white? To do so we would have to be active on county/city, state/federal levels to make sure we have a different economy, that is, one oriented toward the majority, namely, those who draw wages.

For me church is rather an anachronism, politically. It serves best for administrative aspects of religious culture: marriage, baptisms, funerals. And maybe some educational role. By nature it is conservative and certainly not prophetic as some are now arguing. It might indeed serve well as a social/cultural agency for impoverished communities as is case at the TUCCC, an Afrocentric mega-church, which retains Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, as its senior pastor—Rudy

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You clearly rank the church much higher than I.  In my view, the church, especially the mega-church, is a capitalist abomination.  And many of the lesser churches are cauldrons of decadence, as they have abandoned the gospel of black assertiveness and self-determination, collective survival and salvation, etc.  Today, these social institutions offer the “prosperity gospel,” as if their God wants them to be financially wealthy.  I am sure that you have heard of Rev. Creflo Dollar and Dr. Frederick K. Price, king pins of the black mega-church.  How do these figures differ fundamentally from Rinehart, the ambiguous sacred/sacrilegious figure in Ralph Ellison’s novel of ideas, "The Invisible Man"?  Now, the good Rev. Jeremiah Wright issued a political-theological indictment, but he’s a lone wolf in the wilderness. 

I am not so sure that we have had a scholarship of indictment.  Generally, our hardest hitting scholarship has been critical, but it has not fundamentally challenged much of the accepted fictional data known as American history and culture.  For example, even the most radical scholarship generally accepts the myth of the American Revolution, myth of American democracy, and the myth of American exceptionalism.  First, there was no American Revolution in the 1770s.  Now, the colonies waged a successful war to break colonial status with Britain.  But this was no revolution; the colonial structures of domination remained in tact. White male supremacy remained in control; annihilating wars against Native Americans continued; trade and enslavement of captured Africans and their American descendants continued.  Thus, the colonial structure of class, race, and gender oppression and exploitation remained.

Second, America never has been a democracy!  On the contrary, white America historically has devalued the nation’s highest political values: freedom, justice, equality, pursuit of happiness, and consent of the governed.  Slaves experienced none of these principles.  To be sure, blacks did not consent to their own oppression; they made no covenant with hell!   A few white male slave owners may have called the nation a democratic republic, but that didn’t make it so! 

Third, there was nothing exceptional about early American culture.  Its dominant elements came from Western European culture.  What became high art and culture in America drew directly from classical European art and culture.  Indeed, the term “classical” means a certain kind of Western European culture production.

What these three issues suggest is that America has been, and remains, a culture of pretense.  Americans lie to themselves.  Even blacks have been coerced into believing in a variety of American myths.  More than 50 years ago, Richard Wright noted in his philosophical novel, "The Outsider":  “He sensed how Negroes had been made to live in but not of the land of their birth, how the injunctions of an alien Christianity and the strictures of white laws had evoked in them the very longings and desires that that religion and law had been designed to stifle.”

Powerful!  Wright admonished those of us who would seek to be liberated to think through the many veils of illusion, but we have not heeded his message.

Now, you are correct to assert that much of the scholarship we might desire is not passed from generation to generation.  There is the problem of historical amnesia.  Hence, we cannot learn the lessons of history.  What is more horrifying is that growing class division, which more and more is not based upon the question of money invested in industry, but money invested in knowledge in the evolving postindustrial-managerial age.  In the new age, knowledge, advanced science, and technologies that enhance knowledge work are the major driving forces and resources.  The mounting problem is that so many young blacks are not being taught the value of knowledge; hence, many don’t even graduate from high school.  What will be the character of their futures?  Moreover, even so many college students only read what they assigned to read.  Intellectual inquisitiveness seems to be dormant these days.  Of course, American pragmatism has encouraged an anti-intellectual culture. 

Often intellectual/academic excellence can lead to a sense of social responsibility for change.  Today, however, a decline in the ethics of memory (what we are obligated to remember about the past) is accompanied by increased class division between the managerial class and the managed class.  Significantly, this historical moment also is characterized by a dramatic popular silence in the face of America’s monumental hypocrisy at home and abroad.  The Bush regime’s arrogance, ignorance, deceitfulness, secrecy, and incompetence should be met with massive popular outrage, dissent, anger, and resentment.  However, historical amnesia and popular indifference seem to be bedfellows today.  The new generation seems to value cooperation over conflict.  As for me, I am mad as hell!—Floyd

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Floyd, you have spoken well, but . . .

Every country has its folklore, including myths. They are of little consequence unless leaders take them seriously and begin to make damnable laws and policy based on them. But we have heard all these myths before. And we know of the damnable crimes of the nations, even bloody murderous civil wars. Name me one country in its history that does not consider itself exceptional and does not have a long string of crimes against its people and its neighbors. If any, it is exceedingly and indeed the exceptional.

We have an excess of these kinds of cultural criticisms of America's past and America's present. We can sketch them out as you have done or catalogue them specifically as Jeremiah Wright has done, including the dropping of two atomic bombs. That country (a past victim and victimizer), Japan, is lending its present wealth to America, which is used to carry on two murderous wars in the Middle East. Isn’t that an ironic travesty?

You say our nation is one of pretense. Name me one nation that is not one of pretense, a horror tragedy beneath a benign public face. We have China that is nominally a Communist country that has made a pact with American capitalists. Now in this communist country we have billionaires along side  virtual slavery and then China lends money to America to impoverish its own people and to make war on others. That’s pretense of the highest order.

(Read Paul Craig Roberts, “A Bankrupt Superpower: The Collapse of American Power,” CounterPunch. Here is what Roberts says briefly: “From their inception, America's 21st century wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have been red ink wars financed by foreigners, principally the Chinese and Japanese, who purchase the US Treasury bonds that the US government issues to finance its red ink budgets. . . . US is not only dependent on foreigners to finance its wars but also dependent on foreigners to finance part of the US government's domestic expenditures. Foreign borrowing is paying US government salaries--perhaps that of the President himself--or funding the expenditures of the various cabinet departments. Financially, the US is not an independent country.")

I do not know that we can separate culture and economics. Maybe in practical resolution we can set priorities. It seems that unemployment and low wages and criminalization of the poor generated by trade agreements of the last several decades and deregulation of the economy and federal economic policy neglect of urban centers and zealous federal policy control of education and morals are much more critical, life and death issues, than a mountain of scholarly indictments. It indeed might make more sense to place these cultural criticisms aside to deal with the economic issues. (Read James Parrott, “Ten Reasons We Don't Have the Economy We Thought We Had,” Gotham Gazette.)

That is, the kind of reforms you are suggesting cannot be all done all at once. Flammable criticism of crimes over a hundred years ago or fifty years will not quickly resolve the problems at hand. We have an endless war and the country financially bankrupt put. That point where the majority of us can meet and agree might be more solvable than the recognition of past cultural and racial crimes.

This approach seems to be the one that Obama has selected and has campaigned on; again, bringing an end to the drain of the nation’s life blood by ending the Middle East wars; correcting the trade inequities and producing more jobs at homes; tightening up on Big Oil by creating more competition; coming to grips with the health care industry and the pharmaceuticals; building schools that encourage children to think, etc.

Putting aside the myths, the crucial issue is then how can we resolve these larger economic issues so that we can more leisurely deal with the cultural criticisms you have pointed out. With a well-regulated economy including living wage jobs, economic security, health care, well-financed schools, we can have the leisure for reading, art, music and the discussion of other lingering cultural and racial questions.—Rudy 

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My words made the peasants roar with laughter. . . .

Dear Rudy,

I find these pieces “Scholarship of Indictment” (Hayes) and “Taking Up Obama's, Mantle” (Baraka) very interesting.  (In fact, they are probably uplifting to me because they are reminders that at the intellectual and political level, people are out their struggling. They are not afraid to dissent on matters of principle and truth, although they have no popular support or strong political organizations to back them; only a clean conscience).

I have read the articles more than once. For blacks who have a leftist morality, and understanding of history these commentaries have  an important meaning and powerful messages for the oppressed classes who do not understand exactly how they are manipulated for exploitation.

They, I, we, have been living in the “matrix” of the bourgeoisie for too long, so we accept their values, domination and system of economic exploitation as normal.

Hard working members of the oppressed classes, being so busy with the matter of every day survival—struggling to find food, shelter and clothing have no time to rest to even contemplate such issues. In their faith, they accept the order of the bourgeoisie as the Will of God. Which as you know is one of the greatest deceptions in history.

You have raised some issues, which I have considered. I will highlight one of them with your comments and my thoughts.

Rudy: Every country has its folklore, including myths. They are of little consequence unless leaders take them seriously and began to make damnable laws and policy based on them.

Lloyd: The bourgeoisie take folklore and concocted history seriously because they along with their intellectual employees, they have sustained (directly/indirectly) such myths, folklore and superstitions for their own empowerment to the detriment of the oppressed classes. Members of the oppressed classes do not have the luxury of wealth and time to contemplate such things. They (we) are firm believers in the myths, superstitions, and folklore of their (our) respective countries. I was born and raised with peasants and nationalists. I understand their perspective of history very well, including the myths and folklores.

The Chinese leader, Mao, in his own struggles to liberate the Chinese people from their historical oppression suggested that it was neither European nor Japanese imperialism that enslaved the oppressed classes but their cultural coding—the historical myths and superstitions that they have imbibed over centuries.

In dealing with the problem of superstition, Mao wrote, “While I was in the countryside, I did some propaganda against superstition among the peasants, I said: ‘If you  believe in the Eight Characters, you hope for good luck; if you believe in geomancy, you hope to benefit from the location of your ancestral graves’”. Mao went on, “Will you believe in the gods [folklore, including historical myths (Rudy, this is my emphasis)] or in the Peasant Associations? ... My words made the peasants roar with laughter.”

I agree that “what [Rev] Wright said is historically true.”  And it is important for black leftists and intellectuals, who are not opportunists, to speak such truth to the oppressed classes.  We need more people like Rev. Wright and less of the "Creflo Dollars/Prices"People who have a high level of credibility in the black community, to explain and destroy those myths and folklore with which we, members of the oppressed classes, have become so culturally coded. Sincerely, Lloyd D. McCarthy, Raleigh, NC

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American Culture of Pretense (1)

When I speak of America’s “culture of pretense,” I have in mind something more distinctive, substantive, and vile than folklore, which other nations and cultures may utilize as a dimension of their traditions. In my judgment, the Myths America Lives By, as the title Richard T. Hughes’ book notes, are employed not only in order to create a false sense of social cohesion among Americans, but also in order to justify American imperialism, aggression, war, racism, terrorism, and abuse of state power with respect to international relations. Key to understanding the American personality in this regard is the false and historic notion of American exceptionalism.

Here was/is the idea that because of the Protestant Ethic and laissez-faire capitalism, which rested upon the foundation of Calvinist Puritan values of selective salvation (that some people are born the elect of God while others are born outside of God’s salvation), America is special among modern nations and, thus, possesses a holy mission to spread its values throughout the world. It was the fusion of Calvinist fanaticism (i.e., Protestant Reformer Calvin’s doctrine of the interrelationship among predestination, providence, and election) with modern political thought, especially John Locke’s, that resulted in the rise of the modern American elect state. These systems of thought are fundamental to the
American notion of exceptionalism, as well as the American dream, which is itself another dimension of this nation’s “culture of pretense.”

Currently, the Bush regime continues the employment of these ideas in the illegitimate overthrow of Saddam Hussein, invasion of Iraq, and war against Iraq and Afghanistan. His deception, recklessness, and ruthlessness, resonated with the American people’s sense exceptionalism.
In a paper that I am writing, entitled “Hope and Disappointment in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Political Theology: Eclipse of the Liberal Spirit,” I pay particular attention to the myth of American exceptionalism, which is closely associated with the so-called American dream. Below are two footnotes containing sources that support my argument:
5 There is a substantial and expansive literature on the trends, developments, and contradictions related to the construction and meaning of the so-called American dream. For example, see the following:

 Sacvan Bercovitch. 1975. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven: Yale University Press;

Andrew Delbanco. 1989. The Puritan Ordeal. Cambridge: Harvard University Press;

Jack P. Greene. 1993. The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity From 1492 to 1800. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press;

Jennifer L. Hochschild. 1995. Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class and the Soul of the Nation. Princeton: Princeton University Press;

Seymour Martin Lipset. 1996. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: W. W. Norton & Company;

Herbert McCloskey and John Zaller. 1984. The American Ethos: Public Attitudes toward Capitalism and Democracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press;

George McKenna. 2007. The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism. New Haven: Yale University

 James A. Morone. 2003. Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History. New Haven: Yale University Press;

Gunnar Myrdal. 1942. The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers;

Max Weber. 1976. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Winchester: Allen & Unwin, Inc.

6 Conrad Cherry. 1998. Ed. God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, p.19.

See also Sacvan Bercovitch. 1978. The American Jeremiad. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press;

John Dunn. 1982. The Political Thought of John Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;

Ralph C. Hancock. 1989. Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press;

Sheldon. S. Wolin. “Education of Protestantism.” Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought. Exp. Ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 148-174.

I am not making an argument for a “scholarship of indictment” with the expectation of solving this nation’s many problems of economic exploitation, political domination, and cultural invasion. The older I get, and the closer to retirement I am, the more I think that this nation will never solve these problems. They are too fundamental to the very identity and character of America. I do not suggest, however, that we resign ourselves to their reality. We need always to struggle against racism, economic exploitation, and patriarchal domination. We must do that! Yet, we need to have no illusions about the permanence
and viciousness of these evils.

It does us no good to think that we can deal with these matters by forgetting (and for me, forgiving) past racist, sexist, and economic crimes. Handling these problems—I do not believe that these social problems can be “solved.” They can be “handled,” but only for a period of time—will necessitate an authentic confrontation with them. Otherwise, I do not see the possibility of “reconciliation,” a term that seems to be popular these days as we look to South Africa. But even there, “reconciliation” seems to have a problematic existence.

I won’t even broach the issue of “reparations.” Most whites refuse even to acknowledge the impact of enslavement AND its contemporary impact. This argument, that Joe Feagin supports in his book, Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations,  seems to have no purchase in America.
Now, in making this argument, I still can stand with Barack Obama’s desire to put the past to rest. I can do that. But I do so with the realization that his efforts may be illusory because of the above-mentioned evils are deeply embedded in American culture and
personality. I do not think that America will change fundamentally.  Nor do I possess “hope” in such an eventuality. Yes, it is audacious to possess Obama’s hope. For me, however, hope is a dimension of powerlessness. In the absence of power, people hope.Floyd

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Floyd, I accept your argument and background about the existence of "American Exceptionalism." I know too of the imagery of the shining city on the hill. I know too that this notion was the background of many acts good and evil. Here is what the historian Wilson J. Moses wrote:

American Exceptionalism is one of those superstitions that unites white and black Americans, and serves to undermine the myth that there are significant cultural differences between them.  The most fervent believers in American Exceptionalism (white and black) have never heard the term ("New Orleans and American Exceptionalism").

But my view is that the notion of "exceptionalism" is not merely "American," nor are the evils produced by the notion singularly American. How "exceptionalism" is characterized and arrived at probably in its particulars are indeed unique. I cannot prove it in a scholarly manner, here, but my suspicion is that every nation and every tribe has at its core this notion of exceptionalism. When a tribe, let's say an African tribe, had means and a grievance, it made war on its neighbors. Look at Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

Now when tribes grow into kingdom, and become more sophisticated, it might seek, as the English with the Irish, to dominate a people for centuries. And when a kingdom grows into the greater sophistication of a nation-state it may seek to dominate the world as with the French, the English, the Germans, the Russians, the Japanese, and the Chinese. The Americans are rather new at this game compared to some of these. The Greeks also had their chance and handed down to us the word "barbarian." The Romans too had their chance on the world stage. Africa too had its mighty powers with their evils, as we see in Yambo Ouologuem's Bound to Violence. These African empires (Mali and Songhay, and others) too fell to dust like the Egyptian empires.

Such imperial exploits always come to some disastrous end. Such evils, I'm inclined to believe, have their own internal recoils, destructive mechanism.

My problem with some "indictments" is the lack of recognition of progress, improvement, or evolution. That is the problem many have with Jeremiah Wright's "God damn American" denunciation from the pulpit. What I find worse about it is the means by which he did it, namely, using the Bible and what some "white man" said. Wright's indictment, like many other such indictments, are counted off as if they occurred yesterday: slaughter of Native Americans, the African slave trade, slavery, slaughter of more Native Americans, the severance of Mexico, Jim Crow, imperial ambitions beyond the continental US, bombing of Japan; backing Israel against the Palestinians, Vietnam and Cambodia, setting up governments all over Latin America, backing police states all over the world.

Nowhere in this long list did any good occur, it is suggested. So how is one outside this kind of racial rhetoric to take any of this? Is it not indeed problematic? We seem to be very proud, on one hand, to have participated in every war since 1776 and probably some before that. We are pleased about our buffalo soldiers and of being with Teddy in Cuba, and with Patton and Ike in Europe. We have enjoyed the riches and the wealth, though we might not have gotten our fair share. But whatever plunder there was we got a taste of it.

So to somehow take a stance that our hands are clean in all the lies and the evils committed and somehow suggest that blacks are innocent and that only white people are guilty of the crimes distorts American reality and make those who want to be squeaky clean morally and ethically in all this rather hypocritical and, as Pat Buchanan suggests an attitude that is, rather ungracious. No wonder so many of our children are confused. They really don't know what to think. They think they are not Americans, but rather Africans, entirely divorced from America's historical past except as victims. That's nonsense!

At times in my calmer moments, in this historical confusion, I too am baffled. But you are right none of these problems will be solved immediately. Surely not in my lifetime. But I do pray generations to come will be more sensible than our own.—Rudy

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American Culture of Pretense‏ (2)

The depth and breadth of America’s culture of pretense often are difficult to fathom. Like the nation’s Calvinist culture, pretense is deeply embedded in the fabric of American cultural tapestry—so deeply ingrained that many Americans don’t see it. Self-deception, self-illusion, and self-delusion constitute the American way.
Yes, early Americans asserted that this nation represented some city on the hill. However, the reality of this lie was that America has been a rogue nation throughout its history. More than any other country, white America employed the notion of its exceptionalism in order to justify state terrorism—against non-whites domestically and against less powerful or impoverished nations abroad. Hence, the USA’s lofty political principles—freedom, justice, equality, pursuit of happiness, and consent of the governed—have proved to be fake! The narrative of exceptionalism, then, is the main ingredient of America’s self-identity. But it is a false identity; it is based upon accepted fictionalized data.
Yes, I agree with you, America’s evils have resulted in destructive outcomes—even self-destructive outcomes! Today, the USA is a declining power.
To be sure, a good number of blacks possess a love/hate relationship with America. As Richard Wright suggests, we “live in but not of” America. Many of us experience the pain, anger, and resentment of centuries-old racism, economic exploitation, gender oppression, and cultural invasion. Perhaps as America’s stepchildren, black descendants of slaves feel a connection to the USA, especially since we know of no other homeland. We are the Americans whose foremothers and forefathers were brought to this land involuntarily—beaten, raped, chained, and terrorized.

Even so, many of us refuse to forget the narratives of dehumanizing enslavement. We seek to live desperate lives today, but we know that thinking about and living in the present means thinking about and living the past in the present. There is no linear line from bad times to good times. Perhaps we should use a zig-zag paradigm in order understand the absurd experience of being black in an anti-black American world.

That is, social conditions for blacks may improve, but on so much and only for a period of time, followed by long moments of social death and terror. Blacks then struggle for a better day, the “enjoyment” of which lasts for awhile. Why do we go on? There is no alternative!
Now, the good Rev. Jeremiah Wright demonstrates an ethics of memory when he calls on his God to damn America. God of the bible’s Old Testament is vengeful and kicks much ass! This God is the bringer of death and destruction! Doesn’t the good reverend call upon this God to punish white America? Aren’t there rational and irrational reasons for this invocation? Rev. Wright represents black ambivalence (i.e., Richard Wright’s phrase above) about the USA, especially the ambivalence that springs from the generation of Civil Rights and Black Power consciousness.

It may not be that he rejects change, progress, or improvement, as you seem to suggest. Rather, it may be that he recognizes the impermanence of these impostors. For so many black impoverished and unwanted US citizens, today is a moment when the hopes and aspirations of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements have been dashed. Hence, many of the folks suffering from social indifference find themselves experiencing a sense of hopelessness and helplessness; they also live lives of silent rage, anger, and resentment.
Now, I do not pray for America to become America! I know too much about this nation’s past; I have lived a few years of it, too. Maybe it is a matter of life experience, perspective, and ideology. I am no optimist, and I don’t believe in hoping. I reiterate: hope is a dimension of powerlessness; in the absence of power, people hope. I take the world as it is. Rather than to embrace a self-deluding optimism, I try to possess a clear view of the world. Why hide from the ugliness of the world or the bleakness of human existence? Perhaps it might be better to face this nastiness head on and discover how best to withstand it. Floyd

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Myths of American Exceptionalism

Though systemic and personal anti-black racism exist today, we stretch the use of the term in describing today's America as "White America." What useful purpose such a description serves when we are on the verge of electing a black as president of the United States?Certainly, whites dominate many sectors of our society. That is undeniable. But 2008 is not 1968. There are millions, and millions to come willing to chart a different course for America.

Our differences are not the “facts.” There are those who insist that Reverend Jeremiah Wright was "right," that he told the "truth." They refer to his “facts.” My friend Herbert informed me that Wright recently "received a standing ovation at Catholic Church in Chicago where he gave the benediction at Maya Angelou's birthday celebration."   Howard Zinn, author of the popular A People's History of the United States, wrote also "Myths of American Exceptionalism" to make sense of our present dilemma in Iraq" (Boston Review). 

The three of you (including Wright and Zinn) have made an argument against American Exceptionalism. You use more or less the same "facts," certain evils committed against non-white persons or nations by American leaders. But each of you characterizes the wrongs done, differently. That is, each tells the story in a different way. And each uniquely comes out with three different conclusions. Wright argues that God has and will intervene in history, destructively. You conclude progress and social evolution is impermanent. Zinn concludes, "There is a growing refusal to accept U.S. domination and the idea of American exceptionalism."

Some are calling Wright a "modern-day prophet" and for others he is a "hero" speaking truth to power, though as we know he also consorts with power. As I am uneasy with Bush telling us that God speaks to him, I am just as uneasy when Jeremiah Wright tells us that God speaks to him on the way to Trinity. I am also uneasy with the philosophical implications that hope is merely symbolic of powerlessness and that nothing is permanent in our social and political lives. I am more inclined toward Zinn and his sense of a "growth" in consciousness and a growing rejection of Bush's American exceptional  rationale of exporting "liberty" by means of warfare.

Now of course that will be tested in the November election. John McCain desires to sustain Bush's American exceptionalism ideology and continue the Middle East wars. Though there are indeed terrorists, their threat has been exaggerated. That is part of the Obama argument. Clinton is somewhere in between, for she embraces more clearly the exceptionalism ideology as did her husband, Bill Clinton. Her argument is merely more pragmatic than that of McCain.

Still I am quite uncertain about Obama's view of American exceptionalism. One hears some echoes of it in his more patriotic moments. But most progressives seem to think that he is not for an aggressive, war-making, imperial America. There's his 2002 speech and his current campaign. Nevertheless he still seems to embrace a unilateralist position in his suggestion that we should bomb Pakistan for terrorists.

But I have gone off track in my response. You see "exceptionalism" as central to American identity. And as some have suggested it permeates the thinking of both blacks and whites. Though prominent, it may not be an essential aspect of American identity, but rather an essentialist aspect of some American governments that favor corporate thieves. I know exceptionalism is there in our thinking and, as Zinn has pointed out, has been used in arguments to the American people to justify expansionism (protecting our interests) and war, and that even "progressives" and "liberals" have expressed exceptionalism in statements.

George Lakoff in his “What Made Obama’s Speech Great" argues, differently, in his analysis: "Empathy, union and common responsibility are the ideas behind the speech, as well as the ideas behind the New Politics; and as the speech shows, they are behind the idea of America itself." Lakoff argues in his book Moral Politics, as well, that "empathy . . . is at the heart of progressive politics in America." Zinn and Lakoff may indeed be self-deluded, as you suggest.

I am not a prophet. Many believe that Obama can indeed set us on the path of a new politics, a new America that is neither black nor brown, yellow nor white. There are millions of young people ready to struggle to make this vision come true. Progressives for Obama—Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Barbara Ehrenreich, Danny Glover—have written as follows: “Not since Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign has there been a passion to imagine the world anew like the passion and unprecedented numbers of people mobilized in this campaign"  (PDAmerica).

That is, there are now millions willing to challenge the ideology of exceptionalism with that of empathy, not only at home in areas of race, health care, job creation, and energy, but also in our foreign policies. Will our notion of exceptionalism die a natural death during an Obama presidency and be resurrected after he leaves office? I do not know. A lot of that depends on how broad and deep our empathy for one another can assert itself in the next decade. That means we will have to come to grips and resolve some of our "silent rage, anger, and resentment." That means that we as individuals as well as government will have to undermine that which causes these negatives to assert themselves. That is not beyond hope or beyond the possible—Rudy

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More on Hope and Myths: “Toshing” Davis and Africans

I have been studying and researching the radical reggae artists, Peter Tosh for some time. Although he was a black nationalist, and a revolutionary, he was also a religious Rastafarian. So I find the discussion on “American Exceptionalism”, “Faith,” “Hope” and the recent insertion of African-American religious views into American political thought, as expressed by the “Right” Rev. Wright and the black Left timely, valuable and insightful.

By studying Tosh, I am moving to the position that Africans on the continent and in its Diaspora, even with their own “myths” and divine conception of history have developed and used their traditional religious views to interpret and understand the rule of the elites “kings, popes, presidents” and the state system of the ruling classes as oppressive and irreconcilable with their interest, which is that of the oppressed.  In my understanding, Rev. Wright’s rebuke of America is alluding to this thought. The militant historical role of the black Baptists in the struggles of African slaves and peasants in the Americas is also instructive.

Black people historically are not pessimistic, even throughout the period of African Slavery. Black people are hopeful about the future, because we understand the role of struggle in survival and for the development of society. We may have lived in the oppressive and hardship zags inflicted upon us by the European economic system and could not share in the zigs of European progress but with radical interventions, as we have seen in history, we can alter our future.

Such hope and faith are not based on wishful thinking or prayer but from our understanding of history, society and our unwavering commitment to struggle.

With this said, I return to Tosh, using him as a mirror to look at Africans in the Americas and the ideology that we have been using to struggle against the oppressive Europeans economic system.

The heroes of the religious Tosh were Marxists and black Nationalists (Not pacifist, religious fundamentalists nor Left-Opportunists). They included members of the Black Panther Party, Angela Davis and H. Rap Brown.   Not surprisingly in the 1960s Tosh participated in major Uprisings against the conservative government of Jamaica and against the colonial and apartheid regimes in Africa.  In this sense he was no different from Nathaniel Turner, except that he was not caught and hanged.

Tosh, like the majority of Africans in the Diaspora and workers here in the Americas, did not embrace the materialist conception of history. In their faith they accept the “the ideological essence of the divine conception of history…of a great God that makes history.” [1]  In my view, unfortunately here is the space in which the myth of “American Exceptionalism” is allowed to strive in the belief system of the masses. 

As the Venezuelan Bolivarian revolutionary, Franz J.T. Lee explained it, “By the grace of this very God, all kings, popes and presidents freely could perpetrate the most abominable crimes against humanity. Till today this obscurantist, rotten conception still spooks in our brains.”[2]

Angela Davis, the Marxist who Tosh deeply admired, examined critically the issue of “hope, faith” and religion among the masses from a Marxist perspective by analyzing Marx’s own thought on the subject.  It is Davis’ view that Marx’s quote; “Religion is the Opium of the People” is taken out of out of the “larger context of Marx’s assertion” and so not clearly understood.[3]

Davis suggested that a better understanding of Marx’s famous quote on religion aught to be examined within the context of his Essay on “Contribution to the Critique o Hegel’s Philosophy of Rights: Introduction.”[4] 

Davis justifies her argument by citing Marx’s statement that, “Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” [5] Davis accepts Marx’s position with the clarification that oppressed man in pursuit of his fundamental means of life, against the obstacles of nature or manmade political and economic systems that prevent them from satisfying such needs may have indeed resorted to wishful thinking, “wish-dreams,” as expressed by religion in society.  Notwithstanding, Davis argues, “But it is also true that these dreams can revert to their original state—as real wishes, real needs to change the existing social reality. It is possible to redirect these wish dreams to the here and now.” [6] 

By looking at Tosh, a religious Rasta who was also a revolutionary, I am beginning to accept the idea that the combination of hope plus survival may be the most potent ingredients required by the masses to ignite their struggles for “Change”. One Love, Lloyd McCarthy


[1] Franz J.T. Lee. “A New Logic, Science and Philosophy for the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.” July 3, 2007. Franz Jutta.

[2] Franz J.T. Lee. “A New Logic, Science and Philosophy for the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.” July 3, 2007. Franz Jutta.

[3] Davis, Angela Y., and Joy James. 1998. The Angela Y. Davis Reader. Blackwell readers. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, p.58.

[4] Tucker, Robert C., Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. 1978. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton., pp.53-65.

[5] Tucker, Robert C., Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. 1978. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton., p.54..

[6] Davis, Angela Y., and Joy James. 1998. The Angela Y. Davis Reader. Blackwell readers. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, pp.58-59.

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Lloyd, thanks ever so much for your response. Your clarification is much respected. I am rather eclectic when it comes to religion. I've studied a bit of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. And at times I have been a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Muslim. Presently, I attend neither a church, a mosque, nor a temple. And I have studied a bit of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and other socialists. Yet I pray often and now and again I chant. In short, I do not object to religious feeling. For me religion is a personal matter, though fellowship is praiseworthy.
I am foolish enough to consider Nathaniel Turner a very religious man and possibly a true prophet; for certain, he was a Christian martyr as many other blacks in Southampton County in 1831. Our website ChickenBones is a memorial to him and his followers. On the site I have recounted what I imagine Turner might have thought and believed Christian Martyrdom in Southampton.  I have written, as well poems in his remembrance 12 Sonnets in Memory of Nathaniel Turner.

The situation with Jeremiah Wright is much more complicated. That he has become an issue is regrettable and many are making much of it for political agendas on the Right and the Left. I am very skeptical when it comes to religious zeal and political opportunism. I pull back.
I am unable to compete with preachers on Sundays in their defense of Wright. For me he and his Trinity are not an issue. I have no objection to the work they do nor do I have any fear of them and their "Africentrism." I have little or no interest in the "prophetic church." I have no idea what it is or that there is such a thing. For me it is an oxymoron. Nor am I a follower of any  "modern-day prophets." All that is too much for me and above my head. As I see such a field is rife with outrageous demagogues.
I am sure that maybe sometime in the immediate future we will be able to sort all of this out. My fervent interest is the impact that an Obama presidency will have on our thinking and on America. They compose the most important set of events, for me, to come forth since 1968. I will do as much as I can to document worthwhile moments and respond when I think clarifications are necessary. That's a weighty task but I will do that which is within my power. Let the struggle go forth. My warmest regards.Rudy

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Empire or Humanity?: What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me About the American Empire—(Howard Zinn)—In wars, there is always a difference between the motives of the soldiers and the motives of the political leaders who send them into battle. My motive, like that of so many, was innocent of imperial ambition. It was to help defeat fascism and create a more decent world, free of aggression, militarism, and racism. The motive of the U.S. establishment, understood by the aerial gunner I knew, was of a different nature. It was described early in 1941 by Henry Luce, multi-millionaire owner of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, as the coming of "The American Century." The time had arrived, he said, for the United States "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit, and by such means as we see fit."

We can hardly ask for a more candid, blunter declaration of imperial design. It has been echoed in recent years by the intellectual handmaidens of the Bush administration, but with assurances that the motive of this "influence" is benign, that the "purposes" -- whether in Luce's formulation or more recent ones—are noble, that this is an "imperialism lite." As George Bush said in his second inaugural address: "Spreading liberty around the world… is the calling of our time." The New York Times called that speech "striking for its idealism."

The American Empire has always been a bipartisan project—Democrats and Republicans have taken turns extending it, extolling it, justifying it. President Woodrow Wilson told graduates of the Naval Academy in 1914 (the year he bombarded Mexico) that the U.S. used "her navy and her army... as the instruments of civilization, not as the instruments of aggression." And Bill Clinton, in 1992, told West Point graduates: "The values you learned here… will be able to spread throughout the country and throughout the world."

For the people of the United States, and indeed for people all over the world, those claims sooner or later are revealed to be false. The rhetoric, often persuasive on first hearing, soon becomes overwhelmed by horrors that can no longer be concealed: the bloody corpses of Iraq, the torn limbs of American GIs, the millions of families driven from their homes—in the Middle East and in the Mississippi Delta.

Have not the justifications for empire, embedded in our culture, assaulting our good sense—that war is necessary for security, that expansion is fundamental to civilization—begun to lose their hold on our minds? Have we reached a point in history where we are ready to embrace a new way of living in the world, expanding not our military power, but our humanity? TomDispatch

posted 26 March 2008

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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