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The right-wing theft of the term Self-Help is a sacrilege against our heroic

dead and Black history, itself. Wasn't Harriet Tubman engaged in Self-Help

when she escorted hundreds of slaves out of bondage? Didn't

the Pullman Porters exemplify Self-Help in their decades of struggle



Self-Help: A Stolen Word Wielded as a Weapon Against Black Activism

By Glen Ford


The mantra of "self-help" has been fashioned into a club to bludgeon or shame African Americans into inaction on all fronts that might challenge real power relationships in the United States. Stripped of all meaning other than philanthropy, non-controversial volunteerism, individual entrepreneurial pursuits, and varieties of motivational exercises, the shrunken term is deployed as a deterrent and warning against mass political action. Especially in recent years, Self-Help and its attendant terms "self-reliance," "self-discipline" and "personal responsibility" have been stolen and twisted by right-wing forces in both white and Black society, to morally defame those who would organize Popular Power in opposition to Money Power.

From Faith-Based Initiative-funded preachers, to corporate groomed and financed Black media propagandists, to the near-incoherent rantings of Bill Cosby, to the raw cynicism of George Bush's White House, a stilted version of Black Self-Help is presented as the wise and moral alternative to "Sixties-style" mass movement-building. A logical outgrowth of this insidious, calculated word piracy is the theory of "victimhood," used to pillory anyone that dares to indict the rulers for their past and present crimes against African Americans. "Stop acting like a victim, and you won't be a victim," snap the sneerers - the equivalent of the common white demand that Blacks "get over it."

Victimhood theory fits nicely with some forms of narrow, dwarfish Black nationalism, which is much more common than the number of dashikis sold yearly would suggest. "Don't ask the white man for nuthin', stand up like a man!" Of course, the admonition is irrelevant, since "the white man" has never given up a stitch of his unearned privilege and power in response to polite requests - that is, in the absence of a demand and implicit, credible threat. The directive to "stand up" while at the same time do nothing to confront those who put and keep Black people down, is pure bravado - and harmless to the powers-that-be. Which is how they like it.

The Black/white right-wing's attempted usurpation of the civilized qualities "self-reliance," "self-discipline" and "personal responsibility" amounts to slander against Black ancestry. To be successful, all mass movements had to rely on themselves, be more disciplined than the oppressor, and imbue participants with a deep sense of both personal and collective responsibility for their actions. The entirety of the Freedom Movement was a glorious saga of collective Self Help, Self-Sacrifice, and Self-Growth, that transformed African Americans, the nation, and the world.

Having nothing to offer a people in dire need of a mass movement against increasingly hostile Power - except bromides, navel-gazing, and "prosperity churches" - the status-quo crowd robs the English vocabulary, expropriating for themselves the terms for all that is virtuous, while risking...nothing. At the desired end of the process, the poor are to be left without even the words to defend themselves. Worse, when you steal people's words, you steal pieces of their minds.

Induced Shame

The self-styled self-helpers thrive on banalities and generalities, through skillful use of which they get applause and "amens" from folks who should know better - who would actually like to confront en masse the real sources of Black economic and social hyper-vulnerability. Chanting the mantras of "self-help," "self-reliance," "self-discipline" and "personal responsibility," they induce group shame - an extremely debilitating, rather than liberating, emotion. (Preachers have long understood that folks will pay good money to be released from shame.) Substantial sections of the audience transfer their shame to the most powerless among them, who become the repositories of all that ails Black America.

John McWhorter, the vile Black servant for the reactionary Manhattan Institute, even blames the poor for the Katrina catastrophe. Under direct questioning from a radio talk show host, just months after the deluge, McWhorter explained the horrors of New Orleans' Coliseum/concentration camp, this way: "What we see in Katrina is single women who also have a great many children."

Such is the logic of the Right, in blackface. It is pointless to spend precious time arguing with these walking pollutants. Instead, let us explore the limits of their narrow definition of Self-Help - a definition that rejects mass action.

True Self-Help

Earlier this year, Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor circulated a petition with a list of seven demands for presentation to the Congressional Black Caucus. All were rooted in issues that lay at the core of the Historical Black Political Consensus; positions around which many generations of African Americans had coalesced. Most were related to existing legislation before Congress.

1.       Dismantle racially selective mass incarceration.

2.       Aid and empower those dispersed and dispossessed by Katrina.

3.       End the war in Iraq now.

4.       Get the U.S. military out of Africa.

5.       Transform the cities and create millions of jobs.

6.       Establish truly universal, single payer health care.

7.       Ensure voting rights.

Not one of these righteous demands can be accomplished by some diluted, narrow Self-Help as preached by the Cosbys of Black America, and most are actively opposed by Black corporate "conservatives." Churches can and do operate "prison ministries" - a worthy project - but that cannot dismantle an "intake" mechanism that operates at every level of the criminal justice system, from omni-surveillance of poor Black communities to the inevitable result: one million African Americans behind bars.

The crime of Katrina cannot be addressed absent empowerment of residents to direct the spending of many tens of billions of dollars in "reconstruction and return." This requires a national mobilization of millions of Black people to confront Power, directly. Volunteers have already poured in by the tens of thousands, but can only provide some amelioration, as all admit. True Self-Help - decisive help for New Orleans - must come from mass political action.

Local Self-Help groups can counsel limited numbers of returning veterans of the Iraq war, or advise young people not to join the military. But only a mass movement (or inevitable U.S. defeat) can cause the United States to withdraw from Iraq, quit its military buildup in Africa, and cease threatening the survival of the planet.

No amount of community-based resources can revamp urban structures to the benefit of masses of city-dwellers; this is a nation-building task. Black entrepreneurship is an admirable enterprise, but it does not significantly alter relationships of power in a world ruled by multinational corporations. Only People Power can do that, and in the process create the jobs that will sustain the African American presence in the cities.

Community-funded neighborhood clinics save thousands of lives, but none of them pretend to be the solution to Third World-like Black mortality rates. Universal health care can only be won in a twilight struggle with for-profit medical, insurance and drug corporations and their servants in government.

The right to vote must ultimately be ensured by a mass movement that poses a threat to Power that makes fairness at the ballot an attractive trade-off for the current vote-suppressors. Such was the case in the Sixties, and so it remains.

Take Back the Term: Self-Help

The right-wing theft of the term Self-Help is a sacrilege against our heroic dead and Black history, itself. Wasn't Harriet Tubman engaged in Self-Help when she escorted hundreds of slaves out of bondage? Didn't the Pullman Porters exemplify Self-Help in their decades of struggle for recognition as a union - and as men? Were not the young lunch counter integrators involved in Self-Help, as they put their bodies in danger and their academic careers at the mercy of handkerchief-head Black college administrators? Was the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 something other than Self-Help? Who would have done it but ourselves, and the allies we enlisted? Are the youthful Black Panther Party members who aggressively monitored police in Oakland, California, to be expelled from the Self-Help definition? Did scores of Party members die helping other people than their own? Is the fight for a living wage beyond the pale of Cosby and Co.'s Self-Help parameters? Does the mass demonstration at Jena, Louisiana, qualify as Self-Help?

How dare rascals and poseurs attempt to steal our language - and heritage.

Frederick Douglass would be horrified at the mangling of Black political culture, mugged directly or indirectly by Money Power's intervention in Black affairs. Douglass, a man of many words, treasured only two:

"Agitate, Agitate, Agitate. Organize, Organize, Organize."

That's Self-Help.

Source: Black Agenda Report

posted 31 October 2007

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Worsening wealth inequality by race

White Americans have 22 times more wealth than blacks—a gap that nearly doubled during the Great Recession. The median household net worth for whites was $110,729 in 2010, versus $4,995 for blacks, according to recently released Census Bureau figures.

The difference is similarly notable when it comes to Hispanics, who had a median household net worth of $7,424. The ratio between white and Hispanic wealth expanded to 15 to 1.

The gap between the races widened considerably during the recent economic downturn, which whites weathered better than blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

The latter three groups saw their median household net worth fall by roughly 60% between 2005 and 2010, while the median net worth for white households slipped only 23%. This allowed whites to leap ahead of Asians as the race with the highest median household net, Tami Luhby 21 June  2012

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian

Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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update 29 February 2012




Home  Religion & Politics   Glen Ford

Related files: Cancer in the Congressional Black Caucus  When NOT to Vote Black (at least in Memphis  'Self-Help': A Stolen Word 

It's a Clinton-Obama Ticket in ‘08   Congressional Black Caucus Grade Plummet