Tag Archives: black history month

News Roundup – John Oliver, Trump, Bowling Green, Yemen

I didn’t watch the Last Week Tonight show after the election. John Oliver was exactly right. This is NOT normal. Trump is not normal. We have no idea what Trump is going to do. This is a leaky White House. I really, really want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but I still believe that he does not have the intellectual curiosity to be a good president. Remember, we had a long national discussion about Bush and his lack of being curious. He just accepted information that was given to him. You simply can’t do that.

Great opinion piece by John Marshall at Talking Points Memo. He argues that Trump was never a populist; rather, he is a nationalist. This could be a good thing, but it could also be interpreted negatively. From the perspective of a nationalist, it would seem that the fact that America is an open and inclusive society, embracing abd loving our melting pot, is one of our strengths. Trump, however, has adopted a different type of nationalism.

Paul Krugman has put my fear into words. It seems as if we are picking fights with everyone. Why would we want to pick a fight with Australia? BTW, what does “putting Iran on notice” actually mean? I have a bad feeling that we are going to be at war with someone pretty soon.

There is so much going on that it is easy to miss things like a raid on a compound in Yemen. For me, American casualties are never a good thing. We need to think long and hard about everything we are doing any time any American soldier dies. Was the raid worth it? So far, I don’t have any idea. I understand the problems with counterterrorism. The purpose of this raid was to stop what exactly? As the American soldiers approached the target they knew that they had lost the element of surprise. So why press on? Was this that important? I don’t know. We lost a $75 million MV-22 Osprey (an aircraft that got a terrible reputation 20 years ago as it was being developed).

Have you heard anything about the Bowling Green Muslim Massacre? Nope, neither had I.

So, it is Black History month. The White House usually does something to honor Black Americans. Trump was Trump. He started on the topic of Black History, covering the basics – Martin Luther King, Fredrick Douglass, and Harriett Tubman. He then veered off the subject into nothingness. It isn’t that I think that our president needs to be an expert on Black History, but he should at least pretend that it is important to America. That’s all that I ask…maybe that’s too much.

What stories are you following?

MLP – Do we need Black History Month

Melissa Harris-Perry is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and dramatic people on the political scene.  She has moved from Princeton to Tulane. I suspect that NOLA will change. She is a force. In her latest article in The Nation she answers the question why we still need a Black History month.

Melissa Harris-Perry

From the Nation:

We are in the final hours of February 2011. These are the last moments of this year’s Black History Month. February is always my busiest month for travel and public lectures as I join dozens of other professors whose research takes on sudden relevance for four short weeks. Typically, I spend some time in February responding to queries about the origins of the month-long observance. Invariably, I am also asked to defend its continuing relevance.

Student reporter: Do we really need a separate black history month now that we have a black president?

Me: Can you name five important African-Americans, not including Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, and tell me something about their contributions to America?

Student reporter: (Silence)

Me: Yes, we still need Black History Month.

In these waning moments of yet another busy February I admit to feeling particularly defeated by our typical Black History Month approach, which tends to be rooted in a recitation of “little known black history facts” and the celebration of a few accomplished and brilliant individuals. Our contemporary political environment cries out for an urgent, collective immersion in accurate Americanhistory, including its complicated intersections with race and racism. I have a professional nerd fantasy in which I imagine every cable news program devoting a quarter of every hour to the study of American history. I can hear the ratings plummet, but I love the idea of taking just a few moments to inform the public about the broad outlines of our key historical moments, so that these moments cannot be so easily twisted, distorted and misused by ideological movements. Indulge the fantasy for a moment.

What might happen if Americans understood Revolutionary War history? Maybe it would be considerably harder for the Tea Party to convince voters that their anxieties about a president elected with 53 percent of the popular vote by an electorate that enjoys universal adult suffrage are “just the same” as the concerns of colonists who decried taxation without representation under the rule of an absolute monarch. No sustained engagement with The Federalist Papers could allow the narrow, simplistic assertions about the intent of the founding fathers so often present in Tea Party rhetoric. The Tea Party’s ability to deploy the symbols and language of patriotism requires broad and deep ignorance of American history. The American public is woefully unprepared to fact check their bold assertions that they are the keepers of the authentic national legacy. I do not mean to suggest that Revolutionary War history or The Federalist Papers reveal that America’s founders were actually progressive liberals, likely to have subscribed to The Nation. Rather, American history teaches us that the founders were complex, that the founding was contested and that any attempt to reduce American history to soundbite ideology is woefully inadequate. If we shared a deeper and more accurate understanding of our history we would not all be liberals, but perhaps we would be more careful.

While we clearly suffer from a national deficit of historical knowledge in general, we seem to be particularly uninformed about the histories of marginal people: black Americans, non-white immigrants, women of all races, workers and gay Americans. I suspect secession would seem less reasonable to those who had a clear understanding of American Civil War history. I believe Americans might be better equipped to recognize and appreciate the consequences of the racial angst directed at President Obama’s administration if they were better versed in the decades of backlash that followed Reconstruction. I am confident that serious study of American labor history would remind voters of all that is at stake in the current battles to maintain collective bargaining rights. I have no doubt that young women would feel more urgent about protecting their reproductive rights if they were more fully versed in the history of women’s struggle for equality. (more…)

Egypt and Black History Month

February is Black History Month. For all black authors, there is some sort of unwritten rule that it is blasphemy not to comment on Black History in February. Well, I will not commit blasphemy this month.

In many schools, history is taught as a bunch of isolated facts that are seldom related to reality. Students are forced to digest facts like

  • In 1885, Sarah E. Goode invented a bed that folded into a cabinet. She was the second black woman to receive a patent.
  • Garrett Augustus Morgan created a gas mask.
  • Thomas J. Martin patented the fire extinguisher in 1872.
  • George T. Sampson invented a clothes dryer in 1892 that used heat from the stove.
  • Although Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb it would have been nothing without the carbon filament. The process for creating a carbon filament which burned in hours instead of minutes was figured out by Lewis Latimer.
  • Granville T. Woods invented the multiplex telegraph in 1887. He invented air brakes for trains. He also invented a device that picked up electricity from the “third rail” which made electric powered transit systems possible.
  • And Dr. George Franklin Grant invented the world’s first golf tee, which was patented in 1899. He was also the first Black professor at Harvard.

But even lumped together all these individual achievements don’t tell the story of Black History. They don’t tell the story of how many minorities in America thrived despite oppression. Henry Blair, for example, never learned to read or write, yet he invented a corn seed planter in 1834 and signed his patent with an X. Martin Luther King wrote some of his most eloquent essays from a Birmingham Jail.

The story of Black History, then, is the story of overcoming obstacles, of excelling in spite of squalid conditions. As we sit back today and see the people of Egypt taking to the streets and asking for basic human rights, such as fair wages and equal treatment from the government, it is hard not to remember and reflect upon the civil rights movement.

Remember, first, that the civil rights movement did not happen one day in 1963 when the Reverend Dr. King stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands and declared, “I Have a Dream.” It started after World War II, when our brave black soldiers came back from honorable, heroic service overseas and were then treated as second class citizens, again. The integration of the armed forces in 1948 really started the civil rights ball rolling. The NAACP saw enormous growth in the late 1940s, and its president Roy Wilkins, along with Thurgood Marshall, carefully planned a series of legal battles that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, KS) in 1954. It was hundreds of thousands of thoughtful, hard-working blacks and whites who made up the civil rights movement that grew into a powerful force that lasted more than 20 years.

Freedom, liberty, and civil rights do not come easy. They did not come easy in America and they will not come easy in Egypt. We must remember that Dr. King, who was devoted to nonviolent change, led a series of marches. It is important that we do not forget people like Huey P. Newton (founder of the Black Panthers) and Malcolm X, who proposed using “any means necessary” to achieve the goal of civil rights for all, were a significant counterbalance to the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

All these people came together and demonstrated, and challenged, and marched, and fought to bestow on people like you and me the freedoms that we enjoy today. In Egypt, too, the people are going to have to fight for change on all fronts. They’ll have to continue with nonviolent demonstrations in the streets. They’re going to have to fight in the courts. They’re going to have to fight in their legislature. When I look at Egypt, I can see just how far we’ve come. When I look at the latest job numbers (unemployment rate of 9%, 8.7 million Americans having lost their jobs since December of 2007), I can see we have a long way to go.

Black History is more than a series of names and events. Black History is an American story of triumph and tribulation. It is a story of a very long struggle which should have meaning for all Americans.