Tag Archive: civil rights


Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the recently found tape of Malcolm X speaking in 1961 at Brown University:

I think it’s easy to forget how much Malcolm X actually enjoyed these campus visits, not simply as someone spreading Nation dogma, but as a person who had never enjoyed the constant mental stimulation of a college campus. There are many rewards along the autodidact’s road — but those who hail from a certain socio-economic background often find themselves without fellow travelers and respected interlocutors. My Pops often says that one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.

Oh, I can’t tell you how hard (in a wonderful way) this hit me: “… one of the best things about the Black Panthers was that it was the first time in his life he’d been surrounded by thinking, literate, politically-minded young people.”

(I will admit I had to look up the term “autodidact” – I think of it as someone who seeks knowledge on their own, without benefit of a school or teacher or academic program or mentor. The definition “self-taught person” seems to oversimplify the case.)

My parents were young moderate-lefty-ish white kids – not exactly the target audience of either Malcolm X or the Black Panthers – and while wary of the “incendiary” language of both Malcom X and the later-day Panthers,* they none-the-less had a definite respect for both that great speaker, Malcom X, and that great organization/movement, the Black Panthers. And it was this sense of hearing, perhaps of being PERMITTED to hear, the voices of “thinking, literate, politically-minded young people” who also happened to be black and so articulated their experience, that really captured their hearts. They might quibble over the details of the proposed revolution, but there was no doubt they were moved by the voices of its advocates. And they were moved not only by the content, but by the poetry as well.

I am lucky (as a little white kid) to have heard the words of Malcom spoken in his own voice. A lot of my little kid friends didn’t have a clue who he was, much less what he said. I wish more little white kids had heard it in its day. I wish their parents had shared it with them. I think it might have made a difference. That’s one thing the Youtube generation has going for it that we didn’t have in my day: access.

My parents and god-parents, from whom I learned about the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, Malcom X and the Panthers, were the ones who taught me that the Panthers started out as a organization of young black men who were doing things like making sure little kids in their neighborhoods had breakfast, and shoes to wear to school. I know they learned it despite all kinds of efforts by mainstream America to thwart that awareness; I am forever grateful to them for passing it on to me.

 

***

* I’m not saying it was incendiary, just that they perceived it as so. When I hear those same words, I perceive them as grim but realistic.

Byron Williams wrote about something I couldn’t really put my finger in the my two posts on Rand Paul and the Civil Rights Act:

Paul’s remarks, consider this coming in 2010, bear stark similarity to Southern segregationists who opposed the civil rights legislation. Do such beliefs make Paul a racist or at least guilty of latent racism? No.

But Paul’s statement does reveal the disconnect that exists whenever an individual is strictly beholden to an ideology, there will inevitably come a point where that philosophy is unable to confront reality.

If you believe our understanding of the Constitution cannot change along with society, you provide no way to legally deal with issues the framers of the Constitution could never have anticipated.  They provide no alternative but a sad nostalgia for the past.

Williams talks about adherence to strict principles in a more general sense, and goes on to say:

Fundamentalist thinking is also popular among those who advocate for “strict constructionists” to serve on our courts. They claim to oppose judges who “legislate from the bench.”

This assumes the Constitution is frozen in time. Whatever the words meant when the Constitution was ratified in the 18th century is what it must mean today. Strict constructionism is a nice, neat, and convenient thought but hardly realistic in a world that is constantly evolving.

Thanks, Mr. Williams.

Rand Paul has received quite a bit of attention due to his comments on the Civil Rights Act – parts of which he disagrees with – and also, I think, due to his fumbling explanation of his position.  He’s just not doing a good job of saying what he thinks. I disagree with his position, but I also think the attention he’s receiving for it is out of focus.

When I first heard about this, I’d been out of touch with the news for a couple of days.  I don’t really follow Rand Paul’s doings, much less his political career as a whole, but I do find pretty much anything about the civil rights movement interesting.  I spotted something on Huffington Post – a headline, a photo – which I didn’t follow up on.  Then something about an NPR interview on Wednesday.  Then a mention of his interview with Rachel Maddow in a blog, probably Washington Monthly’s Political Animal.  Then a thread on a discussion board, and finally last night (Friday), Maddow’s show opened with a follow-up piece on their interview with Paul.

Okay, hold on, back the truck up!

I love the interwebs.  I backed the truck up by going to Maddow’s onine link to the interview with Paul on Thursday, a long and tortured non-discussion, mainly because Paul danced around Maddow’s questions.  Rachel can be like a dog on a bone when she wants to be.  She wouldn’t let go, Rand Paul stumbled around, and it was 15 minutes of weirdness.  Warning:  the link (in the photo) below is to a 19 minute video, but I have to say that I didn’t realize how much time had passed until I glanced down at the little progress meter towards the end of the segment.  Time flies when you’re having… fun…

RachelMaddowInterviewsRandPaul-19May2010

But as much as Paul danced around, I think I heard his point, and to be frank, I don’t understand why he didn’t just say it.  I disagree with it, but if that’s what the man thinks, he should just say it: No government intervention.  Period. If the free market takes the nation to hell in a hand basket, so be it.

Paul believes (or rather, he states; I don’t know the guy) that he abhors racial discrimination, segregation and oppression, and believes it appropriate to regulate it in government.  He stated he wouldn’t patronize a business which practiced, for example, lunch-counter discrimination.  Paul noted that any assault by the business owner or employees on the protesters would in itself be against the law – he implied, but didn’t say that this is the law that should have been enforced at the time.  However, that would have been a little impractical, as the police were on the side of the businesses.

Ahhhh… details, details, details

What I believe Rand Paul to have been saying is that the free market should take care of itself, and that bad behavior will eventually root itself out and magically disappear.  No matter that the arc of history is against Paul’s analysis – it truly does seem to take a push to get society to budge on discrimination against groups of people within it – but Paul is so against government pressure for businesses to behave as responsible members of society, that he’d rather see the market act in cruel and dangerous ways – everything from social oppression, the focus of the Civil Rights movement, to the financial collapse of our economy.

It isn’t hard to pick apart Paul’s argument, simply by extrapolating his view of a complete hands-off structure to the government-market relationship.  Ezra Klein pointed out the weird implications:

For instance: Can the federal government set the private sector’s minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors? These are the sort of questions that Paul needs to be asked now, because the issue is not "area politician believes kooky but harmless thing." It’s "area politician espouses extremist philosophy on issue he will be voting on constantly."

It’s all well and good to take some kind of strong philosophical stand on a topic, be it free market or anything else.  The question is, would Paul’s attitude foster a society we’d want to live in?

I wouldn’t.

%d bloggers like this: