Four Years @BlackElectorate.com
Thank You from the depths of our hearts. Four years ago today, with a signed editorial, “Pusillanimous Prosperity: Why America’s Economic Boom Rings Hollow For Blacks", we launched a website, BlackElectorate.com. Part newsanalysis-daily, part “Black Drudge Report”, and part link haven, BlackElectorate.com had a clear motive, structure, and vision, but no way of knowing what its impact would eventually be. Eventually viewed in over 50 countries with millions upon millions of hits and visits; this website would soon become a favorite of leaders and institutions all over the world in business, politics, and culture.
This week, as a small form of a “thank you” BlackElectorate.com Publisher Cedric Muhammad publicly answers questions submitted by viewers over the past four years, most recently, over the past few weeks, in a week-long interview. Today’s interview deals with questions pertaining to BlackElectorate.com and the subject of politics. Following the format of the theme of each day of the week at BlackElectorate.com, the interview will cover African and Aboriginal issues on Tuesday; Wall Street and Business questions on Wednesday; Theology on Thursday and conclude with Hip-Hop on Friday.
Question: What type of voice do you think your website has created for the Black Electorate?
Cedric Muhammad: A voice that seeks to be more true to the nexus of where culture, economics, and politics meet, than to any of those three areas as compartmentalized disciplines and/or systems. This website aims to speak about and represent a balanced reality – reflecting the factors and elements that impact life. I think we have been blessed to be a leader in identifying the pulse of our people and what moves and animates them all over the world. This is because unlike others we do not diminish or compartmentalize religion, social organization, identity, or the arts, for example, in our analysis of politics and economics.
Question: What were your expectations and goals of the website in the beginning? And were those expectations and goals realized?
Cedric Muhammad: At first it was to be a platform for a business, and then it just took on a life of its own as we created it with the feedback and advice of a very small group of my family, friends, and mentors. Once the website was up, I was able to experience the self-actualization that few experience as I was able to express my views and do one of the few things I believe I am born to do – which is write, explain and advise - educate. I was inspired by the fact that, at the time, in 2000, there were very few writers, websites, and publications available that really knew how to understand and include the variables of Black life into their coverage of the news. And I found that White reporters, economists, and politicians that I met in business really were clueless as to how the Black community worked, although some of them were exceptionally arrogant and opinionated in what Black people needed to be doing. So, I had that in the back of my mind as well. But a premier inspiration I had in my heart was to develop a website that Black leaders, teachers, students and young people could wake up to in the morning and gain insight into themselves and the reality of the world. While I do not yet have every Black leader, teacher, and student waking up to BlackElectorate.com, we are on our way.
Question: How did you come up with the idea of your website?
Cedric Muhammad: For the whole website, as we see it now, with the main elements? Driving in my car one day from New York City to Washington D.C., is how it arose, if I remember correctly. It powerfully hit me. I remember discussing it with my business partner and friend, Charles, and a friend and mentor of mine who works for the Chicago Tribune who had great insight to offer on the publishing world. But prior to that I knew the Internet was growing as a vehicle for business and marketing purposes and I decided to put together a website for an economic consulting business, and then I had the problem of how I could get people to come again and again to the website. That is where the idea came to me that if I wrote (I already was published and respected as a journalist and commentator) regularly and included some news, we could have a hook. Then I called about 8 of my closest friends and mentors, and with the help of a webmaster, we got the first version of BlackElectorate.com up in only two weeks, for only like $250. It was exciting, and I will always be grateful for that core group who came to comment on and refine the construction of the website. Interestingly they came everyday, at various times, to offer feedback and test the website from Georgia, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and other places, and I saw right away that the Internet was really a powerful medium for organizing networks that already existed (on a side note I do not now, and never believed that one can build a movement primarily via the Internet. I privately gave this analysis in more detail to a few relative to the limitations of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign months before he dropped out of the presidential race). So, I decided that this idea and evolving project had to be bigger than my business and I decided to see if we could fit into the world of Internet news publishing. And in the early days we were blessed to have existing websites who amplified our work and linked to us. The foremost were The Final Call website, Davey D. and Jude Wanniski, who each brought us to their viewers’ attention in a very positive and supportive way. And there were others who came soon thereafter.
Question: What is the future of BlackElectorate.com?
Cedric Muhammad: I don’t know. I am so grateful that we are still here and know what the costs and risks have been that I know that other than faith in God, belief in myself, love for the truth and my people there is no animating force strong enough to have gotten us this far. I know that tomorrow is not promised for people, and I know that personality-centered exercises die with the person, so I have been concerned with making the website an institution supported by business activity. We will see if that bears fruit over time and in the proper manner. I have other personal pursuits, consulting work, and entrepreneurial projects that I am involved with, and I am writing a very important book, and all of this is very difficult along with maintaining and guiding the website as I have to do. So, we will have to see what happens. Perhaps a “sabbatical” would not be a bad idea, for me and the website. We can always use more help and support, but there is a certain way I want the website to grow, through business, that I think is important to building institutions based in the Black community. We have done enough as non-profits and membership organizations and need to broaden the scope. Hopefully this website can do that in important ways this year. But, I am growing to realize that we have already made an important contribution and if I and we have to move on to other things and work in the future, I am proud of what we have accomplished and honored to have served the public. Hopefully we can leave an institution behind, if need be, not just ideas and words.
Question: First, of all I greatly appreciate and admire your work at Blackelectorate.Com and wish you continued success. I've been a very proud supporter of yours for the past four years. I really believe that what you present and how it is presented really arms the Blackelectorate in a way that allows us to critically analyze the world we live in. Something I have never experienced before.
Blackelectorate.com forced me to take a look at my approach to learning because it was limiting my growth and development, I like many other Blacks who were denied learning about our history decided to study the best that black people produced, which led me to give credibility only to information published by blacks. I never knew how to discern the mind set of others outside of our community that were in agreement with equality, because I never heard or saw any I felt fit that description, until I began supporting your website. Prior to Blackelectorate.com I could not name many in the white community that I felt sincerely spoke with a sense of equality and looked deeper into the things that effect us.
My question is:
When some in the black community hear the name Blackelectorate.com a sense of ownership and pride comes into play and they may assume that all information will be of the black perspective from black scholars and intellectuals, why did you include the works of many whites whose views support a sense of fairness which is in most cases counter to what is seen on tv, read in local newspapers or heard on conservative talk radio?
Cedric Muhammad: Thank You so much for your kind words, sincere support, and for sharing the impact we may have been blessed to have on you and others. It is one of the expectations I did have in mind four years ago. My answer, in part, is that I am guided by a few things. One is the following insight that I learned from reading Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Study Guides, wherein he wrote, “When labeled ‘Black Nationalist,’ the Honorable Elijah Muhammad never fought the term. He told me that ‘Black is not National, Black is Universal.’” Also, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote that around 1 in 1000 Whites were sincerely concerned about our condition. And, lastly, I am a truth-seeker.
This places on me and us a responsibility to acknowledge reality – primarily at BlackElectorate.com - through the study and observation of facts and the proper interpretation of them. It also places on me and us a responsibility to be scientific in our research, analysis, and commentary on relationships between people, events, ideas, and institutions. That would lead me to naturally include the work of like-minded or similarly affected individuals, regardless of their color.
But I would also like to add that it is my hope that the viewers of BlackElectorate.com would gain explanatory power – that they would understand things and people as they really are, regardless of whether a source of information is a fair or righteous White or Black person. So to that end, we will feature the work of those who may be seen as enemies of Black people, but yet express important truths, realities or facts. And we may feature articles that are very unflattering of our condition, but yet are true, or are part of the reality under which we live. I am secure that I do not have to place a disclaimer with every article that we link to, although we do have to mention that the Deeper Look portion of the website does not necessarily reflect my view or the view of the website.
But we are not intellectual cowards here, or people who write in order to satisfy a hidden benefactor, or someone who pays the bills. None of that here. So we are free to seek and tell the truth, wherever that may lead us. Sometimes it absolutely will lead us to White writers like William Rivers Pitt, Jude Wanniski, Pat Buchanan, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader or Rush Limbaugh – all of whom are capable of stating actual facts or giving the proper interpretation of events on any given day. Certainly some in that list have been fairer than others toward Black people; but regardless to their attitude toward Blacks, Blacks can learn and benefit from what these Whites have to offer – however good, bad, or ugly it may appear.
I thank God for liberating my mind and heart. It feels so good to exercise freedom of assembly, thought and speech as we do at BlackElectorate.com that it brings tears to my eyes. I want so badly for my Brothers and Sisters and all people, to enjoy the intellectual freedom that I have, without fear of what somebody is going to do to me. If nothing else I have that and will never relinquish it.
I must say that it has taken some time for some of our viewers to get used to seeing articles from Frontpage Magazine, or National Review, or The Weekly Standard, or The American Conservative next to those from the World Socialist, Amsterdam News, The Final Call, and San Francisco Bay View but, almost invariably those viewers who have an initial knee-jerk negative reaction or experience initial discomfort or confusion, grow to appreciate the service our “diversity” renders.
We have to grow out of a comfortable narrow political ideological view of the world into a more scientific one that properly balances emotion, intellect and spirit.
Question: Congratulations on four years – I have been there since the beginning. My question is what was the thought process from going from an informational links website to an all-inclusive news generating, reporting site?
Cedric Muhammad: Fatigue (smile and laughter). Honestly, there were two phases on this subject. We initially were a bit more opinionated and advocacy-oriented in the beginning. There were important ideas that I needed to get into the public arena. Things that needed to be said about subjects like monetary policy, the Black vote, health disparities, Hip-Hop, Minister Farrakhan, entrepreneurial activity, Africa etc… and we had to give a wide-lens view of the global Black spectrum. So we organized the global Black political economy – pointing people to most of the significant leaders, columnists, organizations, news sources, opinion leaders, and resources. I think that is the informational aspect you refer to. This allowed us to influence thinkers who came to the website and bite off what they wanted. The site became “sticky” for them, and I could rattle off a list of those who shape their columns, make speeches, and get ideas for business and politics from BlackElectorate.com. A few mention us, most don’t in how they benefit from our work. That is fine, for a certain time period. Many can tell and feel our nameless influence, anyway. But, around 2001-2002 it became clear that our insight was the basis of foresight and that we were in fact “making news” and amplifying under-reported or little-known news, so we developed some business activity around this and more importantly refined our research and were able to increase our coverage of the Black community. Attentive viewers noticed that in 2002-2003 we dramatically increased our local and regional coverage of Black America. It was an important step in helping us differentiate ourselves from other websites who don’t know what is going on “on the ground” in Black America; and can’t read patterns in our collective and national experience. I laugh when I hear some Black intellectuals dis Black nationalism as if it were some abstract ideology. It is a cultural reality. We are already a nation in how we think, but more importantly in what we experience. So, now you see in our coverage and reporting how what is going on with Black people in New York is no different than what we experience in Baton Rouge or San Francisco, or Seattle or Jacksonville or Houston or Philadelphia and Denver. Granted there are important nuances, but when you compare that with what is going on in parts of the Caribbean, Africa, Australia and Europe, you can see the oneness of our people – in nature and experience.
But I must say that this grew out of my own web-researching and surfing that had me reading newspapers from all over the world, as far back as 1997, when I was traveling with my group Wu-Tang Clan. I have just codified it at the website and in particular, "The Link Room".
The most recent phase of what you have identified are the theme days of Black Electorate.com that have allowed us to cover – in a systematic fashion, politics, Africa and indigenous people, business, spirituality, and music.
Question: We are in a presidential election year and it appears to be business as usual for the Black Electorate. Most of our leaders speak the company line of the political parties but will not speak forcefully concerning the issues that are laid out in the National Agenda during the Million Family March. Substantial information quoted and referenced in this document was edited directly from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Urban League, National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES). I have yet to hear those group speak with one voice promoting the agenda.
My question is:
Rev. Al Sharpton's campaign was covered extensively by BlackElectorate.Com and some even made comparisons to Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential runs which ended with him being named shadow Senator for Washington, DC and host of Both Sides with Jesse Jackson, now it appears that Rev Sharpton is being rewarded with a TV or Radio show. Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, and Al Sharpton at the peak of their popularity had the potential to galvanize the majority of the Blackelectorate. How is it that this political process can make Black men, especially, who are very powerful in their own right subordinate themselves for something I consider to be of less value?
Cedric Muhammad: Powerful insight and question. And I would add that I was hurt to see our Sister, Carol Mosley Braun, sell-out to Howard Dean’s campaign for $20, 000 a month, running interference for him against Rev. Al Sharpon. That was the worst. Black politicians don't realize how demoralizing and an act of betrayal it is in the eyes of the masses when they support you and then you, as a leader, sell the stature their popular support gives you for some loose change that is only enough to solve a personal financial situation or problem.
I would say that sometimes ambition is unbridled among some of our leaders and there is an internal, secret conversation that takes place within them that asks the question, “what is this all worth?”, and “am I getting a return on my investment?” Keep in mind that Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton have personally suffered much. Rev. Sharpton was stabbed among other things and Rev. Jackson… I will never forget this, was on Meet The Press a couple of years ago and there was the loud sound of a light bulb that suddenly broke in the studio and Rev. Jackson ducked down like he was avoiding a bullet. He was frightened. It was a sad reminder to me of the personal fears and realities of being a public servant. I wish that Meet The Press had removed that portion of the interview. In a way I thought it was sick, as Tim Russert, the interviewer, said, as if he were trying to reassure Rev. Jackson, “It is only a light bulb…” I got the message that a wickedly wise or racist person wanted sent (someone(s) much more powerful than Tim Russert) to the public – which is although he is a leader, “this nigger is scared”. Well, hell, we all are scared in one way or another, at one time or another, as we seek the truth, tell the truth, and seek to establish it. And we all have moments where our faith and desire weaken. But the question is do we allow that fear or moments of doubt or lack of clarity or progress to redirect our will and erode our character and integrity to allow us to “settle” for something less than what we and our people aspire to and deserve as human beings. There are great lessons to learn from what has happened to Rev. Jackson and Rev. Sharpton. But I hope that we will not leave ourselves out of the analysis. In any way, did we fail to support them at critical hours in their lives? Are we somewhat responsible for their going outside of the community for resources and ideas, or their decision to “change professions” so to speak. I also think it would be helpful to consider the personal and family lives of all of our great leaders and public servants. What sacrifice have their loved ones made so that we could have them as leaders in one for or another?
I do think that unbridled ambition and jealousy and envy are guiding too many of our leaders who seek position and standing with the people. I think we are seeing more and more of them being sat down or made ineffective– by events and the will of the people with each passing year. It is much harder today to be a “self-styled leader” than it used to be (smile).
I want to make Rev. Jackson, Carol Mosely Braun and certainly Rev. Sharpton and others stronger and more accountable to us, but in a way that honestly deals with the support that they deserve and need from those whom they have stood for.
Instead of just asking are they up to the task of leadership, we should also ask ourselves are we up to the hard work of following or supporting – with our will, finances, bodies, and love?
Question: Would you give me and other readers your opinion of just why there have not been a cry from the right, middle or left to impeach BUSH for the lies told to justify war with Iraq ? Bill Clinton was impeached for lies about sex whichhurt only him, his family and the young lady performing the act; while BUSHs' lies have caused the death of many Americans!
Cedric Muhammad: I am happy to have your question because I thought that President Bill Clinton was being impeached for the wrong thing. It was his careless, selfish and improperly motivated bombing of an important and promising pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that was the primary abuse of power. I think you have to understand that most Americans have faith in the political process and in an election year will trust their chances with voting in order to correct what they see as wrong. Perhaps if this were not an election year things would proceed along the lines they did in 1998. I do think that since 2000 the country is becoming increasingly divided and a wide cross-section of the American people are increasingly losing faith in government and elections to address problems and communicate with politicians. But those voters and members of Congress who have a problem with the current administration, only have the unity and will to vote against him not impeach, right now.
Question: Why do you repeatedly feature the writing of Armstrong Williams? Yes he is African-American but he and his ol’ boss Justice Thomas are pure sell-outs. There ain’t too much pro-black or positive about publicizing his column the way you all have for years. It is the only area where I am disappointed with BEC.
Cedric Muhammad: Thanks for sharing this with me. I don’t disagree that there is plenty to disagree with Armstrong about, but I have consistently challenged Blacks who refer to him in the way that you have, to show me how a Black Republican or Conservative selling out is any worse that a Black Democrat or Liberal selling out – if that is what they are doing. The standard has to be applied broadly, and from my vantage point there are plenty of Blacks on the Left, who may call themselves progressive, radical, or liberal, but who in reality have a master-slave relationship – intellectually and financially – with their White benefactors. I have seen - with my own eyes - too many instances where Blacks have bowed, scraped, and begged before their supposed White coalition partners on the Left for resources. I have also seen them uncritically swallow their ideas, arguments and initiatives, just to have access and nearness to power centers on the Left. So are you applying the standard broadly and objectively, or only in a partisan or ideological fashion?
I have always distinguished Armstrong from most other widely-recognized Black conservatives because having gotten to know Armstrong and seen him with others – he actually is part of the Black community and socializes and networks with that community. He is a far cry from other Black conservatives who prefer the company of Whites and who almost exclusively speak in front of, or for the benefit, of White audiences. It is a joke to see Black conservatives styled as opinion leaders within Black America when they speak before audiences on events televised on C-Span. There is not a Black face in the crowd. I have seen Armstrong interact with our people. He loves them, I believe and wants their acceptance and embrace. I remember him calling me with joy over his participation as a speaker in the Million Family March in 2000. He was elated at the love he received at the event from the viewers at BlackElectorate.com who read his column, and yet do not agree with him. To be blunt, you will find Armstrong at more Black social functions than you will find many so-called leading Black progressives and liberals. There is something to be said for this.
But, “Black” to me is a nature, a civilization, a culture and a political ideology so a Black conservative fits the criteria, at least, as part of a natural member of the family. That is why I will never be intimidated or afraid to feature the work of Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, or even the arguments of Clarence Thomas at BlackElectorate.com. They may not think like Brothers, but they are our Brothers, in that respect, whether we like it or not. It is not necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water. Take for instance, Thomas Sowell. He is arguably the most brilliant of all conservative thinkers. Many depict him as a modern intellectual “father” of the movement. Well, I see that as the greatness of a Black man – an original Black man, if you will, by nature. I see the genius of Thomas Sowell, regardless of political ideology or partisan affiliation. I have disagreed with him, and Walter Williams in my writings, but I am in a redemptive pattern toward them and my spirit is that I love those Brothers and appreciate their intellectual prowess, whether they want to acknowledge their full natural and cultural identity or not. I would say to those Blacks on the Left who mock, lampoon, and ridicule Black Conservatives, that if they believe these Brothers are sell-outs and Uncle Toms, and understand what slavery did to us as a people, they should have compassion on these wayward individuals, if that is how they see them, in the context of history. If these Brothers hate themselves, as it is argued, then the antidote is not just vehement opposition and criticism, but also the knowledge of self administered to them with love and an understanding that White supremacy could have produced Black conservatives who try to avoid a racial identity, just as it created so-called Negroes who love those who mistreat them. But again, I challenge anyone to prove to me that this same dynamic does not exist among Black liberals who do not have a penny to spend, an original thought to write, or stature among the people, without a White benefactor who they defer to. But the most powerful thing about a Thomas Sowell, is that even if he is on the wrong side of the street, in the wrong house, serving an evil master, he is showing that he has intellectually overcome that “master”. So couldn’t his detractors see him as one who has come up to become an intellectual master in the house in which he was enslaved? In that sense a partial analogy can be made comparing his impact on conservative thought to Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton overcoming White Democrats in debate. I immediately recognized that possibility when I read Insight magazine’s feature on Thomas Sowell, "Sowell Reaches Beyond Rhetoric"(http://www.insightmag.com/news/2004/03/16/Features/Picture.Profilesowell.Reaches.Beyond.Rhetoric-622720.shtml) which begins with these words, "There is no contemporary writer of greater importance to American conservatism than Thomas Sowell."
Perhaps, their Black critics could find room to think, one day, that Thomas Sowell, Armstrong Williams, Walter Williams, Larry Elder and others will be as comfortable identifying with the Black part of their label – "Black conservative/Black Republican" as the other part. Mocking them and perhaps driving them away from the larger community with vitriolic speech and cartoons, I think is an approach that has reached the point of diminishing returns for most of us, as a people.
In addition, I have also written about the pragmatic benefit of Blacks working together across ideological and partisan lines in politics. We touched on this regarding Congressman J.C. Watts in a December 3, 2001 editorial called, "The Importance Of Rep. J.C. Watts To The Black Electorate". I also think that there are interesting subjects that some Blacks on the right are more likely to raise than those on the Left. I wrote Larry Elder an e-letter on July 9, 2003 to elevate the attention he gave to insider trading. Although I clearly disagreed with him on the issue, I was grateful for his role in raising it, as a Black American.
Question: Cedric I like the way you distinguish between what you say are indigenous aspects of Black America and those that came from the outside onto what you call “the streets” sometimes. Can you tell me more about how you came to that type of analysis?
Cedric Muhammad: First, thank you. Well, I actually developed that insight while in the music business and doing political and economic consulting before BlackElectorate.com but, as I covered us as I have for four years, I came to be able to identify with more clarity the confluences of forces that operate on, and influence Blacks – as say, consumers, thinkers, and leaders. One of the insights that you may be referring to is that I never run from the reality of what slavery meant to us in the area of education. There was and still is a knowledge deficit. Part of it is specifically due to slavery, and the willful exclusivity that some Whites work to maintain in certain areas, disciplines and sciences. And part of this deficit exists because most Whites today equate time with repair. Rather than look at how futile programs and institutions have been in repairing what happened in slavery and the post-emancipation period; they look at the clock and say, ‘well, it has been 200 years since that happened to you, so enough, is enough…’ That is why I think it is almost hilarious to watch conservatives point out how government programs styled as repairing race were a waste of money, while liberals say that not enough has been done or spent. If you agree with both of them, as I often do, you realize that whether through policy omission, or policy error - nothing has repaired the damage. Just think about the implications of the Right’s critique of the Left and vice-versa. They both make accurate points which in and of themselves show largely why Blacks are in the condition they are today. But you can only have this clear view if you think scientifically in light of our history in America, rather than as one on the “Left” or the “Right”. If you just look at history and analyze the condition of the Black community juxtaposed to failed government programs and policies or just sheer opposition and negligence it is very clear that the analysis of our condition by those outside of our community is wanting.
So, this informed my view about “indigenous” versus “alien” aspects of Black thought, activism and politics. So many Black leaders and organizations are guided by the thinking of Whites in what they do that it is striking, especially when they work to place a Black face on the origin and nature of an “alien” idea. Economics is a field where you can see this very clearly – as the leading Black thinkers practically worship at the feet of John Maynard Keynes, or Karl Marx or Adam Smith. Education is another area where you can see Black intellectuals work to make an external paradigm or mode of politic fit our condition. But again, this is understandable, because when Whites in America and Europe were coming into contact with their great political philosophers and economists, Blacks were being stripped clean of the knowledge of themselves, their civilization, culture, and God; then kept illiterate; and then taught and later trained into the ideas of these popular philosophers and economists. Some of our suffering intellectuals found comfort in these worldviews and the acceptance that they gained from some Whites who were guided by these ideas. But sympathy does not equate to accuracy. There was something missing in socialism and communism, and in the mainstream and alternative education we, as Blacks have received – even the so-called revolutionary ideologies and consciousness that we embraced as activists, scholars and leaders.
Few Black educators want to admit how this has guided and informed our intellectuals and stifled Black creative and critical thinking of establishment views and White supremacy. In many ways we cannot think outside of the box, though we have been emancipated from slavery decades ago. This affects how we think and relate to one another. These ideas and those who authored and gave them to us actually have the potential to become “gods” in our lives and guiding and controlling forces as we seek freedom, justice and equality . I think theologian Minister Jabril Muhammad has put this principle the best and most succinctly over the years. He most recently summed up the core of the point I am making when he wrote in a March 2, 2004 Final Call article headlined, “Are we in the time of the Messiah’s Passion?”:
“Everyone has views on what is true and what is false. From our view of truth and falsehood, come our views of good and bad. These are called values. Values determine one’s self-concept, one’s views of others and of everything else. The source of our values is one’s god. If one offends your view of your god, you are offended at the very core of your being.”
Most Blacks today that call themselves progressives, conservatives or liberals don’t even know the origin of those terms in politics, and how they have evolved over the years. The vast majority of Blacks I know that call themselves socialists or communists have never even read Karl Marx’s book, Das Kapital. In effect, they do not know the origin of their own thinking and value system or who in fact they are really worshipping.
I often think of that when I see Black educators, political leaders and even religious leaders arguing with one another in the name of, or under the influence of “alien gods” and value systems that came from those outside of our community who never lived in or foresaw our condition in America, or Africa, for example. You can see this very clearly in how race is handled by political parties and by ideologues, across the political spectrum. Part of why this exists is because most political ideologues rigidly adhere to their models in ways that cause them to ignore facts and improperly interpret others. I am quoted in the February 2004 edition of The Source magazine on this subject, explaining the lack of outreach at times, of progressives and liberals toward Black opinion leaders, saying, “ I think most liberals and progressives are ideologues rather than truth-seekers. That’s why there has always been tension between minority communities in America and ideologues. Our communities have too many nuances to neatly fit an ideology…We are often ignored because we challenge establishment opinions wherever they are and because we deal forthrightly with race.”
Now when I say “indigenous” I am also referring to that which agrees with our nature, and that which is compatible with our culture – which is the outgrowth of our knowledge at a particular moment in time combined with norms, customs, traditions and value systems that we have inherited. One cannot simply insert a new initiative or idea into the community and think that intellectual agreement is enough to produce change. Human nature and human rigidity cannot be overlooked. That is why it is a bit humorous to see Republicans groping in the dark, so to speak, looking to make inroads into the Black community, on the basis of an idea or initiative, rather than the realities that exist on the ground or how those initiatives and ideas will be perceived in “the streets.”
So there exists this tension between, the desire for change and the desire for continuity and stability in the Black community; and the ability of political leaders to address the dissatisfaction of the people. My view is that the desire for change is being stifled greatly by the intellectual deference that Black educators, religious leaders, and politicians hold toward thinking that comes from Whites or non Blacks – living and dead – as policy and theory. These “alien” worldviews will never free Blacks, not simply because they are flawed or racist, but actually more because they were produced in another laboratory in history, in a culture, and among a people dissimilar to our condition in America, and in various situations thoroughout the world. This is a tremendous subject that requires a multi-disciplinarian approach. The anthropologist, theologian, economist, historian, political scientist, medical professional etc… all play an important role in explaining this phenomenon with precision.
Question:Are you as disappointed in the Congressional Black Caucus as I am?
Cedric Muhammad:I am not sure that I know how disappointed you are (smile). But I can say that when we first started BlackElectorate.com, I think I had a very optimistic view of the potential power of the CBC. To an extent it was a form of naiveté because I did not understand how Washington D.C. and Congress worked. So after covering the CBC extensively for BlackElectorate.com and meeting the members, seeing the behind the scenes, becoming friends with young Black staffers etc… I did become somewhat disenchanted with the contradictions I saw in the principles espoused and the practices carried out by the CBC. But more recently, looking at the origin and evolution of the CBC, I can place them in their proper context, and envision the true role and function they serve for Black people in America and the world. It is a more modest role than they advertise, but a critical one, nonetheless. I look forward, as an adviser and consultant, to helping to make the CBC members stronger and more accountable to the Black Electorate. But the key to understanding the CBC’s successes and failures is knowing the historical context in which they emerged, the evolution of redistricting, the different collective and individual motivations and pressures that exist among the various members, the institutional structure of Congress; and the relationship the CBC currently has with the Democratic Party.
Question: Where are we in our political evolution since the Emancipation Proclamation?
Cedric Muhammad: I will take your question and touch on it from a national perspective. Quite honestly, as I once said on MSNBC, we have not moved out of the dynamics of the relationship we originally had with America’s two-party system. The same relationship we have on a national level today with the Democratic Party, is virtually the same relationship we had in the latter 1800s into the early 1900s with the Republican Party. We are ignored and taken for granted today as we were 150 years ago and beyond. We seek and celebrate appointments to the presidential cabinet today, and we did the same years ago, when the Postmaster General was the seat from which Blacks received patronage and appointments from Republicans. Perhaps, the experiences and fate of Black appointees under President Clinton, namely Ron Brown, Lani Guinier, and Mike Espy; as well as Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell under President Bush (43) will wake us up out of our equating appointments for a few high-profile blacks with political progress for our people as a whole. I think all of us have to be honest about this system and the people who run it, and we need to reassess whether the way we celebrate political activity is in proportion with reality and the nature and structure of the American political system. Voting and politics is not our salvation as many would have us believe, although I believe that if we were more sophisticated and clear in our self-enlightened interest, we could extract so much from the current system, even with all of its flaws. Having said that, unless Blacks get serious about political reform (especially ideas and strategies that have been advanced by two Black women, Dr. Lani Guinier and Dr. Lenora Fulani), and become more familiar with how the two-party system, from its inception, has been characterized by a “gentleman’s agreement” between the two major parties to keep race off of the national political stage; we will be largely ineffective. Political scientists ignore or gloss over the racial implications of the origin and nature of the major national political parties in America. I have sometimes marveled at how Blacks who can realize that slavery was an issue that almost permanently divided this nation cannot see that one of the means by which the national parties were built in this country was by leaving the issue of slavery and its legacy out of political coalition building. I intend to get into this in 2004 at BlackElectorate.com in order to shed light on how hard it is for Blacks to get either party to deal with Black issues.
Now, as far as our more recent evolution I have to say that it is marked by a lack of real progress in obtaining the demands of a significant segment of Blacks. Last month marked the 32nd year anniversary of the Gary, Indiana Black political convention; and I was reading through the history and newspaper articles on that convention a couple of weeks ago and was struck by how similar the demand and agenda of that convention are to what many Blacks say is being left off of the platforms of both major parties today. Interestingly there was a demand for reparations made back then. By my rough estimate at least 60 to 70% of what made the agenda in Gary, Indiana would make a Black agenda today. So, the questions that arose in my mind were regarding the inability of Black elected officials, appointees and activists to obtain most of what we desired 30 years ago. And this, I believe is as much a failure of the Black nationalist, progressive, business, radical, pan-Africanist, and activist community as it is of the civil rights movement. The closest thing we had to Gary, in my view, in terms of a broad-cross section of Black leaders, meeting as they did in Gary, was the historic NAACP meeting in Baltimore in 1994. Then look at what happened to the NAACP right after that. A few weeks ago Rev. Al Sharpton told me on the BlackElectorate.com segment of Matsimela Mapfumo’s “Make It Plain” show, that there should be a national convention this year for us to ensure that our agenda items are placed before the Democratic Party. I think it is a wise strategy to revisit Gary 1972 and Baltimore 1994 and consider an inclusive Black political convention that develops an agenda and plan of engagement of both the two party system, independent political parties, and the institutions of initiative and referendum.
Lastly, as I advised Rev. Al Sharpton, I think we would be wise to study the presidential election of 1912, and the political maneuvering of that year, and that in prior elections of both Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. The history is rich for us to develop strategy and tactics for 2004.
Question: Mister Muhammad ,Thank you for the opportunity to ask a question. Apparently you receive e-mails quite often yet as an internet novice I have never been able to figure out how such a seemingly simple task, so this is a moment that I have waited for . My question is this; Why isn't the Socialist Equality Party listed on your link to political parties? I was introduced to their organ the World Socialist Web-Site ( www.wsws.org ) by a link from the BEC and I am forever grateful to you for that as they give a continually objective analysis to a number of interesting topics.
Cedric Muhammad: I am happy to learn that you found the World Socialist Website through BlackElectorate.com. It is one of my favorites, although I don’t know how objective they are (smile). They certainly do raise important issues and have very well-written and clear articles. I look forward to including the Socialist Equality Party in our links. Thank You for pointing this out to me, and thanks for being a thoughtful viewer.
Question:What political figure has impressed you the most since you started the website?
Cedric Muhammad:I would have to say that in some ways it has been Donna Brazile. I understand that she has an autobiography forthcoming and I am very much looking forward to reading it, reviewing it, and interviewing her. I think she is a treasure of political knowledge for the Black electorate and after having a three-hour lunch with her in 2002, I was convinced that there is so much more to this Sister’s brilliance than comes across on CNN or in public appearances that she makes. Her concern for Black men also touched me very deeply. We would be wise to protect her and encourage her to be stronger on our behalf as she works the system. I do not think there is a person, operating from the inside, who has more understanding of the mechanics of the American political system. Cynthia McKinney is another person who has greatly impressed me. She is a truth-seeker and I have not met a more intelligent politician who is as much a student as she is a leader or teacher. I have lovingly told her that she is an investigative reporter trapped in a legislator’s body. It will be remarkable and a source of great inspiration if she is able to return to Congress after having faced a frontal attack from the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the onslaught of the mainstream media. She did not openly fight back, but she clearly did not wither or alter her positions like so many weaker Black politicians have and would have. I am impressed by her love for youth and her sensitivity to Hip-Hop culture. She has great balance and thinks like a Mother, Sister, Scholar and Warrior, simultaneously. I have to say that perhaps there is no more humble, honest, and adroit politician that I have met than Dr. Lenora Fulani. She comes as close to being a person who honestly does not give a damn what people think of them, as I have seen. Once she analyzes a situation and commits to a strategy, I have never seen a person more flexible in the tactics – the “how” by which they go about obtaining that strategy. In a way, it is Dr. Fulani more than any other Black political figure who lives up to the CBC’s credo of - “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies – only permanent interests.”
I know I have mentioned all Sisters here, but they have impressed me more than any of the Brothers in politics. I told Donna Brazile once that I would be honored to one day have dinner with her, Dr. Fulani, Cynthia McKinney and Sister Souljah because of what they all mean to me and because I would love to see them become tight in a powerful Sisterhood. They are four women who have suffered greatly by their contact with the American political system, and they have carried the weight for us in so many untold ways.
Question: My question relates to education. What can be done by African-Americans nationally to encourage excellence in school and homework for our black youth across all classes and communities, poorer, middleclass, and wealthy?
Cedric Muhammad: Just do it. This is another area where I believe that Blacks unnecessarily allow a human need to be politicized. To hell with this voucher-vs.-public schools debate that serves the interests of Republicans trying to make money and inroads into the Black community and the teachers’ unions on the Left. Blacks don’t need any political party to tell them what is wrong with much of the public school system. Just roll up into one and you will see the poor facilities, lack of resources, lack of discipline, apathetic, underpaid, and frightened teachers and the wicked mis-education that takes place. Money can correct some of this, building alternative indigenous institutions of learning and other private schools can help, voting bums off of the local school board can help, using Hip-Hop and the arts as teaching tools, and implementing new management techniques and strategies can help. We just have to accept responsibility and take over what is happening – through politics, economics, or cultural mechanisms, and love and concern for the children.
I once wrote something on June 19, 2001 at BlackElectorate.com entitled, "The Black Electorate Accepts False Choices On Education Reform" that showed that if you got rid of wasteful spending in government and military defense you could have plenty of money to send to public schools and pay for vouchers for 150,000 students for seven years! I wrote: “It took us about 30 minutes to identify the necessary resources to provide $50 billion in spending for public education as well as an additional $7 billion dollars, which would provide $6,500 vouchers to over 150,000 students, for 7 years!”.
It is not hard to think critically and creatively once you are clear on your motive and objective.
As far as discipline and safety go, all these beautiful and powerful Black Brothers and Sisters in churches, mosques, activist, civic, and grassroots organizations in inner-cities can alternate and patrol the neighborhoods where these schools are, monitor the halls, and mentor and tutor children. We don’t need a President to tell us how to make sure no child is left behind, we don’t need some Hollywood actress serving as a spokesperson for public schools telling us they need more money, and I don’t need some conservative or libertarian telling me that school-choice represents the next phase of the civil rights movement.
Look at this article from USA Today "Military Schools Producing Strong Army Of Solid Performance". I attended Department Of Defense schools when I was younger and the key insight that you gain from this article and the experience is that the military community and the institution that it revolves around are committed to a common goal, and their willpower is enormous in pursuing the quality education of the children. They hold guardians, teachers and students accountable – for performance and participation. It is part of the measure of whether one is in “good standing” in the community and its dominant institution. This is an important cultural element to the education reform process that you will rarely hear discussed by the political Left or Right. It is amazing what a united community can do with values, norms and standards it sets that don’t cost money. We can exhibit the same level of unity in the inner city as a military base or post exhibits in another part of the world.
All this takes is common-sense, unity and some sophistication and Black folks doing their own critical and creative thinking, no longer allowing teachers’ unions or vouchers’ advocates to use us to get what they want.
It all comes back to the insight of having that self-enlightened interest that I have been bearing witness to for four years now.
Monday, April 5, 2004