My Q&A with Ralph Nader and Randall Robinson Re: The Black Electorate
On Monday, September 25th, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to ask Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and one of his key supporters, Randall Robinson, President of Trans Africa Forum, a couple of questions regarding the position of the Nader 2000 campaign juxtaposed to the Black Electorate. Their answers provide a rare window into the Nader campaign's views on the racial divide in this country and the amount of thought the Nader campaign has given to issues of race and class in this country.
Here is the brief exchange between Cedric Muhammad, Publisher of Black Electorate.com and Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader and TransAfrica Forum President, Randall Robinson:
Cedric Muhammad: On paper the Nader campaign's position on the death penalty and environmental racism and a few other issues would seem to fill a void for Black voters who are dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, which is increasingly seen as not answering the concerns of the Black Electorate. In light of that, why has there been a perception of late, that the Nader campaign has been insensitive to the concerns of the Black electorate and that you have not been willing to target your message to the Black electorate? What steps will you (Mr. Nader) and Mr. Robinson take to correct that perception in the future?
Mr. Nader: One (reason for this) is that the press is not reporting our positions on these issues when we go into low-income areas and are not reporting our record. Because the first, second, third and fourth question I get is, "Am I worried about taking this election away from Al Gore?" In other words I get the [political] 'horse race' questions.
The second reason for this is that a lot of leaders in low-income areas with minorities have already signed up for the Democratic Party. And they want to win for the Democratic Party.
Randall Robinson: Over the last five years 75% of those who have been executed in America have been Black or Latino. 50% of them have been African-American. All on the Democrats' watch. The criminal justice system is broken and indefensibly discriminatory - all on the Democratic Party's watch. We all know that a Democrat can lose the White House with Black support but no Democrat can expect to be elected president without Black support.
We have been reliable for all too many years in responding to the Democratic Party's call for support. It has only produced for the Black community a few cabinet positions, judgeships and jobs throughout the administration. But in area after area the Black community is worse off than it was 20 years ago.
Because the Democratic Party has come to take our support for granted it does not take its commitments to us seriously. It has come to be offensive and insulting.
For the first time in a long time we have a candidate who talks seriously about serious issue; whose life work is there as a demonstration of the authenticity of that commitment. I think it would do wonders for our democracy were the Black community to re-think this four-year reflex that we have been governed by for all too terribly long. Democrats say to us "this is what we need"; we say to them "this is what we need". We keep our promise; they have never kept theirs.
Cedric Muhammad: Your (Randall Robinson's) big issue this year and one of the most popular issues among the Black electorate has been reparations. I see the comprehensive nature of the Nader platform on race issues but I didn't see anything on reparations*. Is there a commitment on the part of yourself and specifically Mr. Nader to raise reparations to the level of a campaign issue in the last two months of the campaign season?
Randall Robinson: I'll let Ralph address that directly to you but let me say a little bit preliminarily about that. Blacks were enslaved in this country 246 years. That period of slavery was followed by a century of de jure racial segregation and discrimination. Whites became rich and many institutions were begun. Georgetown University had its buildings built by slaves. The Capitol of the United States was built by slaves. Brown Brothers endowed Brown University and began what became Fleet Bank by building slave shapes.
This country earned more from the export of cotton than from all of its other exports put together. America became a rich country and everyone became wealthy because the government taxed cotton. People who made ropes; the people who built ships; the people who made the plantations run; everyone became wealthy except the people who produced the cotton -- they were never paid.
Abraham Lincoln proposed compensation for the slave owners but nothing for the slaves. So we approach the 20th century of de facto slavery and we stand here today in an economy where an African-American only earns 71 cents for every dollar a white earns. When one is an African-American college graduate, it moves up to 72 cents - for four years of college work we gain one cent.
This gap separating Black Americans from White Americans is relegating terribly many of us to poverty and is static and destructive. And as we have supported compensation to Jewish-Americans and Jews throughout the world. And as we have supported compensation to Japanese Americans; supported compensation for Koreans exploited by the Japanese government; supported compensation for Native Canadians or First Canadians; the only group in the world, the group that suffered the longest abuse - the longest running human rights crime in the world over the last 500 years; the only group to have received no compensation, not even a simple acknowledgement and apology are African-Americans.
This (issue of reparations) was raised to Gore and he scoffed at it. That should cost him all of Black America's support in and of itself. I'll let Mr. Nader speak to you on this issue.
Ralph Nader: I agree with Randall Robinson and what he wrote in his book The Debt.
He also said this is not about cash to individuals. This is about recognizing one of the two worst crimes on the North American continent - slavery being one; the genocide of the Indian tribes being the other. It is all about building a massive and coordinated program to lift African-Americans, to lift their children out of the pits of intolerance, racism and poverty, disease and lack of care.
We need a Marshall Plan, in this place, with a coordinated strategy. Taking some of the assets that corporations, that, to this day, are benefiting from slavery - such as Aetna insurance company and others -- and marshalling the resources in a national demonstration of contrition and grace and with the healing, it would be, the mounting up of our nation with its head high, for prosperity.
* Actually the Nader website does address the reparations issue but under the heading "restitution"
Wednesday, September 27, 2000