Black Intellectuals Decry White House ‘Beer Summit’

Zenitha Prince, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), July 30, 2009

Despite the overwhelming election of President Barack Obama, the inherent prejudice against people of color remains alive and well in American society, said a panel of Black intellectuals, critics and activists today.

“This whole notion of a post-racial society is ridiculous, we need to stop saying it, we need to stop even talking about it,” said BET’s Jeff Johnson. “Let’s be honest about the fact that many of us from all races are racist. . . . We’ve lied about progress.”

The statement was part of an assessment of the “State of Black America,” an annual conversation held at the yearly convention of the National Urban League, which produces a report of the same name.

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But unlike some in the media who saw the meeting as a significant step forward in resolving the issue of racial profiling and the underlying prejudice, many on the panel thought it was a mostly empty gesture.

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“I’m offended by the discussion at the White House,” [Johnson] said, “because if they were serious about solving this problem, Gates would be there, Crowley would be there, but so would Tyrone and Shaniqua and other young people who have dealt with this kind of psychosis from the police; they are not represented in this conversation.”

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Johnson said solving that overarching problem of deep-seated racism is something that has to happen on a personal level, he’s more concerned about acts of discrimination within government agencies.

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Calling for the federal government to withhold funding from police departments that practice racial profiling and for the empowerment of citizen review boards to conduct reviews of police behavior, Johnson said it will take the coordinated effort of community organizations to push for those changes.

“If we’re going to be serious, it is not President Obama’s job. It is the job of organizations like the National Urban League [and] the NAACP,” he said. “There are roles each of us has to play. But we are playing checkers instead of playing chess. And so the movement is, ‘well, I want my organization to get to the end and king me.’ And we’re just sliding across the board as kings and not really making any impact.”

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There were some who disagreed with Bernard’s [MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard] postulation that a good education would automatically bring parity to African-American communities.

Princeton University professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell said the idea mirrored comedian and actor, Bill Cosby’s theory that “if we would all just be sufficiently respectable–pull up your pants, stop listening to hip-hop, name your kid Tina instead of Tanisha, whatever . . . you can attain equality.”

“If nothing else,” she said, “the Gates’ arrest proves the lie that is the Cosby thesis. Education does not save in that moment.”

Dyson [George Washington University professor Michael Eric Dyson] mirrored Harris-Lacewell’s concern that Blacks have to be “super citizens” in order to be accepted in American society, saying Gates’ case proved that such effort does not change the basic facts. “Don’t buy the fallacy that your education and your pedigree–whether you’re at Harvard or the White House–exempt you from being treated like a n-gg-r,” he said, eliciting cheers. “High-, middle-class and educated elites must never think that they’re not implicated [in discriminatory acts] against Taniqua and Shaniqua and Mohammed because on the wrong day, that could be your Black a-s too.”

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