Revolutionary Worker #913, June 29, 1997
Once the U.S. promised Black people "40 acres and a mule"--now it offers doubletalk from a jackass.
On June 14 President Clinton went to the University of California at San Diego and called for an national, year-long "candid conversation on the state of race relations today." The goal, he says, is to "become one America in the 21st century."
Clinton calls for honesty in this "conversation." And the mind starts to rebel right there: The name Clinton has no right to share a sentence with the word "honesty," especially when the issue is "race." Clinton talks about "overcoming discrimination and prejudice." But people have memories! Remember Clinton's rude dumping of Lani Guinier (for saying that African Americans are a distinct people within the United States). This is the Clinton whose welfare repeal law is driving millions deeper into poverty. The same Clinton who speaks about upholding affirmative action while he personally abolishes federal set-asides for minority businesses.
In San Diego Clinton discussed how in 50 years European-Americans will no longer form a majority in the United States. His concern then is to adjust and adapt the structures and ideas of U.S. capitalism so that it will remain politically stable. These are the concerns of a man responsible for preserving this system. That is what motivates his call for a "conversation on race."
Meanwhile, as one observer pointed out, the sound you hear in America today is college doors slamming in the faces of Black and Latino students, as affirmative action programs are dismantled. The U.S. power structure can't even take down the Confederate flag from statehouses or agree to issue a public apology for slavery. In fact, they can't even resist bringing back chain gangs and putting shackled Black prisoners on display along roadways!
Given this reality--what possible reason is there to believe that this system, this president and this "conversation" offer anything but oppression wrapped up in some new packaging?
But if Clinton wants a big debate--come on with it!
We could start by having elders and youth from the housing projects come into every college classroom to teach about realities of life in the U.S.
Black kids could address high school assemblies to describe what it is like to be stopped and beaten by police--because of the color of your skin.
The Texaco employees could tour the country describing what corporate life is like for those who were called "Black jelly beans stuck to the bottom."
How about a bilingual weekly talk show on TV led by people who rose up in the L.A. Rebellion?
How much more honest conversations would be in the U.S., if thousands of middle class people spent a night at the border--sharing a campfire with immigrants hiding from the immigration police. Or if assembly lines stopped for a few hours, and undocumented workers explained to everyone what life was like in their home countries, and what U.S. imperialism had done to them there and here. Or if tours were set up through the courthouses and lockups so more people can understand why Black people say "justice means just us."
If Clinton wants to have a "candid conversation" this year, well we revolutionaries would like to issue a public challenge--to debate anyone from the power structure who wants to defend this brutal system and the way it oppresses whole peoples.
Is the power structure ready to make all the changes that would be needed to end the inequality and oppression faced by Black people, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians in this country?
Let's talk about how the oppression of Black people is not just a matter of individuals being denied opportunity, but how it is the systematic oppression of a whole nation of people--from slavery til today. Let's talk about the importance of winning over European-Americans to support the right of self-determination for Black people.
Let's talk about independence for Puerto Rico.
Let's discuss land--autonomy for Native American peoples and upholding the right of Chicano people to land denied them in violation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Let's analyze the ruptures that would be needed in the laws of profit and property--so that wealth and resources could be marshaled and employed to end inequality and uplift people who have been shoved to the bottom.
Let's discuss the redirection of production, the break from the corporate "bottom line," the liberating of funds and labor that would be needed to create decent housing, schools and hospitals where currently there are none.
Let's talk about the upheaval that would be required to end a situation where half of Black and Latino kids are born into poverty--where tuberculosis is making a comeback, and where there is a national children's asthma epidemic caused by the uncontrolled spread of cockroaches.
Let's discuss the uprooting of privilege and prejudice that would be needed to open the doors of education and break down the segregation of neighborhoods--the changes in how classrooms are run, and how teachers are trained, and how school books are written. The changes that would have to be made in how homes are built and who gets them, how local zoning is done, how schools are funded and how mass transportation is built.
Let's talk about language: About how the second-class status imposed on Spanish, Black English, Chinese and the various Native languages have ghettoized millions of people and suppressed their cultures. Let's talk about what it would take to change that--in the way language is taught, and how ideas are communicated throughout the society.
Let's talk about which forms of culture get special grants and palaces like New York's Lincoln Center, and which forms of culture get squashed and dissed. What kind of cultural revolution that would be needed to erase the subtle and unsubtle racism of movies and TV--and to celebrate and share the cultures of peoples from all over the world?
Let's talk about what it would take to finally and decisively scrub away the deeply imbedded white supremacist ideology that this society uses to poison the minds of people like Timothy McVeigh. What are the profound changes of power that would be needed before schools, universities, and the media were used for that kind of information and education? Who's going to rehabilitate Howard Stern? And what kind of an upheaval will it take to get these racist d.j.s off the airwaves for good?
Let's discuss sports--where after decades of saying "Black people are taking over athletics," the U.S. suddenly "discovers" that a major sport has been excluding Black people and that Tiger Woods is literally walking where Black people have been forbidden to walk. Think about all the business deals done on the golf courses and ask what this continuing discrimination says about the exclusion of Black people from the capitalist decisions that run this society.
Let's talk about cops and jail--about the criminalization that is being imposed on a whole generation of youth from the ghettos and barrios. What will it take to defeat this conscious policy of the ruling class to railroad a whole section of youth into prison? What kind of power will it take to push back the police-state clampdown on whole neighborhoods--and what kind of organizing will create that power?
Let's talk about real justice and what will get it. How will we open the prison doors for those whose crime is poverty? What will it take to strip power away from those who use gavels or nightsticks to abuse the people? What will it take to uproot the laws that protect property and privilege, that enforce poverty and discrimination?
And let's talk about how capitalist profit drives the continuing discrimination and oppression against Black people and others in this society--how this system benefits by paying Black people lower wages, and by keeping millions of people unemployed and desperate for a job.
Let's talk about what it would take to construct a society here that puts human beings, not money, at the center of decisions--that looks beyond greed and self, that bases itself on the real interests of the people, here and around the world.
When you think about what it would take to really end the oppression of Black people and all people of color within the U.S.--then it becomes clearer why the people who run this system have no solution for the problems of "race relations."
Clinton talks about "creating one America"--but this system has had many chances to do that--as Clinton himself admits. Chairman Avakian spoke to this: "Here were these major turning points--after the Civil War and then again after World War 2, with Reconstruction and then with the Civil Rights Movement--where the question was sharply, directly, and decisively posed: will the system give everybody equal rights? And the system answered NO! It was not simply a matter that the ruling class would not do this, but more profoundly it was the fact that they could not.... And there was a material reason for that: it could not be done by the bourgeoisie without tearing to shreds their whole system."
Clinton will never consider "tearing to shreds their whole system."
But there are many who will.
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