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Sunday, August 17, 2014

“Racist”, “Racism” epithet silly, counterproductive

Clarity looking back
By Carolyn Bennett

Yelling “racist,” “racism” is just too easy. Clearly, we have problems, serious problems. We as a nation of people, a race of people, as human beings we have problems; but we do not conceive them accurately or handle them appropriately by using disparaging characterizations such as “racist” and “racism.” How would you feel if someone belittled you or called you names?

Looking at name calling another way, only the defensive, the ignorant, the lazy resort to smoke screens and name-calling, tactics to avoid looking at themselves (ourselves) and or to divert attention from themselves (ourselves). To avoid ignorance, one needs to take an unblinking look at history and study the varieties of interpretations of history. 

For those preferring the easy charge of “racist”/“racism,” what do you call it when your tribe commits unspeakable cruelties against members of your tribe?  What happened to Fannie Lou Hamer in 1963 and the MOVE Organization in 1984 was unspeakably cruel.

   n the summer of 1963 (June 9), the Ruleville, Mississippi, native and American voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer was traveling with other activists from a literacy workshop in Charleston, South Carolina. They stopped in Winona, Mississippi, and were arrested on a trumped-up charge and thrown into jail. While in the Winona jail, “Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death.” History texts and various biographies have reported the horrors of what happened to Hamer:

She was taken out of one jail cell and transported to a separate cell.

Under orders of a State Highway Patrol officer, two Negro (black male) prisoners bludgeoned Hamer with a police blackjack.

The first prisoner beat her until he was exhausted.

The law enforcement officer then ordered the second prisoner to beat her.

Only after three days were members of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) allowed to take Hamer to a hospital.

These black men had a choice and they made the personal decision to follow orders and brutalize this black woman, one of their own tribe. Hamer later reported that in physiological terms the beating caused her “permanent kidney damage, a blood clot in the artery of her left eye, and a limp.”

In 1964 before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic Party National Convention convening in New Jersey, Fannie Lou Hamer, then founding member (along with Ella Baker and Robert Parris Moses) of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), spoke about the struggle to register and vote and about that June 1963 Winona jailhouse beating.

‘All of this is on account [of our wanting] to register, to become first-class citizens. If the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated [credentialed] now, I question America.

‘Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave -- where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives [are] threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings…?’

This occurred 50 years ago and, in the light of Ferguson, Missouri, I have to wonder what Americans of Missouri or Mississippi, Massachusetts, Maine or California have been doing together all these years for securing and cementing rights and justice for all of America’s inhabitants, citizens and noncitizens? Apparently not much: In 1984, twenty years after that New Jersey Democratic National convention, another black male committed and received accolades for committing a barbaric act against black people. This horrendous event happened in one of America’s 13 original colonies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “Racist”/ “racism” yellers take note.

  hiladelphia elected its “first black mayor,” Willie Wilson Goode, in 1984; and in 1985, Goode’s government presided over the bombing of a house and neighborhood inhabited by the MOVE Organization. MOVE is a Philadelphia-based group founded in 1972 of mostly black people who “lived communally and frequently engaged in public demonstrations related to issues they deemed important.” After this egregious act of violence (bringing to mind today’s U.S. federal officials’ bombings of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and others)  the citizens of this ‘city of brotherly love” granted Wilson Goode a second term in office. 

MOVE still exists and Fannie Lou Hamer (b. October 6, 1917-March 14, 1977) devoted a lifetime to securing constitutional rights, human rights, first-class citizenship. The United States of America, however, has failed to continuously progress and is today in a state of regress on human rights and constitutional rights – and a black male is into a second term as head of state. 

    often ask myself what I have done with my life. If all I can answer is that I have bought this or that – then the answer is I have done nothing with my life. If can measure my life only in terms of possessions, then I have nothing to show for my life. If I measure my life in comparison to others’ acquisitions, then I have wasted my life.

Yelling “racist” and “racism” shuts off conversation, denies relationship. Nothing moral, human, important or of lasting value is achieved through violence or inflammatory language. I know of no instance in which Fannie Lou Hamer -- whose life was a heck of a lot harder than my life -- yelled “racists.”  

Fannie Lou Hamer did not have much formal schooling – not of the Howard and Harvard varieties (quality education was denied in her era), certainly, no access to an Internet as there was none, or any similarly easily accessible information database – but she was never stupid, ignorant or inflammatory. She was never asking even for a single-party-line phone let alone “iphones” and “Blackberries”, even Fords and Chevrolets, or the “right” to buy these things. Her quest was fundamental, essential, never trivial. 

Fannie Lou Hamer (her last name pronounced as in “name r”) neither trivialized substantive issues nor disparaged other individuals. She set about working on the problems and documenting the struggle. She was a wise, civil, moral and nonviolent leader; she was a citizen who sought a place at the table for those denied to serve as an equal among a citizenry of equals.

Sources and notes

Fannie Lou Hamer

In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer ran for Congress in the Mississippi state Democratic primary.  She participated in rallies and spoke to college and university students across the United States. In 1965, she led the cotton picker’s resistance movement and helped bring a Head Start program to Ruleville, Mississippi, her hometown, and was involved in other programs throughout Mississippi. From 1968-1971, she was a Democratic Party National Committee Representative.



Participation in the state Democratic Party was “whites only” and generations of African-American (Negro, black American, colored) Mississippians had been denied voting rights. In 1961, SNCC and COFO began campaigns against what was often “violent opposition to register black voters.”

The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was a coalition of the major Civil Rights Movement organizations operating in Mississippi.

Formed in 1962, COFO’s mission was to coordinate and unite voter registration and other civil rights activities in the state and oversee the distribution of funds from the Voter Education Project.

It was instrumental in forming the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. COFO member organizations included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; often pronounced "snick": /ˈsnɪk/) was one of the most important organizations of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It emerged from a student meeting organized by Ella Baker held at Shaw University in April 1960. SNCC grew into a large organization with many supporters in the North who helped raise funds to support SNCC's work in the South, allowing full-time SNCC workers to have a $10 per week salary. Many unpaid volunteers also worked with SNCC on projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland.

SNCC played a major role in 
 sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Smmer, and
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party 
Its major contributions: fieldwork organizing voter registration drives all over the South, especially in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. 

The U.S. state of Mississippi law in 1963 denied black (Negro, colored) Americans the vote so before the November general election, black Americans “organized an alternative ‘Freedom Ballot’ to take place at the same time as the November voting.” Approximately, “80,000 people cast freedom ballots for an integrated slate of candidates.”


Wilson Goode



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