Sometimes, even the simplest pleasure becomes a burden when the ever-present commercial market imposes its will. I was settling in for a night of entertainment watching the match between Serena and Venus on September 7th, 2002. All I wanted to do was watch this match between two sisters of incredible athletic ability and awesome beauty. Being required to oppose each other even though there was this bond of love and sympathy between them, their matches always provide suspense, drama and fascination.
Instead, I was first presented with the almost inevitable contamination of a naturally pure human event. I have become immune to the incessant and banal commercials; besides, there is always the remote that allows me to switch to something less debased by commercial greed. Then, they rolled out the American flag and the military drum corp. It was, after all, September 7, 2002, just one year after 9/11/01 and in New York.
This faultless athletic event was being corrupted by a ruling elite that cared nothing for the people who died on 9/11, nothing about the city of New York, and for that matter nothing about the United States. Most major corporations and obscenely rich people have abandoned their US citizenship so they can save money on taxes. For instance, General Motors has sold its logo to a corporation in the Bahamas. Why? So they lease it back and then use it as a cost against taxes. That is, so they can further impoverish the people of this country.
So I was going to have to suffer through this hypocritical show of patriotism in order to enjoy the match. It was only a few days earlier that the audience was supporting foreign players so that the dominance of the Williams sisters would be thwarted. Somehow, this entire scenario was turned upside down when Aretha Franklin began to sing. When Aretha sings the word freedom, it becomes a demand for liberation, not support for an idealized concept that is used for oppression of working people. I wish I had a tape of the performance because it was such a subtle but powerful performance that I still only vaguely understand what she did. But it certainly was the opposite of what the media moguls who orchestrated the event expected.
This event illustrates how the African-American community both consciously and unconsciously translates into action a moral vision for American. In the face of market forces that constantly and incessantly concentrate wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people, the African-American community consistently provides a vision for the emancipation of the working class. It is a vision that necessarily promotes tolerance and opposes oppression. It recognizes that democracy includes the right to vote without intimidation and the right to work without discrimination. Most importantly, this vision celebrates our differences.
As William Faulkner has said, the past is never dead, it is not even past. Faced with the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, Faulkner understood that the present is defined by the past. The courage and intelligence and success of that struggle for liberation set and define the moral basis for our movement. It is central to the emancipation of the working class in this country. It haunts the right wing just as they use it to gain and maintain power. Just as the Republican Party was poised to take away every benefit that the working class fought for, including social security, Trent Lott managed to open his mouth and express not only his true view of history that segregation was good and should have continued but also how the Republican Party came to power.
George the Second came to power exploiting every aspect of racism through the use of code words and dissimulation. It is no accident that Florida’s repressive political system was the vehicle for the seizure of power by the Bush cabal. Illegally eliminating thousands and thousands of Black votes from the voter registration lists, Secretary of State Harris set the foundation for the seizure of power. Then, initial intimidation was used to exclude other Black and Latino voters. Even that flagrant flaunting of the law was insufficient so the Bush cabal turned to the radical reactionaries sitting on the Supreme Court to seal the deal, thereby destroying any semblance of democracy in this country.
In 1876, it was Florida that set the basis for Jim Crow segregation in the South. During the turmoil of the 2000 election, the New York Times, that bastion of conservatism, did acknowledge that this same tactic of using racism to establish political power in the South had been used before. The New York Times (11/12/00) stated:
“That gave Hayes 185 electoral votes and left Tilden with 184.
The incensed Democrats threatened retaliation. They said they would engage in a filibuster that would prevent the completion of the electoral count until Inauguration Day came and there was no president. They vowed to congest the streets of Washington and prevent Hayes from being inaugurated. Democrats organized armed bands and, threatening ‘Tilden or blood’, said they would physically put Tilden in the White House. There was real fear that war would break out.
Then something happened. Historians disagree on exactly what it was. Some believe that a compromise was reached at a hotel meeting between emissaries of the two parties. At that meeting, a deal was supposedly brokered that, among other things, stipulated that if Hayes became president, he would remove the remaining federal troops stationed in the South, effectively ending Reconstruction, a matter of great importance to the Southern states. That did in fact happen, but whether it was a formal quid pro quo linked to Hayes’s assumption of office is unclear.” (Emphasis added)
The South has controlled the politics of this country for 200 years. First, the slave states politically controlled the country. Then, the Hayes-Tilden sellout allowed the imposition of a reign of terror on the Black community and the reinstitution of Southern dominance of American politics. The southern strategy was nothing more than a recruitment of the most racist demons of our society, promoting them and dressing them to look a little less savage. That is why Ronald Reagan went to Philadelphia, Mississippi to kick off his 1980 campaign. Starting where Andrew Goodman, Michel Schwerner and James Clancey were murdered trying to register African-Americans to vote, Ronald Reagan stated: “I believe in states’ rights.” (See Bob Herbert 12/12/02 New York Times) This is not very subtle since it was an open endorsement of murder. The malignant barbarism of racism was barely hidden. But the right wing press glossed it over. Through the use of barely hidden racist messages, the Republican Party has polarized this country. Using “wedge” issues, it has separated the Democratic Party from its working class base. Wedge issues are simply stated hate issues. Generate enough hate and working people can be made to act against their economic self-interest.
It is important to realize that the African-American community is the core of the working class. This community not only performs most of the most oppressive and poorly paid jobs; this community is also a key element of the trade union movement. Whether it is the demand for better housing or universal health care, this community is and will be the political base for that movement. Whether it is the demand for a stronger union movement or women’s liberation, this community must be the political base. The unity of working people is the only basis for change. As Abraham Lincoln said: “The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside the family relation, should be one unity all working people of all nations and tongues and kindred.”
Finally, thanks to Trent Lott, the Republican media has been forced to allow some discussion of racism. The confusion in this discussion is illustrated the article by Jeffrey Gittleman in the Sunday NYT of 12/22/02. In discussing the career of S. Ernest Vandiver, he conceded that his segregationist slogan “No, not one” was racist. Gittleman then states:
Talking to him (Van Diver) today, you can feel the weight of history upon him. “I said a lot of intemperate things back then that I now have to live with,” said the 84-year-old Mr. Vandiver, who was governor from 1959 to 1963. “All I can say now is that you are of your time.” Today there is wide consensus that racial segregation is reprehensible and immoral. But 40 years ago that wasn’t so clear.” (Emphasis added)
The conservative movement has spent billions of propaganda dollars railing against moral relativism. Yet, when it comes to racism, moral relativism is not only accepted, it is condoned. The moral bankruptcy of Jim Crow segregation was absolutely clear 40 years ago. It was equally clear 100 years ago. It was the conservative movement that was wrong then and it is the conservative movement that is wrong now. The only difference is that the Republican Party now defines that movement, supports it, nourishes it and provides the political voice of the movement. It remains a movement founded on racism. It is morally bankrupt.
That is why the progressive movement will always necessarily begin all struggles to unite the working class on the principle of antiracism. All strategic and tactical decisions must take into account the struggle against racism as the basis of unity.
The above discussion was written on January 1st, 2002 to express the frustration of media controlled events of every kind. Today, Serena Williams, in surviving a difficult match against Maria Sharapova makes this discussion both relevant and political. After the above material was written, the Willams’ sisters dominated the tennis scene for all of 2003.
In doing so, they re-defined femininity for the 21st Century and exposed the inherent, reified, yet subtle racism in our national media. All during 2003, sportscasters (mostly white male) railed against the Williams’ sisters. Their dominance was deemed to be bad for tennis, as if the interest generated throughout the world by the sisters in tennis was bad. Maybe, the inclusion of millions of working class people, both white and black in the tennis world was bad for the elite. The elite domination in tennis had existed for so long. Certainly, the influx of these fans and participants was detrimental to the continued exclusiveness of tennis. In addition, women became the dominant part of tennis, not white males. Maybe that was bad for the ruling elite but it was not bad for tennis. Commentators revealed their inherent bias whenever they discussed Serena’s game. According to them, her game was dependent on power and “natural athletic ability.” Not intelligence and mental toughness. But now the younger women players have adopted the power game without so much as a mention by the commentators as to the source of this new exciting game.
In January of 2003, Serena was down in the third set 5-1 to Kim Clisters, who was at the time, one of the top players in the world. One lost game and the match was over. Serena came back to win the match and the tournament. Intelligence and mental toughness were never mentioned. Again, in January of 2005, Serena was down three match points to Maria Sharapova, an excellent power player. One lost point and the match was over. She came back to win the match and the tournament. Intelligence and mental toughness were strangely absent from the discussion. Under any other circumstances, mental toughness, intelligence, grit, strength of character would be discussed and analyzed ad naseum.
Straight out of Compton, California, both Serena and Venus have become the best-known women athletes in the world. The new definition of feminism recognized strength not submissiveness as beautiful. Women who are assertive and confident define not just attractiveness, but necessary characteristics of beauty.
Venus Williams is stately and regal. Serena is voluptuous and yes, sexy. Both, however, are gracious, and international. When winning tournaments in France, Japan, Germany, they strive to express gratitude in the language of that country.
Coming from humble circumstances, they accept their amazing success with grace, while acknowledging those who have supported them. They have been booed, criticized, and put down. Yet they always flash their beautiful smiles and keep on stepping.
That is, they represent an objective refutation of the race concepts, propagated under Social Darwinism. By that I mean that they have proven that the dominance of Anglo-Saxon white males is a temporary historical phenomenon backed on geography, not genetics. The sisters’ success illustrates the tremendous untapped talent within the working class. Living in a difficult community where a stray bullet would stamp out any chance for athletic achievement, their intelligence, grace, strength, beauty, proves the existence of untapped, underutilized skill of the working class. For that matter, the entire ideological justification for extremes of privilege and wealth and poverty is destroyed. In some unknown way, the fans who range in the millions understand this fact.
Proof of how the Williams’ sisters have redefined femininity is in the recent issue People magazine, 5/9/05, where Maria Sharapova is now listed as one of the 50 most beautiful people (p.136). Anna Karnakova is out because she can’t play tennis. The ruling class had to find someone who was both competent and blond. That is the contradiction for the ruling class. Our position is not to disparage the accomplishments of their blond substitute but to expose their hypocrisy. After all the beauty, strength, intelligence and popularity of the Williams’ sisters cannot be denied. Their 10 plus grand slam victories towers over Sharapova’s one.
The saga continues. Let us continue to expose the bankruptcy of the position of the ruling class which always divides people. If we understand that the African American community is at the core of the working class, then we will set every strategy and all tactics accordingly. In that way, each advance of the African American Community represents an advance for the entire working class.
Yours in Struggle,
Ronald D. Glotta
220 Bagley, Suite 808
Detroit MI 48226-1409
(313) 963-1320 – (313) 963-1325/Fax