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June 2002

Affirmative Action Means Democracy

By Frank Scott

"Back during slavery... There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for his master. When the field Negroes got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put 'em back on the plantation." Malcolm X

Malcolm X, a hero to millions the world over, would have been 77 years old on May 19. He might not think kindly of present policies which transform the descendants of slaves into the indentured servants of capital. Such policies never stop the production of victims, but simply award some professional degrees in victimology, so that a few may prosper while the many still suffer.

As long as corporate affirmative action programs are seen as agents of change, racism will continue and democracy will not. And the only way to end racism is through democracy, when united citizens create majorities that are stronger than minority financial power.

The failure of racial tokenism may never have been more poignantly realized than in the recent performance of two black leaders, reduced to political impotence on a global stage.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan's intelligence and statesmanship have meant nothing when it came to the exercise of any real power. Too often, he has been treated like a head waiter at an exclusive, white owned restaurant. But his status was lowered to that of a dishwasher when he had to disband a commission to investigate Israel's possible war crimes in Jenin. Israel simply told him, and the UN, to buzz off.

Almost as sad was white America's favorite black man, Secretary of State Colin Powell, helplessly rushing around the world like an overworked messenger, asking Israel to temper its assaults on Palestinians. He was criticized for being ineffective, but that is his job description. His mild questioning of Israel, while dutifully reprimanding Arafat and the Palestinians, was an expression of US policy. Israel dealt him the same contempt it gave to Anan.

The racist term "nigger" has been retired from official speech, but racist behavior is still highly permissible in official practice, by police departments, real estate agents, insurance companies and the foreign policy establishment, as evidenced by the treatment of Anan and Powell.

These two supposed leaders were simply walk-ons in a global production directed by corporate white power, headquartered in the US, with branch offices in England and Israel. Theirs is the fate of all who rise to the top through policy that prevents social transformation by allowing only cosmetic change. The kind that puts non-whites in positions of upper class power, but merely as figureheads who are ultimately treated like lower class servants. Like Malcolm's house Negroes, they serve to make the master look good, and his critics seem unreasonable.

Allowing individual non-whites entry into the white power structure does not change social disparities; it strengthens them. Those entrants have to obey establishment dictates and make criticism only in acceptable forms that represent no threat to the entrenched power of corporate capital. And no matter how many affirmative action programs capital promotes, its power remains western, European and white.

And its exercise is nowhere more diabolical and dangerous than among the world's Arab and Muslim people of many nations and cultures, but all lumped into one alien, non-white "them." Political economics are at the base of these warped global relations, but racism flourishes on its foundation.

Israel is a white western power in an oil rich area where millions of non-western, non-white people live. That is why it receives special treatment from the US, though popular mythology has it that we are supporting a homeland for survivors of anti-Jewish hatred in the world. Bipartisan liberals and conservatives passionately "push Israel into the sea" of US taxpayer dollars, supposedly protecting it from anti-Semites. But the founders of Israel were white Europeans, as were the bloody bigots whose slaughter of European Jews are the rationale for its existence. This is tragically ironic, given that Semites-the Palestinians-have paid most dearly for those crimes of Europe.

Bigotry and hatred in the middle east are the by-product of white western cruelty in making an innocent Palestinian people pay for European sins.

The world's dark skinned people are akin to those Malcolm called field Negroes, and suffer even more than the exploited whites whose status is not much higher than those he called house Negroes. When non-white people are compelled to emigrate by forces of the market, they encounter animosity from white people who are almost as helpless and easily manipulated by political reactionaries. The economics that throw people off their home lands to provide cheap labor somewhere else, are those that contaminate people and environments with the poisonous pollution of ignorance and racism.

That economic system will maintain its global control of the segregated, anti-democratic "field," as long as it is allowed to get away with cosmetically integrating only its staff in the "house."

While Anan serves at the UN and Powell fronts for the regime in Washington, Africa suffers a disastrous health crisis, American jails are packed with black prisoners, and the non-white world continues to be kept in poverty by the white world's plunder of its wealth.

Individuals who front for the system and make it look good with their personal success are like the old house Negroes in Malcolm's quote. It is racist evil to mistreat human beings because of their color, but it is a defense of racism to privilege only some of those human beings who've been mistreated. To affirm the aggrieved only on an individual basis is to continue the denial of collective humanity. It perpetuates racism, and the anti-democratic system of corporate capital. The ultimate affirmative action is Democracy, and that calls for unity, not separation, between those in the field and those in the house. Happy Birthday, Malcolm.

(Copyright (c) 2002 by Frank Scott. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the author is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the author.)

 

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