We all know George Armstrong Custer died for our sins. But now, according to online professor Glenn Ingrahm (“Anti-black conspiracy defense doesn’t play anymore,” letter, JP Gazette, Dec. 5), it seems Barack Obama was elected for those same sins. With that national cleansing of Nov. 4, as Prof. Ingrahm states, “a new era of politics… leaves behind the politics of racial division and its associated victimhood mentality.” And, in an amusing spin on the verbiage of Reaganomics, the writer wistfully hopes “Obama’s mindset will trickle down to those… who continue to play upon misguided notions of a racial conspiracy to remove black politicians from power.” Blaming the victim for… history?
The jumping-off point for the writer’s euphoric reading of Obama’s election and interpretation of his “mindset” was the arrest of my friend City Councilor Chuck Turner by the FBI on bribery charges—charges Turner has contested vigorously. And, while the letter calls it “coincidental” that a JP Gazette interview in which Turner detailed an FBI “sting” operation at City Hall appeared the same day as his arrest, I call it “forecasting.”
Years of investigation and litigation, the release of documents under the Freedom of Information Act and the testimony of principals have sadly detailed a long and ongoing history of the politicized use of the justice system to undermine civil rights, left and anti-war activists and many voices of dissent. The most aggressive and deadly examples of this sad chapter of our national history were directed at black America. The COINTELPRO excesses of the FBI alone covered a period from 1956 to 1971, and recent coverage in The Washington Post and other media highlights similar tactics in use as late as 2007. Former Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan’s South End Press book “Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI” deals with a similar campaign against Central America activists through the 1980s. George W. Bush’s attorney general was forced from office a year ago for the politicized use of the US Attorneys in several locales.
This is not outdated history. This is not a construct of “victimhood mentality” nor a collection of “misguided notions.” Unfortunately, it is fact. Unfortunately, it has become part of a survival shield that questions authority, no matter how loud the authority speaks or whether the issue is framed as national security or personal corruption.
Using Obama’s election to signify a racial (let alone, political) transformation in the nation is at best premature. Given Obama’s centrist politics and the nature of his campaign, we know we’re getting an improvement on the petty, self-interested, corrupt and militaristic policies of Bush II. For many in America, it will take more than mindsets trickling down to convince us change has really come. In the meantime, it is not paranoia to remember history and use it to guide us as we continue to question authority.
The writer has been a journalist and media activist for over 35 years and has worked on the electoral campaigns of Mel King, Jesse Jackson, Eddie Jenkins, Byron Rushing and Chuck Turner, among others.