Black self-hatred dooms hopes for race dialogue

November 01, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The 1997 Great Dialogue on Race limps along, struggling to catch up to its lofty, if somewhat unrealistic, expectations.

Exactly what you might expect from an idea proposed by President Bill Clinton. The dialogue was supposed help narrow the perceived growing racial gap between blacks and whites, bring about greater racial understanding and usher in the Valhalla of Brotherhood black and white liberals predicted during the civil rights era.

But the Great Race Dialogue was doomed to fail before it even got started. Black Americans can't even have an intraracial dialogue. We sure as hell can't be expected to have an interracial one.

Indeed, some black Americans feel there is some kind of "party line" that you must spout to even be black. Deviate from it one jot or tittle, and the invective soon follows: You're an Uncle Tom, a house Negro, a sellout and a traitor. Folks using this kind of language aren't really interested in any kind of conciliatory dialogue with anyone. They have too much fascist in them, convinced as they are that the only proper way of thinking and viewing the world is their way.

How did black Americans come to this pathetic state? Call it the Malcolm X factor. The late black nationalist, who was instrumental in building the Nation of Islam into a potent social force, had much going for him: charisma, superb oratorical skills, a keenly analytical mind and an unsurpassed talent for organization. But he also had a tendency to lapse into demagogy. It was he who started much of the language we still hear in the black community today.

When, in the early 1960s, traditional civil rights groups attacked the Nation of Islam as a racist organization, Malcolm responded TC with some barbs of his own. Civil rights leaders were all Uncle Toms, Malcolm charged. He claimed they sold out black folks by making the 1963 March on Washington an insipid forum for speechmaking instead of the day of massive civil disobedience some civil rights activists wanted it to be.

In his 1963 "Message to the Grassroots" address, Malcolm launched into his now famous "house Negro/field Negro" tirade. He was a field Negro, always willing to rebel against the master, the dreaded white man. Civil rights leaders were house Negroes, who loved their master more than he loved himself.

It was Malcolm's demagogy at its worst, a torrent of pathetic drivel that some blacks have come to cherish. Indeed, some African-Americans base their entire knowledge of black history on this Malcolm X sound bite.

In later speeches, Malcolm specifically named former NAACP leader Roy Wilkins and A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as Uncle Toms. Some immediately saw the absurdity of the charge. Others didn't. But what no one asked was who the hell was Malcolm X to be making the charge in the first place. The same question can be asked of any black person who calls another an Uncle Tom, house Negro or a sellout: What have you done for black people that justifies your making such a charge?

Randolph, while Malcolm was a young pup leading white boys on watermelon raids in Michigan, was organizing the Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black union in the country. Randolph was regarded as the most radical and dangerous black man in the country. Wilkins, during the same era, donned sharecropper's clothes to slip into the South and investigate lynchings.

It wasn't Randolph or Wilkins who left a black woman standing on the dance floor to chase after a white woman. Malcolm did that. It wasn't Randolph or Wilkins who sought out drag queens for sexual liaisons. Malcolm, according to some biographers, did that during his hustler days in Harlem and Boston. In short,

Malcolm had far too much baggage in his sordid past to broach the subject of which blacks were loyal to the race and which were not.

In fact, it was Malcolm who went on a television talk show with black psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark and uttered, "I hate every drop of black blood -- uh, I mean white blood -- in me." Clark said Malcolm had made an "interesting psychological slip." Interesting wasn't quite the word. The slip was a startling revelation. The firebrand black nationalist still had vestiges of racial self-hatred that manifested itself in his attacks on black leaders.

Those blacks today who still throw around the terms Uncle Tom, house Negro, sellout and traitor are revealing the same self-hatred Malcolm did. People who can't abide others of their own race who have different opinions reveal a self-loathing that borders on the pathological.

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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