"Race-Relations in America:
Change... But No Progress"
by Dr. Robert Starling Pritchard
1996 Black History Month Speech at State University of New York at Buffalo
Members of the Black Student Union of this Buffalo campus of the State University of New York, your fellow students and friends, University faculty, administrators and private citizens of the city of Buffalo here present, it is on behalf of the Panamerican-Panafrican Association and our Foundation sponsored African-American History Month (State and Regional) Founder's Commission, that I am proud, very proud indeed, to extend to you our very special 1996 African-American History Month Greetings on this 31st Anniversary of the 1965 Founding in New York City and Trenton, NJ, of the Observance of Black History Month.
However... this evening, my presence before you, has yet another more personal history significance for me..... at least so far as certain of my and my parents' experiences in your city are reflective of the subject matter of my message of this evening... the title of which is "Race-Relations in America: Change... But No Progress." For it was my parent's experience in being Black-in-Buffalo, during the Jim Crow Era, which so generally related to the dynamics of being Black-in-America at any point in American "Down South" or "Up South" history, that I made a decision that is rare for me... that is, to share with you some deeply, very personal facts of my family history... as we travel the road highways and byways of my topic.
Given your place in history as my generation's succession, my decision was informed by my desire to pass on to you, that which you are too young to thus far have been able to acquire by experience or that which only comes with the mellowing of age and a sufficient distance in time from one's youth, young adulthood and middle life experiences, which is referred to as wisdom. For it is only through wisdom, that one can look back on a long life, in a search for that which is positively valuable enough to pass on to the succession. Also mercifully, at that stage in life, it is also possible to identify the mistakes that one may have made, in order to give warning to the succession, before it proceeds further to reinvent the wheel again.
It is on the occasion of this evening's African-American History Month event on your campus, that I have the honour to invite you to join me in challenging certain myths about race-relations, which most unfortunately have served the interests of the official and private sector racialists, whilst it has ill served the articulated noble goals of the Framers of the Constitution (which indeed, are also goals which are wholly embraced by the African-American victims of the White racialist political, economic and social order).
And as you are surely aware, those noble Judeo-Christian concepts which supported the noble goals of our Constitution, were actually applied to an "exclusive" contemporary view of an America, in which our enslaved African forefathers and foremothers, were not regarded by the Founding White Fathers of our country, as human beings. Neither did the framers of our Constitution believe that our ancestors were endowed with the same God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for which our Independence War against the tyrannical age of the Enlightenment British Monarchy was fought.
However, the 18th Century's spirit of freedom abroad in the land in both Europe and America could not have been encased and contained in a "for Whites only" Bill of Rights and Constitution, without the inspiring messages of those two documents, encouraging the yearnings for liberty of the teeming millions of enslaved Africans in both Southern and Northern British Colonies. Accordingly, it was inevitable that Black clarion calls for freedom (expressed in that great body of Black Reformation ecclesiastical songs referred to as "Negro Spirituals") would provoke and awaken in our enslaved African forefathers and foremothers, that very same determination to free themselves from the very same tyranny of American White racialist oppressors, that the Southern Plantocrat and his Northern industrialist counterpart, sought from the tyrannical British Monarchy.
As one studies White racialism, the sociopathic phenomena which distinguishes an American's most defining characteristic, one must approach that study, only with the acme use of their most developed skills of logic, albeit applied to the study of the totally illogical and non-intellectual phenomena of racialism. For racialism is a sociopathic dynamic, which has traditionally been exploited and advanced by an unholy alliance between America's official and private sectors, for economic purposes and promoted by political, law enforcement, judicial and educational policies and in some instances, even by religion itself. Moreover, the complicity between those various sectors of our society, is all directed towards the maintenance of a racialist socio-economic order, in which the illusion of equality between the races is fostered by Black sycophants and White sycophants alike, even in the face of daily overwhelming evidence which supports the widely touted claim that the mass poor of Americans of African descent are in our time, being consigned to stasis as a permanent American underclass.
How then can one speak of "progress" in American race-relations, when Black Americans were in 1619, 1719, 1819 and even in 1919 (54 years after the end of the Era of legal slavery) not only below the bottom rung of the economic staircase of America, but in fact, as enslaved Africans, our forefathers and foremothers were a-veritas, for a period of two and a half centuries, the very rungs of the American economic ladder upon which the Southern Plantocrat and his Northern brethren Industriocrat climbed to that point of wealth, which spared the new United States the necessity to depend upon loans from European states. It was for that reason, that our country was in the position to build a capitalist state, free of economic dictation by the world powers in existence at the end of the 18th Century. The fact also is, that the level of wealth could have never been achieved as quickly as it was achieved in the United States, if the human exploitive international trade in slavery, had not been wholly embraced and dominated by the same dynamic of the American official and private sector institutional construct that today still directs and guarantees the oppressive presence of White racialist dominance of the majority population over the minority Black and other populations of colour.
Indeed, throughout every century of the Slavocracy, from 1619, 1719 and 1819, our forefather and foremother enslaved Africans in the British colonies (later to become the United States), stood on no rung of the American economic ladder, whilst White Americans moved steadily upwards in all areas of enterprise. Nor did change in our enslaved ancestors' 246 year period of involuntary servitude, produce anything remotely related to progress. Nor did the change in our economic condition in 1865 as manumitted ex-slaves, through the Reconstruction Era and the early 20th Century decades, produce any "progress" in race-relations, so far as narrowing the gap of disparity between the races, albeit the fact of significant change in our economic condition is inarguable.
What is also inarguable, is that the notion of progress with respect to the economic well-being of White Americans, in contrast to that of Black Americans, is totally indefensible when one considers that whether under the legal institution of slavery or as legally free citizens, the unrelenting oppression of institutional White racialism, has permitted of significant change of the economic condition of Black Americans and insignificant progress in the context of the obvious economic control that our White racialist institutions continue to maintain over the economically captive poor masses of Black Americans.
It is from that purview, that it becomes clear, very clear indeed, that neither corporate America, or the American body politic, have ever been prepared to seriously encourage "Equity of Access to Equality of Economic Opportunity," for Americans of African descent, to the extent that economic power sharing between Blacks and Whites, would ever be permitted to replace the dynamic of White economic control over our Black communities. Rather, have all too many of our Black leadership, been beguiled into the belief that the fact that our African-American population has for the most part steadily increased its purchasing power from 1865 through 1996, is synonymous with progress, albeit we are still on the bottom and they are still economically on the top.
Accordingly, what pride can we justifiably take in an economic condition where the American body politic and the White majority American citizenry at large, has been manifestly far more willing to accede to our demands for civil rights, even political rights, than for economic power sharing. For, when all is said and done, economic power is really the name of the game for those who seek optimum fulfillment in modern societies.
From 1619 through 1865, our forefathers and foremothers were subjugated under a cruel and harsh system of slavery beyond that experienced by any other single American ethnic group, save Native Americans. In fact, our people's subjugation cannot be compared to that of any other world minority group, who has experienced a holocaust of the body, the mind, of culture, of the sanctity of womanhood and motherhood, of the sanctity of manhood and familyhood, indeed, of the sanctity of the human and spiritual condition itself.
For the suffering that our forefathers and foremothers experienced and the unrelentingly harsh residuals of attitudinal and behavioral legacies of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century practices of White racialism, are as attitudinally alive and well today as they were legally enforced during the post-Slavocracy, Reconstruction and Jim Crow Eras. Moreover, in our time, those practices prevail, precisely because White racialist attitudes are daily metamorphisized into racialist impacted economic policies, expressed in red-lining practices of banks and insurance companies and the still all too prevalent "last to be hired, first to be fired" practices of small and big businesses, supported by "liberal talking and racialist walking" unionists.
Surely you will agree, that it is beyond folly for anyone to claim that the changes that have taken place in American race-relations have been sufficient to significantly alter the obvious fact of which race is still on the bottom of the American economic ladder. For that fact can be seen on every rung of that ladder, from the bottom to the top, representing every interest and enterprise-of-power that exists in the United States. And consistently on the bottom rung of the American economic ladder, are Black Folk.
"Change in race relations?"..... obviously yes. But if you and I had fallen asleep in a time capsule on that first slave ship of Black indentured servants destined for Jamestown in 1619, and awoke 377 years later in Jamestown, Virginia; Savannah, Georgia; New Orleans, Louisiana; the Black communities of Harlem, New York; Roxbury, Boston; Anocostia, Washington, D.C., or for that matter of fact, right here in Buffalo and even in my current city of Syracuse or my previous residence in the Village of Baldwinsville, New York, would you dare have the effrontery to attempt to make yourself believe that Black people were no longer at the bottom rung of the economic ladder of the United States?
Indeed, would you deign to assert today, that the presence of over one million Black men in our country's city, county, state and federal prisons is a testament to Black inferiority and not a testament to that kind of White racialist engendered moral decay, which has produced the ever heightening dynamics of no jobs; greater hopelessness and homelessness and the overwhelming social and economic dislocations of our people? And is it not because of such dislocations, that the most heinous crimes, drug abuse and all incipient forms of lawlessness, become the only other option for survival available to a people, who have been systematically denied "Equity of Access to Equality of Economic Opportunity;" "Equity of Access to `Colour Blind' Justice;" "Equity of Access to fair and impartial repertorial and editorial treatment and coverage by the print and sound media," and "Equity of Access to Equality of Educational Opportunity?"
There was a time when the Black bourgeoisie, professional and even the upper class Black elite, indulged a sense of false security, particularly with regard to their residential status in either predominantly White or even lily White suburban neighborhoods. But that was before the two Hitlerian and Bosnia-Herzegovina-styled "ethnic cleansing" incidents on Long Island and the Baldwinsville White suburban environs of Syracuse, New York. Though there are many other "ethnic cleansing" catastrophes that one could cite, the fire bomb destruction of the estate of the late Beatrice Corporation Black President and millionaire, Reginald Lewis should have dramatically alerted Black Americans that the "evil eye" fix of White racialist America, was on us all, economically poor, middle class and rich alike.
Indeed, that incident alone should have forewarned all of us, that the contemporary resurgence of racialism was a fact..... and that its intensification was inevitable, if we did not vigorously oppose it. And the fact is, we did not. Nor did the Black bourgeoisie, other professionals and the Black elite alike here in Buffalo, in Syracuse, New York and in communities throughout the United States, where Black, however assuredly beautiful, is still most definitely not bold enough in our own defense. And it was in that benign climate of the Black bourgeoisie's, professionals' and elite's abnegation of leadership, that other White land grabs of properties owned by or identified with Blacks, proliferated, unopposed in the courts, by the White owned media and even by our conventional religionist and "root doctor" Brothers and Sisters in the "hood."
Of course I realize that my brief moment of perhaps even inappropriate levity, may have only served to make me appear as an anachronism to the present generation, who may not know that my own investigations into the culture of "root doctors," the voodoo religion of Haiti, the Pocomania and Rastafarians of Jamaica, and of more African rural and urban tribal societies than you may be aware of, were presented by yours truly in what has been referred to as America's first Black Studies Course given for credit, outside of the HBCU establishment.
My course was given at the New School for Social Research in New York City, and had been preceded by a non-credit course in Black Studies given at that same institution by Dr. WEB Du Bois, who you all must know, was one of the co-founders of the NAACP.
As unbelievable as it may appear to you, my awareness of the dynamics of racialism, initially from the intellectual purview of a child of 5 years old, was a direct issue of the raison d'etre for my parents' decision to move from my and their birthstate of North Carolina, to their choice of our adopted State of New York. For in fact, it was during the Jim Crow Era's migration of then called "Negroes" from "Down South" to "Up South," that my late father and mother, Starling and Lucille Pritchard of Winston Salem, NC, joined the hoards of African-Americans who left the South, seeking the elusive northern climes of "economic milk and honey" in Northern industrial cities, having chosen the city of Buffalo as one of the then most promising industrial job market ports-of-call for Black people.
My sainted, deeply insightful and loving would-be stage mother, who had forsaken her vocation to become a linguist to marry my father, the always hard working, protective and well known in his Southern State as an "ain't scared of no `peck-a-wood'" Black man, took the decision to leave their economically comfortable life in the South to seek a new life in the North, for the sacrificially sole purpose of seeking a place of refuge for their children from the harsh forces of racialism below the Mason-Dixon line. For my mother and father fervently believed that in the North, their children would have been guaranteed educational opportunities in a social environment that was less hostile to Negroes, as we were referred to during those pre-Civil Rights Era decades.
As difficult as it may be for you to comprehend, my father in particular, an educated man who had found no work in the South of that day beyond the menial jobs offered to most Black men, had before he left his native city, experienced only a minuscule of encounters with either proactive or benign forms of racialism, as they existed at that time "Down South." His mother, my grandmother, had, for most of her adult life, been a cook-dietician employed by an exclusive German-American private school, situated in a virtually exclusive German-American comfortable suburban neighborhood area in my birth State of North Carolina. During his elementary and secondary school years in that community (where German was the lingua franca), my father actually learned to speak German as he learned to speak English.
Thus it was, that my lifelong love for the music of the 18th Century German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach and the special reverence that I still give to each of my performances of piano masterpieces of that universally admired greatest of all European Baroque composers, must be directly attributable to the fact that my father would literally flood the ambiance of our family flat here in Buffalo and later in Syracuse, with disk after disk victrola performances of the architectonically beautiful and intellectually stirring solo chamber music and choral masterpieces of that giant composer of all periods of European art music.
Moreover, it was also from my father, that I was daily treated to his own inimitable jazz improvisations on our family's upright piano. Indeed, I can recall that even as a boy of three years old in North Carolina, I had tried to emulate my father on the piano by commingling improvised jazz themes and harmonies, in as near to at least Bachian polyphonic sounds as I could imitate at the time.
Only much later in life did I learn from my father himself, that both the European Classical music tradition and the African derivative music which defined popular music culture in the United States and throughout the New World Lands of the African Diaspora, were deliberately targeted by my father for cultural seed planting in me, because of his and mother's determination to produce history's first career viable virtuoso concert pianist of African descent. It is with both humility and pride, that with respect to that particular career yearning of my parents, I stand before you as Starling and Lucille Pritchard's son, who fulfilled his parents' dream.
But I dasn't lend the very false impression that my mother's influence upon my intellectual, cultural and psychological development was any more or less than that of my father's. For in fact, I hasten to add, that my mother's concern for me as a Black child in a hostile racialist society, was informed by her belief that a Black child could only survive in a racialist hostile America, if his domestic education within the family had prepared him to vigorously question those areas of miseducation and diseducation that are today still rife in the virtually exclusively Europeanized teaching construct of American history, literature, the sciences and other intellectual disciplines. Indeed, she was well aware that those disciplines would be imparted to students with only minor hints of the great contributions that peoples of African descent and peoples of other colours, creeds and cultures, had made to them.
Accordingly, it was from my mother's belief in the force of pre-natal influences upon a fetus, that albeit she was teased and ridiculed by her 12 brothers and sisters (who were college professors, a college president, public school teachers, a nurse and a small businessman) for attempting to guarantee that I would become a virtuoso concert pianist, that she nevertheless continued to regularly place her pregnant tummy in front of her hand-wound victrola, whilst it played the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Spirituals, Blues, Jazz and whatever other great music that was available to her at that time. Of course, little did "Mummodie" know, that her pre-natal influence beliefs would decades later, be confirmed by many of the world's leading child psychologists.
My mother and my father came "Up South" to Buffalo, seeking surcease from the excruciatingly degrading official and private sector racialist forces of "Down South" segregation... only to subsequently find that Buffalo (and later Syracuse, New York, to which they fled in the hope for a better life for a Black American than Buffalo had afforded them at the time) differed from their experience in the deep South, not by virtue of the existence of Jim Crow laws, but far, far worse, by virtue of the much stronger force of the traditional every day practices of racialism that had converted Buffalo and Syracuse into what the latter, in particular, has been referred to by no less than a former official of the US Justice Department's Community Relations Service, as "Up South."
Thus it was, that though most assuredly the economic condition of the Pritchard family changed for the better, as a consequence of their move from "Down South" to "Up South," it can in no way be accurately stated, that my parents could identify any areas of progress in race-relations, whether from the purview of their experience "Down South" or "Up South."
It was only years later that I looked back upon my domestic upbringing and realized how very blessed I, my two brothers and sister were, to have been the issue of parents who understood the importance of inspiring their children, not only with a deep and abiding sense of self-respect, but with a personal identity, culled from family references to the great travail that our forefather and foremother enslaved Africans, surmounted in the Plantocracies of North, Central, the Antillean and South Americas.
Perhaps as important, were the indefatigable efforts that my parents made to supplant Syracuse public school's Eurocentric oriented education norms, with domestic dinner table conversations which consistently referenced the great and ancient cultural traditions of our African forefathers and foremothers. They did so, in a manner which bequeathed to their children, a sense of our race's timeless presence throughout the eons of history, in a context where we understood that the shame of slavery should not be ours, but rather of those who enslaved us.
In a certain sense, the education that we received at home from our parents, was to later prove to be a more probative influence upon what I thought about myself and how I viewed myself in a society, where the racialist deck of cards were stacked against a win factor potential for Black people. For a-veritas, the educational instruction that I received at home, was also reinforced by domestic acts and deeds, specifically geared by my mother in particular, to protect her children's ids from contamination, by those same dynamics of racialism which contaminate most White and Black Americans of even today's generation.
My parents' determination to provide us with an awareness of our ancestors' history, that was not available in our public schools, was particularly reinforced during my participation in Negro History Week Observances in Syracuse from the time that I was 7 years old.
Little could I have possibly known then, that in 1965, I would have established the first Black History Month Observance, as a fitting tribute to the venerable father of Black Studies as an academic discipline, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. And most certainly, I was at the time, as totally unaware, as you may be now, that Carter G. Woodson's Negro History Week Observance, had been influenced by a Black Community dialogue on the general subject of a Negro History Day Observance. Moreover, I was unaware that the dialogue on a proposed Negro History Day Observance, had been prompted by a Resolution placed before the 1895 meeting of the National Association of Coloured Women's Clubs, by a well known Reconstruction Era Black Club Woman, Mrs. Josephine Bruce (who was also the wife of Blanche K. Bruce, the Black Senator from the State of Mississippi).
But as all unique ideas can usually be traced backwards to an ubiquitous array of root sources, it is probable that even the 1893 "Coloured American Day" Observance at the Haiti Government Pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair presided over by Frederick Douglass, may itself have been inspired from sources, yet to be identified.
However, it should interest students of black history to note, that the panafricanist philosophic orientation which gave birth to the Black History Month Observance (including my Foundation's administration of the Observance), also invited the "inclusive" participation of Americans of all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions. In that context, the Black History Month Observance, fundamentally differed from the exclusionary construct of the Negro History Week Observance from 1926 through 1976. For understandably, The Negro History Week Observance reflected the severely restricted race-relations manners and mores of the Jim Crow Era, during which Dr. Carter G. Woodson paved the way for the development of an American educational ethos which would reflect the "E Pluribus Unum" lip service maxim of our nation's White forefathers by encouraging historical investigation into the history of peoples of African descent at home and abroad.
Not only are all African-Americans in Dr. Woodson's debt, but indeed, are Americans of all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions, equally in his debt, particularly with respect to Dr. Woodson's contribution to the current public debate on multi-cultural education in our public schools and universities which was virtually absent during the period of my childhood.
But I must also acknowledge the profound debt that I feel towards my parents, who molded my early years in a manner to protect me from those racialist forces in the "Up South" city of Syracuse, which prevented free interaction between the members of the many different ethnic communities with which the city of Syracuse was graced. As a fail-safe inoculant to such endemic forces of racialist contaminations, from my earliest years, I cannot recall a single birthday party, baptism reception, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinner, my parents' wedding anniversaries, etc., that was given in my home, where either our dining room table or our living room was not filled with the presences of not only relatives, but friends and neighbors representing every conceivable locally available guest of every colour, creed, culture, regardless of their socio-economic condition... and with only the standard of good manners applied to my parents' choice of guests.
For my parents were truly resolute in their belief that only through exposure to life-in-the-real, could their children develop their character, emotional, psychological and intellectual strengths, sufficient to overcome the racialist influences of an exclusively Eurocentric public school education philosophy and system. It is thusly, that at a very early age, I and my brothers and sister, were successfully inoculated against those endemic racialist influences which pockmark the entire fabric of our society. Indeed, those forces can at times become so invasive, that one may understandably arrive at the point where one feels that one just cannot go on.
But my mother and father (as are many Black parents), were made of much stronger stuff.
For example, on the one hand, my father would constantly remind me that "the only slave that he as a Pritchard could possibly have been, would have been a dead one." On the other hand, my mother undertook her daily rounds of admonitions to me, stressing the importance of completing my homework on schedule and the even greater importance of excelling in my school work over every other student. Nor did she ever make any specific reference to my identifying White students in particular as competitors. For that might have given rise to some incipient form of anti-White feelings in me. She even went to, what I later understood, were great lengths to sensitize me to the whole range of discriminating practices that existed in the nation, then and now, including anti-semitism, anti-American Indian and anti-foreign immigrants who could hardly speak English. To no less a degree did she also sensitize me to the anti-dark skin colour prejudices that all too many of our own Black kith and kin practiced against each other, until that time during the Civil Rights Era, when Blacks returned to their ancient regard for themselves as beautiful... and coined the term Black is Beautiful.
I trust that you will already have discovered, that where race-relations are concerned, the admitted reality of "change" must not be confused with the irreality of "progress." Particularly do I invite you all to take cognisance of the fact, that albeit the African-American community's reliance upon the influence of Federal, State and local legislation and even religion, to narrow the gap of the wide disparities which continue to exist between the Black minority community and the White majority community, the time is now for the Black American as an individual, as a nuclear family and as a community, to seize every opportunity available to us, to accelerate the pace of Americas inexorable drive to create a truly "E Pluribus Unum" American society in our time.
We must particularly seize upon such opportunities provided us during family quality times at dinner each evening, during our children's daily home work set-aside study periods, in our Church and domestic prayer meetings and indeed at any and every opportune time, during which parent-children interaction can be transformed into a positive demonstration of how life can be both responsibly and fun-lived. For we must not fail to keep in mind that the lessons of life that we purvey to our children in the form of the examples of our own life, will always be far more pervasive teaching aids, than those that our children receive in an institution... whether that institution is a school or a jail.
For if you as parents or future parents, fail to assume your responsibility to instill your children with a fundamental sense of pride in personhood and culture, rather than with the cosmetic race-baiting sense of pride in colour alone, your generation will have only succeeded in contributing to what many Black commentators have so accurately described as what could be our inevitable consignment to stasis as a permanent underclass.
Not only does that not have to happen, but it cannot happen, if we as Black people, gird our armours against official and private sector racialism, with the knowledge that there is a distinct difference between the factors of "change" and "progress" in race-relations in America.... and moreover, that we should not be satisfied with "change," but only with significant "progress."
My mother and father must have understood that difference. For, on the one hand, they encouraged their children's identity development as the cultural son and daughter descendants of our enslaved African forefathers and foremothers throughout the New World Lands of the Africa Diaspora. On the other hand, they encouraged their children's cultural and intellectual interaction with their peers, representing all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions, of the heterogenous complex of American society.
Needless to say, it was in such a Pritchard family domestic milieu, that I can never recall a single moment during my youth or young adult life, when I ever sought the acceptance of anyone, based solely upon the cosmetic factor of race. Rather did I and still do, choose to interact with Americans of all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions, from that posture of self-respect which affords no bigot the satisfaction of even remotely imagining that I either would seek or would favour his or her acceptance, not even for self-aggrandizement goals. For if I did seek his favour in doing so, I would only have validated his sociopathic belief in his assumption of protoplasmic superiority.
My mother and father spent only a very short time in the city of Buffalo, my father having sought gainful employment in the then burgeoning steel mills of Syracuse. What was particularly insightful about his and my mother's move to Syracuse (with me as one of their infant children), was the fact that, given their experience in "Up South" Buffalo, they removed to Syracuse with no illusions whatsoever that there would be any significant difference between the South's legally sanctioned practices of racialism and the North's "Up South" lip service reputation as the liberal North.
For they quickly learned that interaction between Blacks and Whites in the North was substantially no different, except that racialist practices in the South were sanctioned by law and that the same practices in the North were canonized by the far more forceful catalyst of tradition.
Thus, quite frankly at the age of six years old, I had become privy to those secret conversations that often pass between a man and his wife, which children are not supposed to hear, but upon which I nosily and brazenly imposed my inquisitive self, with the aid of a glass held on the wall which stood between my and my brother's bedroom and my parent's bedroom. With my ear to the glass, I could hear their nightly conversations about the differences and non-differences in their life in the South and in Syracuse, NY.
Of course, had my parents known that I had been so indiscreet, I suppose that I would have been roundly admonished for my untoward conduct. But as they never caught me at it, I can only say that knowing and loving them as I did and do, I also have to believe that they would have also encouraged me to learn as much as I could, about the racialist dynamics of American society, which has always been as ever-present throughout the entire fabric of American society, as blood is ever present in a live body.
What I do know, is that as I wound my way through elementary school, junior high, secondary school and the University, my parents' influence upon my life remained (even these many years after their deaths), one of the major beacons of guidance which has permitted me the opportunity to avoid the pitfalls of so many of us. For there are so many of our people, who waft successfully through life, in the belief that we can only make it being "one of us amongst them," whilst maintaining a not so discreet distance from our own.
I realize that it is not considered particularly couth for Black public figures to publicly air the dirty linen and weaknesses of our own people. However, I reject the very premise of that traditional position, given the fact that our White racialist predators have always been, even before the fact, experts on how to keep us down, precisely because the power of an oppressor derives from his knowledge of how to successfully oppress, by divide and conquer ploys.
In any case, I did not accept your invitation to appear before you, for the witless purpose of attempting to win your favour, by damming and excoriating White racialists. For my love for my people is too great to demean them, by exciting them to hatred for our White racialist adversaries.
And albeit Black folk who ameliorate, rationalize and obfuscate their hatred of Whites, with the use of the term "defensive racism," only serve the end of deploying their intellectual, emotional and spiritual energies for negative satisfactions, which ultimately converts them into the same lesser beings, that the White racialist enemy of democracy and of God, revert to, in the guise of card-carrying skin-heads, triple K'ers and their far more dangerous non-card carrying affiliates in judicial robes, in cop and sheriff uniforms, in the by-lined reports of the print and sound media, in the corporate executives of red-lining mortgage banks and insurance companies, in the hiring policy makers of small and big businesses, and even in the clerical robes of ministers, priests, rabbis and the business suits of Congressmen, Councilmen, Governors, Mayors and other officials of our racialist contaminated so-called democratic institutions.
Indeed, the great alternative exists for me to share the one thing that comes from being at the decade's tail-end of life in my sexagenarian years, from which I hope you will accept the gift of wisdom, as a dividend of my deposits of a lifelong experience, which you can draw upon, at no cost to you whatsoever.
For my dear friends, is that not the only way that any society can guarantee the succession of those ideas whose seedlings can regenerate in each new generation?
"Change"... "Progress" in race-relations... which or both? In a few years, I shall, like my parents before me, be no more... that is, if the Biblical estimate of a 75 year average lifespan has any relevance whatsoever. But I, like my parents (and hopefully like you), yearn for some indication that I shall in a few years move on to the next dimension with the satisfaction that my journey through life has left an indelible mark on it, that will prove that I had been here and that my presence here had made even the slightest difference in the quickening of humankind's all too slow trek towards the fulfillment of the human in our collective being as the sine-qua-non anacrusis to our accession to the proverbial next advance of world civilization.
Such a worthy goal is not necessarily achievable by us as an inevitability. Rather, can it be achieved only by those who dare to oppose evil and injustice in their time, not only for self, but more importantly, for those like you who come after them. For you have the God-given right-of-succession into a society in which you may enjoy the liberty of contributing to life, without the necessity to spend as much of your intellectual gifts and talents, on fighting the evil of the injustice of racialism, as did my generation and generations before me. Unfortunately, most of my generation's sons and daughters, fell far shorter of their God-ordained marks than they might have, had they been born white in America. That is the greatest injustice of all, suffered by all too many of Americans of African descent.
It is in this very realistic context, my dear young friends, that I implore you to wake up and smell the coffee, before it is too late for you and your generation to successfully oppose those official and private sector guardians of racialism in our society, who are already attempting to consign you to stasis as a permanent American underclass.
How do I dare make such a negative calculation? As I set forth for your attention a few easily comprehended dynamics, I invite you to decide for yourselves, whether "change" and "progress" in American race-relations can be synonymously referenced.
For example: Each day that you attend classes here at this University, can you really escape the implications of the differences of the economic realities facing your families' ability to dollar contribute to your educational needs, and the ability of the families of your fellow White students who assist them in meeting their financial obligations?
And is it even remotely possible, that a dream world response to the significant economic disparities which exist between the Black and White community can survive the reality of your experiences during the time of your Summer vacation season hunt for jobs and your concomitant confrontation with the reality that certain jobs are for you and certain jobs are for them.... and that the certain jobs that are for you, do not pay as much as the certain jobs that are for them?
Students, ladies and gentlemen, surely I do not have to belabour my subject matter with endless examples of Black peoples' lack of "Equity of Access to Equality of Economic Opportunity," to over-prove the all too obvious fact that the dynamics of economic disparity between Blacks and Whites, reveal perhaps significant "change," but no fundamental "progress."
Moreover, how could it be otherwise, given what seems to have historically been a significant lack of commitment on the part of the American Body Politic, the Body Economic, and the educational, cultural and religious establishments to approach problem-solving solutions to these generationally unresolved American problems, in a manner which recognizes the following inarguable reality.
As long as economic disparities exist between America's Black and White Communities, there will be no peace between those two communities. For only if both communities are economically healthy, can the economic sine-qua-non condition for peace become the point of reference for a modus vivendi for peace between the races, which could be embraced by both communities. However, in the present political, economic, educational and cultural racialist milieu, strident new voices heralding various and sundry racial inferiority philosophies, are being served up to a White racialist public, who are ready consumers of any conservative right-winged philosophy, which would either directly or indirectly confirm their generationally old inherited assumptions of racial superiority over people-of-colour. Those voices must be opposed in the forms of honest exchanges of ideas of merit in our society, if we are not to return to the orgy of civil strife in the streets that became the issue of Black discontent in the racialist White America of the 60's and 70's.
Unfortunately for us all (meaning both Black and White citizens), today, there are all too few voices out there who are diagnosing the racialist ills of America, for the sole sake of both the Black and the White patient and not for the self-aggrandizing sake of the healer-advocate. For all too often, that advocate is solely searching for just the right balance of words to appeal to our heterogenous population of Americans who have become dangerously contaminated by their inheritance of racialist views of their fellow citizens-of-colour, without identifying that the dynamic-of-racialism is one which can only be activated by a predator's interaction with a victim.
Nor does there appear to be many out there, who stand ready to draw the connections between ancient societies which destroyed themselves, because of the Russellian dynamic which held that the world's great societies which failed to accommodate the impact of the influences of cultures foreign to it, would cease to be great powers and fall into desuetude. Such was the case with the empires of Alexander and of the Caesars of Rome, and in our own century, of Great Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, who held sway over the vast lands of our Motherland/Fatherland Africa. It can equally be said of the vast Pan-Asian and Pan-Arabian lands of the East, to say nothing of the phenomena of Soviet expansionism and decline within a half century.
As my Foundation is a Non-Governmental Organization Representative, in Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, it should come as no surprise to you, that we regard the economic health of the American Black Community and that of the Black Island States of the Caribbean; the teeming millions of Black citizens of such majority Black States as Brazil, Guyana, Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and many other Central and South American countries with Black communities of humongous numbers, as a key element to be considered when devising economic programmes directed towards the goal of providing "Equity of Access to Equality of Economic Opportunity" for peoples of African descent, in the New World Lands of the African Diaspora and of course, throughout all of Africa. Indeed, we are very, very, very cognizant of the fact that the economic health and security of the G-7 Nations are irretrievably tied to the economic health of the New Market Areas of the World, which are for the most part, populated by citizens-of-colour.
Of course, the steps and directions required to be undertaken to correct the centuries-old economic imbalances that exist between Americans of African descent and other citizens of colour, and Americans of European descent, can best be set forth by economists. However, I am sure you will agree, that one does not have to be an economist to immediately understand, that if one significant sector of our population is suffering from economic illnesses at the level of a veritable plague, so it is inevitable that that plague will pass well beyond the limits of a particularly deprived population to eventually infect the population-at-large.
When referencing this particular "have nots and haves" economic dynamic, in an effort to elucidate the omnipresent dangers of an American society which Queens College Professor, Andrew Hacker so accurately described in his book, "Two Nations, Black and White, Separate, Hostile and Unequal," I have often found it useful to reference the disparity thusly: As blood is to the body as an economy is to a society, it should warrant your attention to consider that just as the body's good health is advanced when the body's blood nourishes all parts of the body (including its extremities), the health of the social body economic, is similarly assured when all sectors of the population (including its extremities), are economically equitably served.
If any part of the human body suffers a prolonged absence or severe restriction of the flow of blood through all its extremities, it is inevitable, that the deprived extremities of the body, will begin to atrophy, until the resultant contaminations consume the whole body, whereafter the whole body will die.
Similarly, if the free flow of an economy is inequitably distributed throughout the entire society (of course including its minorities-of-colour), the resultant behavioural contaminations of the affected sectors of the population will eventually spread like a cancer with such a destructive force upon the society-at-large, that the atrophying sectors of that society will continue to pose great dangers to the stability of the society-at-large. Moreover, convulsions in the form of intercine wars in the streets will, sooner than later, attract such a repressive response from the political, economic and law enforcement status quo, that the sheer expense of maintaining a no longer "cloaked" repressive order, will bankrupt both the public coffers and the moral authority of society. The inevitable consequence will be that there will be no peace, either for the White racialist predator or the Black targeted victim.
If I could distill the essence of my message this evening, to a simple guiding thought, it would be that I urge each of you to resist being influenced by either White or Black demagogic architects of hatred between the races. You must also keep in mind, that it is not always an easy task to definitively link a name and a public speech with the moniker, "hate monger." For one must always keep in mind that more often than not, the White American who seeks to persuade a Black American to publicly denounce one of his own, who has made public statements against this or that particular sector of the White racialist community, cannot by definition be trusted as one offering guidance in our interest. Rather, is it more often than not true, that such a White American is solely concerned about his own group's interest, with little or no concern, or perhaps with little or no understanding of the fact that our interests are every bit as important to us as his interest is to him and his people.
In such not too infrequent situations, I have always found it particularly effective to remind such a White requestee (particularly when I am certain that they have no idea whatsoever that their request is in essence a racialist one), that if they are really sincere in their desire to get rid of this powerful Black speaker (who commands the attention of millions of Black Americans) or that Black speaker (who effectively uses the "run for public office platform" to compel the majority White body politic, to respond to issues they would not otherwise address).... I very non-chalantly propose, that the White requestee take the responsibility to organize a nationwide high profile community programme, designed to rid White American citizens of their attitudes and practices of racialism upon Black Americans and Americans of other colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions. I further state to them, that the demise of what they would refer to as Black demagogues would concomitantly occur with the demise of White racialist attitudes and practices.
And if they don't get that message, I then state very clearly: "If you are really concerned about the dangers proposed by so-called hate messages articulated by effective Black public figures, you can easily rid the scene of them, by applying yourself to ridding our country of the condition which spawns them, which of course is your racialist monopoly control over the institutions and traditions of official and private sector racialism.
Such an encounter, usually instantly brings my conversant into stark reality. And it is at such a moment, that the Black conversant must carefully choose between a conversation direction which can lead to effective problem-solving commitments on the part of the White conversant, or one of the knockdown, dragout, gut-bucket and however understandable explosive releases of outrage when encountering the usual "White American `Blame the Victim' racialist predator view" of who is ultimately responsible for the introduction of racialism into American life.
I can tell you that in such conversations, it is only on the rarest occasions, that I have encountered a White American who is a racialist, who is even remotely aware that he is a racialist. The reason for such a dichotomy is that racialist attitudes, feelings and personal conduct, rarely prompt any feelings of embarrassment in most White Americans, because their morally abnormal behaviour has been practiced by their race for so very long, that conduct which is in fact morally indefensible, has become such a norm-abnorm, that it also defines them as Americans.
The national sickness of racialism has been pervasive in our society since the Columbus so-called discovery of the Americas. For as you know, it was he who introduced the very idea of the Black and Indian slave trade to and from the Americas. Accordingly, however invaluable his voyage to America may be regarded by the European descendants of those who settled the Confraternity of American States, the fact cannot be denied, that the scourge of slavery contaminated both the Bill of Rights and the Constitution itself. Therefore, public school teachers and politicians alike who invite their Black students to honour an Independence Day Celebration which marks the period of our successful freedom struggle from the oppression of Great Britain, should also be cognizant of the fact that at that very time in our nation's history, George Washington and the whole "kit and kabooddle" of the Founding Fathers, were practicing and profiting by the enslavement of teaming millions of our very African forefathers and foremothers.
Would you not agree, that a far more relevant invitation should annually be extended to citizens of all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions, by American citizens of African descent, to join us in our "inclusively" organized annual celebration of the African-American History Month Observance, wherein we may together identify even a few higher ground common interests with which we may facilitate the development of mutually contributing new positive relationships which might eventually energize the all too slow but still inexorable drive of our American society to create a truly "E Pluribus Unum" civilization.
In closing, may I ask you to bow your heads in silence, as I salute those of our enslaved Black ancestors, whose toil created the economic base for our country. For it was our nation, which both despised and cruelly oppressed them, all the whilst that generation through today's generation, took material benefit from their labours in involuntary servitude.
Do then join me in spirit, as I share with you the text of the "Requiem to the Innominate Slave," which I composed several years ago, as a non-denominational prayer and as a Black and White community salute to those of our enslaved forefathers and foremothers, to whom Americans of all colours, creeds, cultures and socio-economic conditions owe more than they can repay, and benefitted more than any portion of our history has acknowledged.
"May this National Day of Remembrance and Mourning
 and the Monument to the Innonimate Slave
serve as fitting Memorials, all those of our African forefathers and foremothers
 who lie restless,
buried beneath the high seas of the Middle Passage,
with only the crests of its waves as their tombstones... the African victims of the slave-trade holocaust,
  yet unavenged by God and man,
who lie restless beneath the soil of this state,
 this community,
   throughout the states of our country
    the Americas and Europe,
in graves marked only by the unredeemed agony of their toil
 and the sanctified dust of their bones... those of our ancestral kith and kin
  who never tasted freedom in their lifetimes
   and who still await the day
Through some appropriately humble act of national contrition
 they may at long last Rest in Peace.
May our Observance
 of this National Day of Remembrance and Mourning
 redeem our nations sins of commission and omission
 against our enslaved African forefathers and foremothers
 and their progeny through the centuries.
Robert Starling Pritchard                      web site Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.
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