Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do we love the First Lady more than the President?

It was a thrilling event Tuesday April 28, the unveiling of the bust of Sojourner Truth in Emancipation Hall of the new U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. While it was a decidedly Black affair—organized for the most part by Dr. E. Faye Williams and her troops in the National Congress of Black Women, I also detected what felt like a strong “feminist (if not Suffragist)” sentiment in the room.
First Lady Michelle Obama (whose family was the largest single private donor to the years-long project) was the really big star of the show bar none: which included three of the four most powerful women in America (Oprah Winfrey was not there) Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Oscar-winning actress Cicely Tyson.
Now, I could be wrong about this, but it seems like the ovation for Secretary Clinton was equal to that given to the absent President Barack Obama himself. Hm-m-m.
The late Dr. C. Delores Tucker, founder of NCBW would have been ecstatic!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Larger conspiracy re: ‘executive compensation’

The national debate about executive compensation is woefully inadequate. Most of the talk has been about CEO pay to companies receiving government “bailout” funds. But the problem goes much, much deeper.

Each of the Fortune 1,000 companies has a CEO, right? Plus, a CFO, a CIO, and a COO, right? Not to mention various and sundry Executive Vice Presidents and Vice Presidents. Then they all have boards of directors with upwards of 20 compensated board members each, right? So now, according to my calculations, we have a class of 30,000-40,000 or so individuals nationally with an interest in not having the government regulate executive compensation.

That’s big. That’s a lot of concerned individuals—all of whom have “friends” in Congress and the executive branch and they are spending millions, even as we speak, lobbying the government to keep their interests in mind. That’s more than just a one or two “rogue” CEOs.

Some companies, after receiving government bailout money, straightened out their bottom lines, and then decided to pay the government back, so as to keep the feds from meddling in their companies’ affairs. They seem most interested in keeping the executive compensation issue, out of the public discussion.

It’s not just a few CEOs who have a “nickel in this quarter.”

Let me describe their conundrum in my own version of “Faux Ebonics,” as if spoken by “Big Mama,” the grandmother, matriarch and head of a typical three-generation, inner-city household.

“Honey, I ain’t takin’ no mo’ that Gov’mint Cheese. De’Onte doin’ good now. Him an’ his frien’s down to the Rec Center, makin’ good money now. So we’s givin’ back dat Gov’mint Cheese, cuz we don’ wont none dem Social Wu’kers sniffin’ roun’ here no mo’.”

There’s a lot of “Cheese,” government and otherwise, on these executives’ tables too. A lot of Cheese is on the table.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama: Shared destiny? Separate destinies?

The elevation of Barack Hussein Obama to be the 44th President of the United States makes for some interesting deliberations. He’s a Black man. That goes without saying, but that fact has meaning beyond its historical “first-ness.”
Brother Malcolm X once said, and the statement still speaks for me: “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I don’t even know if I’m and American.” President Obama is obviously a Democrat.
The reason that statement is pertinent to me is because of the promise in the Bible: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Now if that promise is also true of nations, then I personally don’t want any parts of the American inheritance for capturing, transporting, and subjugating hundreds of millions of Africans (incidentally murdering tens of millions during the Middle Passage) for more than 400 years; nor do I want America’s heritage for committing genocide against the native Indians; for despoiling the earth’s air and water; and for ruining the world’s economy with America’s thieving brand of robber-baron Capitalism.
But that’s just me.
Many people of the world, including many Africans have since chosen to come to this land, presumably because they wanted to participate in the American Promise. That is their choice. My fore parents were kidnapped and were given no choice in the matter. Now, as I survey the situation—with judgment potentially at hand—I have made my choice. I want my own destiny, thank you very much.
Unlike my forbearers, Pres. Obama’s African father came willingly to America, and his mother’s parents and grandparents, were also willing Americans.
I wonder about him. Is he going to get the same “reward” as previous presidents? Will Mr. Obama’s reward be the same as what’s coming to George W. (for Worst in history) Bush? Will Bill Clinton’s reward be the same as Ronald Reagan’s? Does Franklin Roosevelt have the same thing coming to him as Herbert Hoover?
How about Abraham Lincoln, who effectively “freed” the slaves? Is his portion the same as that of slave-holding Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Have these men already gotten what’s coming to them?
For us today, these are complex questions because Black folks are absolutely giddy over “a Brother” in the White House, not as a butler or servant as we would have been when I was a child, but now as Resident-in-Chief. We did not know “who” we were before his election and inauguration. Now, some of us who thought we knew are absolutely confused.
Our condition is understandable. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois described us in his seminal book The Souls of Black Folks, written in 1896 or thereabouts. He asked: “Are we Black? Are we American?” and he described our dilemma as having “two warring ideals in one dark body.” That’s us, alright.
But Brother Malcolm made some harsh pronouncements based on today’s standards. Months ago, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two man in Al Qaeda tried to invoke one of the radical American Muslim’s most famous clich├ęs, against Pres. Obama, referring to our “Brother President” as a “House Negro.” Not! Still, Brother Barack is not just IN the House; he is now Head of The House. That is complex.
Brother Malcolm also reminded us of the “chickens coming home to roost,” and what-not. Are America’s chickens yet to come home to roost for all Americans? What about us?
More interestingly from my perspective, Brother Malcolm said of the House Negro, that the House Negro identifies with the slave master more than the master himself. When the master gets sick, the House Negro asks: “What’s the matter boss? We sick?”
When the slave master’s house catches on fire, Brother Malcolm said, the House Negro will help put the fire out. But he said there was another kind of Negro slave—the Field Negro. Unlike the privileged House Negro who got to wear clothes like the master wore, and eat the leftovers of the food the master ate, the Field Negro suffered the worst of conditions, such, that when the master’s house would catch on fire, the Field Negro would not only, NOT help put the fire out, he would pray for a strong wind. A wind which would accelerate the fire, hastening the destruction of the mansion. Is that how we feel about General Motors and Chrysler?
So, in the conversation about the “Brother President,” the discussion should not be about who he is and what he does for us, but rather, who “we” are, and whether we want our destiny to be the same as those in the Big House, or those in the Field.
Remember the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who told singer Harry Belafonte and others (paraphrasing): "I am afraid I am leading our people to integrate into a burning house..."