today in black history

April 24, 2024

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was incorporated on this date in 1927 with 27 member colleges.

Minstrel Politics

POSTED: December 10, 2015, 1:00 pm

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It came as no surprise when 15-minutes of fame actress Stacey Dash spewed a derogatory comment toward President Obama on the Fox News Channel airwaves. Just as Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s Negromaniacal ignorance fits a pattern of cultural self-loathing that defines many African-Americans who seek access and acceptance by white America. These behaviors are consistent with minstrel politics that now defines our nation’s failing ‘democracy’ and is rooted in the Reagan era of three decades ago.

It was under the Reagan presidency that we were assaulted by the Clarences, Pendleton and Thomas, two Black conservatives who went out of their way to deny history, betray the civil rights movement and claim racism as nonexistent in the 20th century. The Reagan era assault on the United States Supreme Court, the reshaping of the federal judiciary, attacks on the federal role in education and civil rights, has now fully blossomed into an orthodoxy that at its roots mock history, dismisses Black suffering, and thrusts upon the descendants of African slaves not only the blame for our present second class citizenship but also the responsibility to fix a nation perhaps irreparably damaged by white supremacy.

The remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia yesterday during oral arguments in the University of Texas affirmative action case, suggesting African-Americans are more comfortable and better suited for “lower quality” colleges, is representative of the coded language of paternalistic racism that defines minstrel politics. Today’s bigots offer a helping hand and then stab you with the other. They present themselves as reasonable racists. Scalia and his right-wing cohorts, like Justice Clarence Thomas, ironically the ultimate ‘quota’ appointee to the Court, engage in rhetorical arguments that are patently racist but they attempt to hide behind the façade of judicial inquiry. The conservative faction of the Court operates like a White Citizens Council in that their purpose is clearly to circumvent the interpretation of the Constitution to afford equal protection by advancing opinions that support and maintain white supremacy.

We are witnessing a grand last stand in America. As this nation’s demographics shift from a European centric majority to a true melting pot, absolute fear is gripping many whites who are afraid of a reduction in status and perceived power. Of course, most whites who are in panic mode have no real power but have been led to believe that their whiteness confers advantage. Sadly, they cast their lot on the basis of skin color and with the very cohort that view them as expendable. It becomes much easier to attack an African-American president than face the fact that your entire belief structure is based on a lie. It is why many white males arm up with guns and not knowledge. The truth can set you free but it can also hurt.

What is filling this atmosphere is a purposeful political minstrel class that engages in rhetoric and behavior that defies logic, embraces ignorance as a birthright and simply shrugs off evidence driven rebuttals when confronted.

The rhetoric of Donald Trump cannot be divorced from the willful ignorance of a Stacey Dash or the complicit silence of Clarence Thomas as his white, conservative colleague belittles African-Americans and gives an ‘of course, except you Clarence’ wink toward his co-conspirator. It was evident when Black clergy met with Trump, some seeking clarification of his racist rhetoric but many simply desperate for validation and proximity to perceived power. What props these minstrels up is their need for white acceptance and the belief that white privilege is transferable simply because white elites deem them ‘special.’ These people are the equivalent of the stereotypical, slew footed, shuffling uneducated Black characters that lavish in their ignorance and live to please those who want nothing more than their labor and eventual demise.

This behavior extends to the entertainment industry, a weapon of mass destruction if there ever was one. Programming that purposely plays to the gutter preoccupies the conversations and time of too many of us. A word of advice, any program that has to include “Real” or “Love” in its title is promoting just the opposite. The dumbing down of the Black viewing public extends to entertainment channels that relish in negative depictions of Black life and celebrate human conflict as something innately Black. Popular culture’s minstrelsy works cooperatively with the political environment to anesthetize Black Americans and frame our irrelevance and expendability for white America.

“Who needs white robes and hoods when white supremacy can be extolled by the mirror image of the very people racism seeks to crush? The likes of Scalia and Trump simply play the role of the organ grinder, playing tunes that their mentally chained Black comrades willingly dance to in blissful ignorance.”

And I dare not make this a partisan issue because we have witnessed minstrel politics on the part of Democrats and so-called ‘progressives.’ We would do well to remember that the disastrous Clinton crime bill, that snared thousands of Blacks in the criminal justice system and for which Bill Clinton, in full campaign mode, has now apologized, was supported and hailed by prominent Black clergy. Minstrelsy also extends to many white progressives who advocate for equity, and feign comradeship for equality, but operationally cannot accept Blacks as their equal. The real irony of the anger at affirmative action, and the supposed white liberal support for it, is that in the very areas where we should see significant change, we do not. African-Americans still represent just 4 to 5 percent respectively of doctors, lawyers and engineers and are literally nonexistent among tenured university faculty except on the campuses of historically Black colleges, nearly invisible in corporate middle management, and not even a blip in high-tech, and a rare sight in executive suites.

Yet, minstrels would have us believe that somehow Blacks are responsible for their own degradation. It is the ultimate bug-eyed posturing of the political equivalent of lawn jockeys who keep watch over privilege they are allowed to defend but access and opportunity that they vociferously deny those that look like them. Who needs white robes and hoods when white supremacy can be extolled by the mirror image of the very people racism seeks to crush? The likes of Scalia and Trump simply play the role of the organ grinder, playing tunes that their mentally chained Black comrades willingly dance to in blissful ignorance.

There is no antidote for minstrelsy except to call out those who engage in it. Beyond that our focus must be on raising consciousness, defining our aims, and refusing to be distracted from the ultimate goal of Black liberation.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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