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BLOG: KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR IS NO CRITICAL THINKER


To Control How Blacks Think And Behave, 

Gunnar Myrdal Recommended Accommodating Negro Leaders


Eugene Stovall

December 2019 Oakland. California


Entertainers are society’s cultural icons. They help shape society’s imagination. Because they have media presence and healthy bank accounts, entertainers are especially appealing to black people. Black celebrities support both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Oprah Winfrey has become so influential that she was considered a potential presidential candidate. But entertainers are not always positive. Kanye West, Charles Barkley and Bill Cosby have used their celebrity status to blame black people for their own victimization. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is another celebrity who believes himself qualified to speak on black issues. However, in his article, “Are Harriet And Slavery Films Good For African Americans” Jabbar demonstrates little critical thinking skill and a tendency towards anti-intellectualism.

Jabbar claims that slavery films can “correct the misperceptions many Americans have about slavery as a result of inaccurate textbooks, ill-informed teachers and conservative propaganda.” Jabbar’s assertions are factually incorrect. In addition to degrees in higher education, teachers receive specialized training in education programs where they learn the elements of pedagogy. Teachers must pass multi-level state administered assessments before obtaining a teaching credential. State and county departments of education review and certify the textbooks used in public schools. Jabbar’s assertions reveal how ill-informed he about public education.

Jabbar could have raised a number of issues facing public education. Educators are still conflicted over whether phonics or whole language is a more effective teaching strategy to improve literacy. Educators who value common core criticize educators still utilizing open court texts. The deficiencies in the national initiative, no child left behind, have not been addressed in race to the top. But instead of addressing these or a myriad of other problems, Jabbar offers the type of superficial comments and false claims that emphasizes Mark Twain’s most important admonition about silence in the face of ignorance.

When Jabbar asserts that movies like The Birth Of A Nation, Free State Of Jones, Freedom, 12 Years A Slave, Lincoln and Django Unchained can correct historical oversights in education, he seems not to know that movies are fiction. Books contain the facts that develop critical thinking. Movies are fairy tales that are intended to entertain. Slave movies are inspired by historical events, but a movie’s entertainment value is found in its fictional content. Django Unchained is mere entertainment; it is neither educational, nor factual.

Jabbar says that slave movies might make white people sympathetic to the ‘plight of marginalized minorities.’ He doesn’t realize that sympathetic white people don’t run the world; ruthless, murderous white people, intent on taking what they want, whenever they want and from whom they want, run the world. Slave movies do not make whites sympathetic to the misery and suffering they have inflicted on the world, both in the past and in the present. White folks find nostalgia in slave movies portraying vicious masters and suffering slaves. Studies show that the more violent the movie the more it desensitizes its watchers. Troopships transporting Marines to the Korean War showed WWII movies to prepare them to kill. A fun-filled picnic is derived from the enjoyment of a “pic a nig”, the event where a mob picks a nigger to lynch. In Trump’s impeachment hearing, Representative Steve Cohen used the phrase, the “jig is up,” reminiscent of the pleasure white folks got when some hapless black was hoisted into the air by a rope around his neck. White nostalgia for lynching is currently being satisfied by the numerous and well-publicized murders of unarmed blacks by killer cops. Woodrow Wilson was so inspired by lynching in the film. The Klansman, that he asked D. G. Griffith to rename his film, The Birth of A Nation. Slavery movies do not make white people sympathetic to the plight of black people; slave movies rally whites to Make America Great Again.

Jabbar’s most controversial claim is that “slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War.” He believes that the high school seniors who attend lectures, read books and conduct research about the causes of the Civil War are being mis-educated. Jabbar urges these students to watch slave movies to learn the facts. Doubtless slavery was an inhumane institution, but even a basketball player should know that hundreds of thousands of white folks did not slaughter each other to free Negro slaves.

The primary cause of the Civil War was the South’s succession from the Union. South Carolina initiated actual hostilities by attacking the Union army at Fort Sumter. Southern states began agitating for succession with Aaron Burr’s conspiracy during the Jefferson administration. Abraham Lincoln’s election justified the South’s second ‘war of independence’ not because Lincoln threatened their slaves, but because he threatened their power. Lincoln’s Republican administration intended to strip the South and the Democrats of the power they had enjoyed for nearly two decades. Rather than accepting a peaceful transfer of power, the South chose war.

The movie, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, notwithstanding, the North made every effort to accommodate slavery. In 1850, the North passed the fugitive slave law that not only re-enslaved thousands of fugitive slaves living in the North, but permitted slave catchers to kidnap and sell any free person of color they chose. The fugitive slave law created slave courts where slave catchers could take kidnapped Negroes and, by paying the ten dollar court fee, get permission to load them aboard a government ship which transported them to southern slave markets. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision held that slaves could be owned and held in bondage anywhere in the United States. Roger Taney, the first Catholic Supreme Court Justice ruled that no Negro had any rights that a white man need recognize. The Missouri Compromise gave the South the right to expand slavery anywhere in the United States. However, it was ruled that slaves held in northern states could not be counted for purposes of congressional representation. This provision caused Southern resentment. Abraham Lincoln even promised that, if the South remained in the Union, he would not free a single slave. But the South wanted power over their government and seceded. The Civil War was a fight for power, not for slaves.

An American Dilemma: Armed Ex-Slaves

After the Civil War, the presence of 200,000 black men, in Union uniforms and bearing arms, alarmed white people in the north and the south. These black soldiers, trained to kill, struck fear in the hearts of white people. So they assassinated Abraham Lincoln and installed Andrew Johnson, a racist Southern Democrat, in the White House. Johnson passed the ‘Black Codes’ reestablishing white control over blacks everywhere. During the following twelve years, a reconstruction period established a political caste of Negro officeholders and hanger-ons giving cover to power grabbing whites. All over the South, Negro politicians were used to facilitate the rapid disarmament and dispersal of the black soldiers safeguarding Negro lives and protecting their property. But protecting black people and their property was not a priority of the new Negro caste. These Negroes were more interested in mimicking the manners, customs and lifestyle of their former masters. The black codes were expanded into a full range of Jim Crow laws that sanctioned dehumanization, terrorism and murder. Some Negro army units were disbanded and others were disbursed into the Western territories where the whites used them to kill, pacify and guard Indians. White men everywhere were enlisted into the Masons, the Knights of the White Camellia, the Red Shirts, the American Legion, the Skull and Bones, the Knights of The Golden Circle and the Ku Klux Klan to aid in the ‘noble crusade’ of putting ‘darkies’ in their place. Twelve years after the Civil War, with the aid of a Negro leadership caste, black people were forced back into a state of powerlessness, marginality and dependency.

The Fewer Negroes In America The Better

After WWII, comparisons between America’s racial policies and the Nazi’s Jewish policies made America’s ascendancy in international affairs, especially among former European colonies, difficult. Hitler had even modeled his Nuremberg laws on America’s Jim Crow laws. Harry Truman, the klansman in the White House, decided to update Negro suppression policies by implementing the recommendations proposed by Swedish sociologist, Gunnar Myrdal, in his study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem And Modern Democracy. One of Myrdal’s recommendations was to put ‘glamour personalities’ and entertainers into black leadership positions. When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar declares that slave movies are useful for changing white people’s anti-black attitudes, he is playing the role of Myrdal accommodating Negro leader:

[T] he popular and glamour power of a Negro who has achieved something extraordinary, particularly in competition with whites [is enormous]….

Attainments [of the glamour personality] are apparently given a relatively higher rating in the Negro than in the white community…. In fact, the entire Negro upper class gets peculiar symbolic significance and power in the Negro community for the very reason that it consists of people who have acquired white people’s education and wealth …

[A glamour personality] exerts considerable power as an active Negro leader in a technical sense. Jesse Owens, … at the 1936 Olympics established himself as the world’s fastest runner and one of the greatest track athletes in history .… [O]n the basis of his specialized mastery of running and the acclaim awarded him by the white and Negro press, Owens was considered a valuable political asset and employed by the Republican party to attract the Negro vote….

It must also be noted that Negro celebrities … generally show great restraint in avoiding the temptation of stepping outside their narrow field of competence. Marion Anderson is a good example of scrupulous adherence to this role. When Paul Robeson and Richard Wright sometimes discuss general aspects of the Negro problem, they do so only after study and consideration [with their white supporters.]

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Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem In Modern Democracy says that the Negro population in America must be reduced or completely eliminated because they are “unassimilatable, or rather, the Negro’s amalgamation into the American nation is undesirable…. [Therefore whites believe that Negro] suppression is necessary …. Negroes must be kept down by all means necessary [because] Negroes have an eradicable craving to be like white people.” To put it another way, Myrdal finds Negro demands for equal treatment and civil rights an unacceptable encroachment on white privilege. After WWII, the Negro population represented the same threat to white privilege that the Negro population represented after the Civil War. Myrdal writes:

If we forget about the means for the moment and consider only the quantitative goal for Negro population policy, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of white Americans desire that there be as few Negroes as possible in America. If Negroes could be eliminated from America or greatly decreased in numbers, this would meet the whites’ approval ___ provided that it could be accomplished by means, which are also approved. Correspondingly, an increase of the population is commonly looked upon as undesirable. These opinions are seldom expressed publicly. Commonly it is considered a great misfortune for America that Negro slaves were ever imported. The presence of Negroes in America today is usually considered as a “plight” of the nation and particularly of the South. It should be noted that … a decrease of the Negro population is not necessarily hostile to the Negro people. It is shared even by enlightened white Americans who do not hold the common belief that Negroes are inferior as a race. Usually it is pointed out that Negroes [who serve white interests such as preachers, politicians and entertainers] fare better and meets less prejudice where they are fewer in numbers …

One would think that Negro leaders would challenge such a racist proposal. But Negro leaders from the communist Paul Robeson to the conservative W.E.B. DuBois, from the scholarly E. Franklin Frazier to the union leader, A. Philip Randolph all supported Myrdal’s proposals. Even the otherwise pro-black, Michelle Alexander, in her book, The New Jim Crow, praises Myrdal’s study. Negro acceptance of his theses perplexes Myrdal:

The Negro cannot be expected to have the same view on the quantitative goal of Negro population. Of course Negroes are familiar with the general fact that prejudice against them is, in part, a function of their numbers. But I have never met a Negro who drew the conclusion from this that a decrease of the American Negro population would be advantageous. Rather it is sometimes contended that the Negro’s power would increase with his numbers and that the most virile people is the one that survives in the universal struggle. With the increase in “race pride” and “race consciousness,” which is a consequence of the rising tide of the Negro protest, almost every Negro who is brought to think about the problem wants the Negro population to be as large as possible….

Myrdal cautions against Negroes studying, reading or researching at any level. Wanting Negroes to remain anti-intellectual, Myrdal recommends an accommodating Negro leadership that is not only uneducated but also submissive. Myrdal finds the ideal accommodating Negro in W.E.B. DuBois. Myrdal says the NAACP used DuBois to criticize and oppose any Negro who tried to tell black people the true purpose of white population policies. Following the NAACP example, Myrdal recommends accommodating Negroes, absorbed in their own self-interests, be installed in the leadership positions of every fraternity, sorority, college, civil rights organization, church and political group. The media throughout the 1950s and early 60s propagated the role of George ‘Kingfish’ Stevens, the Amos ‘N Andy character.

The Need For Critical Thinking

The future of black people is indeed bleak if its leadership continues to play plantation politics, pandering to white privilege. An accommodating Negro leadership is essential for the success of Gunnar Myrdal’s recommendations. If Jabbar wants to make a positive contribution to the black dialogue, he should obtain some critical thinking skills. Before criticizing teachers and textbooks, Jabbar should become familiar with racist tracts like Myrdal’s American Dilemma, Winthrop Jordan’s White Over Black and Murray and Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve. He should also study black reflections on white racism like Derrick Bell’s Faces From The Bottom Of The Well, Carl Rowan’s The Coming Race War and Harold Cruse’s The Crisis Of The Negro Intellectual.