Friday, April 24, 2009

Malcolm X for Private Schools?

"We want freedom by any means necessary."

Was El Haji Malik El Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X, the most famous Black Nationalist in the United States in the last half century) a Republican-Conservative advocate for private schools?

Sound ridiculous? Read on.

Nothing gets me in “hot water” with some of my fellow African-American activist brothers and sisters like my public, unapologetic rejection of 40-year-old “Black Power” clich├ęs from the 1960s. I lived through the 1960s. As a nave Howard University freshman I witnessed the rebellion in Washington, D.C. when Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968. Forty-one years later in, of all places, that very same Washington, D.C., the liberating "Black Power" slogans of my youth have become tools for conservatives.

Browsing The Washington Post web site, I noticed an Op-Ed by a former Democratic mayor and a former city councilman illustrating abuse of Malcolm's oft-quoted line about "any means necessary" better than anything I could have dreamed up. See below Malcolm X, of all people, being trotted out on behalf of the District's controversial school voucher program.

Published by The Washington Post, Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Education, By Any Means
By Anthony A. Williams and Kevin P. Chavous

"We want freedom by any means necessary."

When Malcolm X uttered those words in June 1964, a chill traveled down the spine of America. The phrase signaled a change in the tone and tenor of the civil rights movement. It was understood that those fighting for equality and justice were willing to do anything to achieve those rights. Malcolm's words made clear that tedious, incremental steps toward freedom for African Americans were unacceptable and would not be tolerated. "By any means necessary" represented a crossroads in the civil rights movement.

Our nation faces a similar crossroads today regarding education reform. Ensuring that every American child receives equal access to high-quality education represents our last civil rights struggle. By any objective measure, the educational offerings we provide for our children, particularly children of color, do them a disservice.
. . .

The reality of our children's deficits demands much more than we have given them. Platitudes, well-crafted speeches and the latest three-to-five-year reform plan aren't good enough. We must find ways to educate every child now, by any means necessary.

It was that spirit that led us, as elected officials of the District in 2003, to promote the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which provides scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools, is part of the three-sector initiative that annually provides $50 million in federal funding to the District for education purposes.

. . .

I could not help but laugh out loud when I read this sophistry. Some of my most passionately nationalist friends in the Green Party Black Caucus are active members of the DC Statehood Green Party. Section IX.2 of the DC party platform categorically states:

Public schools should not be: · Privatized · Made to compete with private schools through government-funded vouchers · Used for military recruitment (e.g., through JROTC) · Used as places to advertise corporate products or sell junk food to students

What do my DC nationalist comrades think about this?

Was El Haji Malik El Shabazz a Goldwater Republican in 1964? I don't think so.

* * *

In recent decades, the Republican-Conservative clique succeeded in demonizing public schools, public school teachers, and teacher unions. Unions faithfully lend knee-jerk support for all Democrats and devote a lot of money and energy to electing more Democrats even though these cowardly Clinton-era DINOs do nothing to counter the anti-teachers crusade. Indeed, the “bipartisan” consensus seems to be that inner-city public schools are where the hard-earned tax dollars of "People Like Us" are “wasted” on the pathological children of "Those People."

As I write this, California is facing a complicated May 19th referendum to "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" as part of our permanent "crisis" over the state budget. Once again, a lot of well-meaning progressive Greens are carrying water for the Democratic Party Establishment. Thus, for example, one of our strong Los Angeles Greens recently posted without comment a statement on a Green E-List by the California Teachers Association:

"Vote YES on May 19. Vote for jobs, for teachers, for schools, for social services"
. . . Blah! Blah! Blah!

I, myself, am firmly convinced that independent progressives, including Greens routinely condemned by "liberals" as "crazy" and beyond the pale, should NOT do the "dirty work" that arrogant, smug, urban Democrats are unwilling to do for themselves. If all these teachers unions always support these bad Democrats, that's Prima facia evidence that something is wrong with union leadership, too.

Similarly, I am even more convinced that independent progressive Blacks and Latinos (that is, persons of African and Latin American descent who really favor Green change and not the ones using "nationalist" slogans to hide their deep-seated social and economic conservatism) should NOT advance the conservative agenda of the likes of Anthony Williams.

El Haji Malik El Shabazz: may eternal peace be unto him. This is not 1964. It's 2009 and time to make our own Green slogans.

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