James Ridgeway: Divided We Stand

When David Duke's National Association for the Advancement of White People News published The National Premise, a separatist map of America, in 1984, nobody paid it any attention. After all, at the time, Duke was just another repugnant klansman. Duke "proposed geographical relocation and regrouping of America's Unassimilable Minorities," with Long Island and Manhattan renamed as West Israel "to contain the entire Jewish population of the United States." Non-Jews would be forced to leave. Then there would be "Minoria": the rest of the New York metropolitan area set aside for Puerto Ricans, southern Italians, Greeks, and other "unassimilable minorities." Cubans were to live in Miami. American Indians would get Navahona, French Canadians, Francia, and Asians, East Mongolia. Alta California, made up of parts of California, Arizona, and Texas, would be for Mexicans, and New Africa, a region stretching across the Deep South and bordering the Gulf of Mexico, would be for blacks. "Almost 12 million Negroes will have to be transported from northern urban centers, and millions of southern Negroes will have to be regrouped," wrote Duke. After The National Premise was published, the far-right political coalition of Klan, Posse, Nazis, Aryan Nations, skinheads, and others embraced the goal of dividing the United States and forming a separatist Aryan homeland. Leaders encouraged Aryans to move out into western Montana and northern Idaho to create a white bastion. One underground gang, the Order, began conducting armed robberies to finance a new homeland. And separatist leader Richard Butler of the Aryan Nations conducted discussions with black separatists about the formation of a black nation. In a way, Duke and others on the far right were only taking their lead from the race politics already being played by the two major political parties. Starting in the early 1970s with Richard Nixon, the Republicans had set out to win the South from the Democrats by appealing to young, white males on the basis of race. By 1989, this race card strategy had become so successful that "former Klansman" Duke was able to remodel himself as a legitimate political figure and run as a Republican in Louisiana, first winning a seat in the state legislature, and then in 1990 -- narrowly losing a bid to unseat incumbent GOP senator Bennett Johnston. Duke was the first to openly argue a platform that has now become the basis for New Right Republican ideology and is currently working its way through the Clinton White House. The Duke platform argued for welfare reform and an end to affirmative action. He fought for the poor white boys who spent all their money on college only to lose out in the job race to unfairly advantaged blacks. And he criticized minority set-aside contracting as presenting blacks with an unfair advantage in small-business deals with the government. Duke proposed rewarding people with high IQs (i.e., white people) so that they might have more children. He rejected criticism that this went against the notion of equal rights, saying, "Right now the government is doing that in reverse. The low income, low IQ people [who] are least able to function in our society have the highest birthrates in our society. And so government is encouraging the least capable and least talented people that have the highest birthrate. I think that's disastrous....That's against evolution." At the same time the Republican party was fine-tuning its antiblack manifesto, New Democrats were also putting blacks down as hard as they could. When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1988, unexpectedly winning the support of millions of white people in the primaries, he was finally broken in the New York primary by an opposition campaign as vicious and racist as anything the Klan could have cooked up. At the center of that political hit was then senator Al Gore. Since then the New Democrats, led by Clinton and Gore, have jettisoned New Deal policies and the traditional inner-city black voter base in favor of chasing the white Republican suburbs. At the same time, Duke's platform has become the political mainstream, embraced by the new Gingrich Republicans who are now enjoying widespread success with their attacks on equality, ranging from welfare reform to affirmative action. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton tails along behind. Ever since his inauguration, Clinton has done just about everything imaginable to humiliate African Americans. He alternately ignores them and bullshits them. One of his main campaign planks in 1992 was the "reform" of habeas corpus. It guaranteed that many poor, and often black, men sentenced to death in unfair trials would receive less chance of a decent trial. In social policy, Clinton mirrors Gingrich. Both want more prisons. Both are busy shredding the social security safety net. And it's a Democratic president who refuses to fight for an increase in the minimum wage. On one issue after another, big corporate money is calling the shots for both parties. Recently, there has been a great deal of black celebration over O.J. Simpson's acquittal and how it marks a triumph over white racism. It may be, as Village Voice columnist Greg Tate noted, that the black jury in the Simpson case took on white state power. But if that is true, it remains a token effort. For during the 12 months that the mainly black jury was sitting on the Simpson case, outside in the real world, the U.S. Congress, with the president running behind, were busy expanding the divide between rich and poor. In the process, they stuck it to black America. What the verdict has rekindled is a heated debate about the deep racial divisions in American society. After the Rodney King verdict and the subsequent L.A. riots, all the talk was about how we can bring the races together. This time, the tone, if only in more conservative strains of the mainstream, seems to have changed. Scott McConnell, writing in the New York Post, said that the race discussion has grown "stale." Politely, he raised the possibility of separation. Noting the Palestinian-Israeli accords, he quoted Malcolm X and George Kennan on the need for a separate black state. "I do believe that American race relations would not be worse for acknowledging that blacks and whites have between them the power to develop alternatives to living together," McConnell wrote. What began as an outrageous Klan idea is becoming part of the mainstream political debate. And it is about to enter a new phase. The long-planned, expertly executed right-wing attack on the welfare state will climax with the destruction of the Democratic party and the realignment of its old New Deal base. As the Republican juggernaut keeps rolling, big-city voting blocks will be broken up and the black vote will be captured or simply alienated. The right aims to open black divisions by replacing white racist attacks on the black underclass with its own reasoned-sounding black attacks. Already we are beginning to hear blacks claiming they have lost economic ground since Martin Luther King Jr. and joining in the criticism of people who take welfare. Within the black community, there is an undercurrent of opinion that opposes affirmative action. Trade unions, which have long maintained strong black affiliation, are now viewed by many African Americans as sick rip-off patronage outfits that doled out jobs to whites. When you add in some of the stronger black criticism of governmental intervention, it's not such a great leap before you reach the argument for black separatism, and its eerie echo of David Duke's own racial map. This kind of thinking is not likely to lead to much of an improvement for African Americans. The affluent white suburbs are no nearer to rebuilding the inner cities than they ever were. Neither is white capital going to create more jobs for poor people, certainly not blacks, to pull themselves out of poverty. The tragedy of U.S. poverty is part of the new industrial plan, one that envisions a cheaper labor pool--black and white--in the U.S. that can compete with labor in the poorest sections of the world. The plan envisions an expanded police force with plenty of prison space to enforce the rules of the new labor market. Certain sections of the black community like to say, Who cares what white capital does? The truth is, if you put all the black capital in the U.S. together, it would produce one of the most miserable, weak economies in the world. All a combined black economy would achieve is a re-creation of the separate but unequal institutions the civil rights movement fought so long and hard to overcome. For now, gridlock in America is the reality. The only way out of that gridlock is the renewal of coalition politics envisioned in Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign. Ever so briefly it captured the imagination of an America that believed there was something else to look forward to than black and white together against the poor.

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