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Déjá vu

3/4/2016, 7:53 a.m.
Now that the political pundits of the major media outlets have gulped down the teas that were the South Carolina ...

Oscar H. Blayton

Now that the political pundits of the major media outlets have gulped down the teas that were the South Carolina Democratic primary and Super Tuesday, they are busy trying to read the leaves left in their respective cups.

One of the questions they are trying to fathom is: “Why are black voters splitting between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?”

Their amazement over this split reveals the ignorance that continues to shroud most of white America when it comes to issues of race.

The obvious fact they miss is that black America is not homogeneous. That truth would be abundantly clear if people of color were portrayed more often and more fairly by Hollywood and the television networks. But the most prevalent themes in which black folk are visible — black misery and white heroism — provide little opportunity to accurately depict anyone, black or white.

Throughout history there have been many political divisions within the black community. The most noted of these was the disagreement between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century.

Then, as now, African-Americans and other people of color were facing a surge of white intolerance. Jim Crow laws were being passed in the South, and in Northern industrial cities,  black immigrants — fleeing Southern oppression — were despised and reviled for taking jobs away from white people.

Within this context, Dr. DuBois and Mr. Washington advocated two different approaches to the problem. Dr. DuBois saw the need for an elite class of black folks who could lead the rest of us on the path to full citizenship. He believed that, through the force of scholarship and the power of reasoning, the evils of racism could be overcome. Mr. Washington, on the other hand, wanted us to “cast down [our] buckets” where we were. He wanted us to work within the then current system, accept that white people believed in racial superiority, but demonstrate through hard work and upright character that we deserve a slice of the American Pie. (But let us not forget that women still were not allowed to vote at the time.)

The struggle then, as it is now, was viewed as one between “elites” and “accommodationists.”  

Today, academics, writers and intellectuals within the African-American community appear to be lining up behind a candidate who often is described as a “socialist dreamer” from Vermont. But a closer look will reveal that they are not so much in favor of Bernie Sanders as they are opposed to a hostile system that has heaped countless disappointments on us while inflicting immeasurable harm.  

In the other corner are the party faithful who take their cues from the established voices, no matter what. Their theme has been “we have to work within the system and go with the best that we find there. These black voters are staying with the heirs to the machinery that brought them “The War on Poverty,” JFK and FDR.

But in the early 20th century, as it is today, there was a third movement. One hundred years ago this month, a man who was despised and reviled, even by some members of the black community, stepped forward to give voice to those who were neither among the intellectuals nor working within the established political machinery of the day. That man was Marcus Garvey. He eventually was deported to Jamaica. But before he was, he lifted black folks with a sense of purpose and self-reliance that endured for more than a half century.