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An imprint of St. Martins Press.


Copyright 2012 by Ron Christie. All rights reserved. Printed in the

United States of America. For information, address St. Martins Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Design by Steven Seighman
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Christie, Ron, 1969
Blackwards : how Black leadership is returning America to the days of
separate but equal / Ron Christie. 1st ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-312-59147-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-01352-1 (e-book)
1. African AmericansHistory1964 2. African AmericansCivil
rightsa History. 3. African AmericansSocial conditions2009
4. African AmericansPolitics and government. 5. African American
leadership. 6. United StatesRace relationsHistory. 7. United
StatesSocial conditions21st century. 8. United StatesPolitics and
government2009 I. Title.
E185.615.C577 2012
First Edition: September 2012


When Did America Stray from Equality Under the Law to a Push for
Special, Rather than Equal, Rights?

Before we begin our inquiry into why certain black leaders

would seek to lead America back to the days of separate, rather than
equal rights for African Americans, we must rst grapple with a difcult threshold question: What does it mean to be an American citizen
today? This question is perhaps more vexing now in the twenty-rst
century than in the early days of American history, even taking into
account that it was only in the latter half of the nineteenth century
that blacks were guaranteed citizenship rights and the protections afforded under the Constitution.
In the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857, the
chief justice of the United States oered his rather stark assessment of
the rights and liberties of African Americans in the United States in
general as well as his particular belief that blacks were not American
citizenswhether they were born on American soil or brought to the
country involuntarily through slavery. In the relevant section of the
opinion, Chief Justice Roger Taney asserted:
The words people of the United States and citizens are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe
the political body who, according to our republican institutions,
form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the


Government through their representatives. They are what we

familiarly call the sovereign people, and every citizen is one
of this people, and a constituent member of this sovereignty.
The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea [black people] . . . compose a portion of this
people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We
think they are not, and that they are not included, and were
not intended to be included, under the word citizens in the
Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and
privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to
citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that
time considered as a subordinate . . . and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and,
whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who
held the power and the Government might choose to grant
Only in the aftermath of the Civil War would Congress act to clarify
the legal status of blacks to preserve both their legal status as citizens
as well as their liberties and protections under the Constitution while
explicitly rejecting the Dred Scott decision one which constitutional
and legal scholars consider the worst decision ever rendered by the
Supreme Court.2
First Congress formally abolished slavery by adopting the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865. Next
Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, making it federal law
that everyone born in the United States and not subject to any foreign
power was an American citizen without regard to his or her race, color,
or previous condition of either slavery or involuntary servitude. Finally, Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment on July 9, 1868,
to explicitly overrule the Dred Scott decision by declaring: All persons
born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein
they reside.3


Congress took this explicit step of including what came to be

known as the Citizenship Clause within the Fourteenth Amendment
to quell eorts by opponents who sought to invalidate the Civil Rights
Act of 1866 as being unconstitutional. The journey to full equality as
citizens of the United States for blacks and other people of color began
in the years following the Civil War; some would argue this struggle
persists to the present day.
The civil rights era remains one of the brightest reminders of the
fulllment of the promises enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that all men and women are equal and that as American citizens
they are guaranteed the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Utilizing the power of words rather than the threat of violence,
leaders and supporters of the civil rights movement sought to rebuild
an American society in which its citizens were to be treated equally
without regard to the color of their skin, ethnicity, or country of origin.
And yet, after ghting for so long to be free from the chains of slavery
and the oppression endured decade by decade via separate and inherently unequal treatment before the law, a new form of self-segregation
began in the days following the civil rights era that has emerged as a
potential threat to the stability of our societal fabric todaythe desire
by some to identify themselves as members of a particular racial and/or
ethnic group rather than treasuring the privileges, rights, and responsibilities of being an individual American citizen.
Noted historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
likened this new trend that gathered momentum in the 1970s and the
1980s as the cult of ethnicity, an abandonment of the vision of America as a melting pot of opportunity in which people set aside their racial
or ethnic allegiance to honor their special status of being American citizens. Elaborating on this troubling phenomenon, Schlesinger noted:
But pressed too far, the cult of ethnicity has had bad consequences, too. The new ethnic gospel rejects the unifying vision
of individuals from all nations melted into a new race. Its underlying philosophy is that America is not a nation of individuals at all but a nation of groups, that ethnicity is the dening


experience for Americans, that ethnic ties are permanent and

indelible, and that division into ethnic communities establishes
the structure of American society and the basic meaning of
American history.4
Before delving into the substance of Schlesingers remarks, it should
be noted that far from being a conservative or rightward-leaning commentator, Schlesingers political ideology was decidedly liberal. For
one, Schlesinger had served as a special assistant to President John F.
Kennedy from 1961 to 1963 and he wrote a denitive account of the
Kennedy presidency entitled A Thousand Days, for which he received
his second Pulitzer Prize in 1968. Instead, Schlesingers opinion can
be said to have been wrought from his front-row seat to power in politics in Washington, D.C., as well as his vocation as an author and social critichis concern over an evolving cult of ethnicity was one
that was informed from decades of observation of the American
To this end, I concur with Schlesingers assessmentthat a cult of
ethnicity has manifested itself in the manner in which people of color
in general, and blacks in particular, have identied themselves over the
past quarter century. The Negro from the 1950s and 1960s later gave
way to the nomenclature of black as the black power movement
took hold in the 1970s. Singer/songwriter James Browns song, Say It
LoudIm Black and Im Proud, released in 1968, was a popular anthem of the black power movement during its epoch. This form of selfidentication continued into the 1980s and 1990s but suddenly the
term black American gave way to African Americana development, I believe, that has had more negative than positive developments.
Black Americans fought for more than a hundred years to be
treated as equals by their fellow citizens, regardless of the color of their
skin and/or ethnicity. And yet, as America has moved from the late
days of the twentieth century into the twenty-rst, there appears to be
a disturbing new trend of self-identication based on race that runs
counter to all of the blood, sweat, and tears the pioneers of the civil
rights era had shed in their hope that one day Americans would be


equal under the color of law without regard to the color of their skin
or ethnicitytying us all together in the phrase Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. once made famous: a single garment of destiny. Instead, the
relatively new push for diversity and multiculturalism sensitivity has
led more to the garment of destinythe essence of the fabric of the
United Statesto fray, rather than knit us more closely together as a
Why? Because I agree with Schlesingers assessment that certain
people of color are placing a premium rst and foremost on their identication as members of a specic group rather than accepting the
premise that American citizens are comprised of people from a myriad
of races that come together to form one individual entitythat of being an American citizen. Furthermore, they seem to regard the term
American as synonymous with being white rather than denoting an
entire group of people brought together by their very diversity. Under
this logic, America is not a nation comprised of individual citizens, but
rather of people who belong to competing groups with diering goals,
beliefs, and ideologies.
This is not a theoretical exercise or conjecture on my partthis is
a conicting reality which I encounter on a daily basis a twenty-rst
century embodiment of W. E. B. DuBoiss term double consciousness, that is, caught between a self-conception of what it means to be
an American as well as being a person of African descent. People in
general and blacks in particular are often amazed that I subscribe to
the former theory and cringe at my lack of desire to self-identify with
the latter. Let me take a moment to explain.
Unequivocally I believe the United States of America is the greatest country on the face of the Earth. Each year, more people try to
immigrate to the United States, both legally and illegally, than any
other country on the globe. Our democratic principles enshrined in
both the Declaration of Independence from English tyranny as well
as the Constitution of the United States have served as our guiding
moral compass, allowing Americans to live their lives among a democratic government of enumerated powers. Our elections and transitions to and from power are peaceful and conducted with the force of


law through the ballot box rather than the force of arms that plague
many Third World countries. Millions of people from around the world
seek precious few slots to become American citizens every year.
And yet, as I cherish my American citizenship as well as the solidarity shared by millions of my fellow native Californians, I am repeatedly criticized for identifying myself as an American as opposed
to an African American. Many of my detractors accuse me of being
ashamed of my heritage or seeking to deny my African roots. To them
I say I can trace my roots to a former slave plantation just outside of
Valdosta, Georgia, that is owned by my family members to this very
day. Generations ago, the same plantation was worked by my relatives,
relatives who toiled under the whip and inhumane system of slavery. I
am very well aware of my roots, both African and American, and I
treasure rather than shun them both.
At the same time, slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment
in 1865 and the United States has compiled nearly 150 years of history
since then. While the stain of slavery will forever be a dark legacy of
our history, I daresay that I do not have any immediate ties to Africa
why then would I seek to identify myself with a continent comprised
of some forty-seven sovereign nations when I am proud of the very nation I live in? Moreover, I marvel at those who believe I have denied
my cultural heritage in favor of Anglocentric styles of culture, speech,
and dress.
I yearn for someone to explain to me exactly what African culture is said to comprise when we would grapple with such a denition
to explain American culture other than our rights and liberties that
are enshrined in our Constitution. It is not without irony that many
who question my denial of African culture and heritage cannot
place a country in Africa correctly on the map; I often ask such detractors to locate Cameroon, Ghana, and Angola in geographical relationship to Tanzania, Ethiopia, or Mozambique. If my detractors dont
know the history and culture or location of the continent they ascribe
to have such strong ties to, how can they be taken seriously? Is it just
that they seek to belong to a specic group, feel a special connection or
kinship to others who are members of said group due to the color of


their skin or ethnicity rather than evaluating their fellow citizens as

I believe this self-segregation and balkanization has taken race
relations in America from a state of empowerment embodying Dr.
Kings ideals for a color-blind society to one of exclusion, where people
are evaluated based on their skin color or ethnicity explicitly rejecting the notion that America is comprised of numerous races that blend
together to form a more perfect union of citizens. Accordingly, I assert
that such calls for diversity and multiculturalism have helped drive us
further apart rather than closer together both as a people and as a society.
Moving forward, then, how does one best describe the term multiculturalism? Does multiculturalism imply that America has made
good on its promise to form a true melting pot of cultural and ethnic
diversity that is blended together to represent the very best of American society? Or does the expression underscore the reality that 225
years following our founding, not only do we remain balkanized by
race, but that the ancestors of some who were once cruelly oppressed
due to the color of their skin now feel most comfortable with selfsegregation and the further desire to identify with a culture that is not
truly their own rather than embrace the special privilege it is to be a
citizen of the United States of America?
While there is no universally accepted denition as to what constitutes multiculturalism today, I believe the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy oers a revealing insight:
Multiculturalism is a body of thought in political philosophy
about the proper way to respond to cultural and religious diversity. Mere toleration of group dierences is said to fall short of
treating members of minority groups as equal citizens; recognition and positive accommodation of group dierences are required through group-dierentiated rights, a term coined by
Will Kymlicka (1995). Some group-dierentiated rights are
held by individual members of minority groups, as in the case of
individuals who are granted exemptions from generally applicable laws in virtue of their religious beliefs or individuals who


seek language accommodations in schools or in voting. Other

group-dierentiated rights are held by the group qua group
rather [than] by its members severally; such rights are properly
called group rights, as in the case of indigenous groups and minority nations, who claim the right of self-determination. In the
latter respect, multiculturalism is closely allied with nationalism.5
On its face, the term appears innocuous: multiculturalism adherents
look for a proper manner to treat members of minority groups as full
and equal citizens while seeking positive accommodation of groupdierentiated rights. Upon closer reection, how can basic toleration of
ones fellow citizens fail to be sucient when one is talking about a
member of a minority group? I believe this is precisely the warning Arthur Schlesinger referred to when he feared a cult of ethnicity had appeared on the American social landscape that began to pervade our
political and sociological landscapes. Suddenly, equal rights and toleration of our fellow citizens were no longer sucientnow minority
group members needed special recognition and positive identication of
group dierences to fully assimilate in American society?
For one, I do not believe for a moment that Dr. Martin Luther
King and the brave pioneers of the civil rights era who fought tirelessly
but peacefully for equal rights under the color of law in the 1950s and
1960s would have approved turning back the clock on the momentous
direction they had set for the country by allowing ethnic minorities to
be treated more favorably due to the color of their skin at the dawn
of the twenty-rst century. Recognizing that racism still exists in
America and we have yet to fully actualize Dr. Kings dream, pressing
for special rights in the early twenty-rst century as some form of cultural sensitivity when it took some 350 years for blacks to receive equal
rights and opportunity after their arrival in chains on American soil
is a distressing step blackwards for the assimilation of her citizens to
full participation in the American dream.
While I pondered the wisdom proponents of multiculturalism
sought to oer with an open mind, I grappled with what the terms
special recognition and positive identication were supposed to


mean, precisely. Is it the invention of a special holiday during the

Christmas season for blacks (Kwanzaa) to identify their religious beliefs based on their ethnicity, rather than the tenets of their faith? I
was shocked to discover that Kwanzaa is not a traditional religious-based
holiday, but the creation of Maulana Karenga (born Ronald McKinley
Everett), a former member of the United Slaves Organization a black
militant nationalist group. Karengas original goal in creating Kwanzaa was to politicize Christmas as a Western holiday and oer black
Americans a Pan-African equivalent.
Is it the creation of oces of multicultural aairs across our college
and university campuses and the encouragement of self-segregation
by dormitory, fraternity/sororities, and graduation ceremonies? While
these questions will be considered in greater detail in chapter 2, I
remain perplexed at how far we have regressed as a nation from the
call to ser vice oered by President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural
address, when he charged his fellow citizens:
Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do
for your country . . . Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrice which we ask of you. With a good
conscience our only sure reward, with history the nal judge of
our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His
blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth Gods
work must truly be our own.6
Just fty years removed from President Kennedys call to serve a cause
and a calling higher than ourselves by putting national rather than
individual self-interests at the forefront, how can it possibly be that we
now nd many in America who advocate just the opposite? A new society predicated on special recognition and rights for a preferred, select
class at the expense of their fellow citizens? Not only does this run
counter to the message presented to the nation by the thirty-fth
president of the United States some fty years ago, but also contrary
to the vision of what the United States of America would be in the


mind of one of our most inuential Founding Fathers and rst president of the United States over two hundred years ago.
In a letter to newly arrived immigrants from Ireland to New York
City written in 1783, George Washington famously opined:
The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent
and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of
all Nations And Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights and previleges, if by decency and
propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.7
Unfortunately, the push for group-dierentiated rights has led to a
deterioration of racial and ethnic relations in the United States rather
than strengthening them. As we shall see in the chapters to follow, the
drive for exclusive racial and ethnic dormitories and graduation ceremonies has fractured many of our college communities while black
politicians in the era of Obama decry racism rather than their individual underlying transgressions as the source of their angst. Somehow, the president who was sworn in on the sweeping promise of hope
and change soon gave way to political strife and a swift decline in his
overall approval ratings.
Rather than focusing on the issues and the policies pursued during
President Obamas term in oce, many of his supporters instead blamed
racism and alleged racist sentiments expressed by the Tea Party as the
root of the presidents decline in stature. During the summer of 2011,
members of the Congressional Black Caucus asserted that African
American lawmakers had been verbally harassed due to their ethnicity
by Tea Party participants during a rally on Capitol Hill; yet no evidence emerged in the era of the cellular videophone in which incidents
were captured on lm. Nonetheless, Representative Andr Carson
(D-IN), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, would
further charge, Some [members of the Tea Party] would love to see us
hanging from a tree.8



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