By Damon Krane
November 13, 2000
The Athens News
Last week I attended a lecture sponsored by the OU College Republicans entitled “Betrayal: Sold Out by the Civil Rights Movement.” The speaker, African-American CEO Reginald Jones, came to speak about the need for black self-sufficiency to a group of about 40 white OU college students, and two students of color.
Jones didn’t talk much about the history of the Civil Rights movement. He didn’t speak of the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee or the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program to “neutralize” the Black Panthers, nor did he mention the present movement to save the life of radical black journalist and apparent political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. Instead, he focused on the opportunism of contemporary liberal Democrat black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and criticized George W. Bush’s so-called “compassionate conservatism” for being compassionate.
Jones’ presentation was filled with inconsistencies. He took time to mock African-American radicals for using the phrase, “the white man.” “The white man,” Jones scoffed. “Who is this guy? I’ve never met him.”
This received approving laughs from the audience, mostly white males. Then, oddly enough, Jones went on to refer to “the masters” and even “the oppressors.” He discussed racial profiling, harassment, disproportionate arrest rates among blacks, and other abuses perpetrated against blacks by powerful whites.
Yet in the next breath Jones seemed to suggest that the only thing preventing African Americans from succeeding is themselves. “You’re leadership is pointing you towards always thinking, ‘He’s stopping you,’ or ‘Racism is stopping you.’ Listen, there is nothing that’s going to stop me except me. That is the attitude that every black child should be instilled with.”
I’m not sure what Jones is trying to do, but I bet I can guess the motives of the Young America’s Foundation. That’s the right-wing group that brought Jones to OU with the help of the OU College Republicans. The Foundation is based at Ronald Reagan’s former ranch, where it hosts conferences with guest speakers such as William F. Buckley and former top Reagan Administration officials such as Edwin Meese, Frank Donatelli, and William Wilson. Oliver North, of Iran-contra fame, is also a YAF speaker.
So where does Reginald Jones fit into all this? Jones’ ideas often contradict themselves. His opposition to the Death Penalty and the so-called War on Drugs is in absolute contradiction to the YAF’s flock of Reaganite heroes (some of them the very architects of the War on Drugs, those “anti-Big Government” crusaders responsible for increased police power at the expense of civil liberties). So why is Jones on the same speaking tour? And furthermore, why is he talking about the need for black self-sufficiency — not to a room full of poor or working class African Americans, but to a room full of white College Republicans!? The answer is simple: The Young America’s Foundation is not as interested in promoting black self-sufficiency as it is in letting their own white asses off the hook.
There is a big difference between saying African Americans should not sit around waiting for whites to give up their privilege, and saying that whites should shrug off their responsibility for the current conditions of African Americans. Talking to a room full of privileged white college students about black self-sufficiency does the latter, and places blame where conservatives always do — on the victims.
If you think I’m being too harsh in suggesting that the Young America’s Foundation would be so deliberately deceitful, consider that so-called conservatism is based on the “dog-eat-dog” idea of Social Darwinism. As Reginald Jones put it: “Whatever we set our minds to we dominate. That’s what I want — not fairness. I want to dominate just like everyone else.”
If your goal is to dominate — to achieve power over other people and exploit them for your own advancement — then you needn’t be concerned with such trivialities as fairness or compassion, much less honesty. When the stated goal of conservatives is domination, should we expect anything less than utter deception at every opportunity?
Jones says embracing this ideology of domination is the way for African Americans to move forward. But what Jones forgets is that those who are dominant are in the best position to continue to dominate. Therefore, conservatism inevitably best serves the interests of the already powerful. Oppressed people have moved forward by coming together and building collective strength, not by pursuing their exclusive personal gain. The Civil Rights, feminist, labor, anti-war and student movements all provide examples.
I invite everyone concerned with advancing the freedom of all people — rather than advancing their own privileges at the expense of others — to attend a showing of the film “Bob Roberts,” a parody of the modern conservative movement this Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Bentley 227. I also propose the founding of a broad alliance of campus feminists, anti-racists, environmentalists, and those opposed to the injustice of a class-based economic system.