Date: Sun, 22 Aug 1999 20:08:29 -0400
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From: Art McGee <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] The Dangers Of Skin Politics
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We must return to our values

By Ron Daniels, The Black Collegian, [22 August 1999]

The Dangers Of Skin Politics: A Key Challenge Facing African Americans

No issue in recent years divided Black America more than the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States. Despite suspicions about his commitment and record on civil rights, labor, and women's issues, some very prominent leaders in the African-American community supported Clarence Thomas' nomination because he is Black. Indeed, it was quite common to hear Black people dismiss the controversies surrounding his nomination by saying,Give the brother a break.

The Congress of the United States gave the brother a break, and the suspicions about Mr. Justice Thomas have definitely been confirmed. Justice Thomas has cast the critical negative vote in a series of decisions on Affirmative Action, prisoner rights, labor, and voting rights that seriously undermine the major gains won in these crucial areas of social justice and social change. The Thomas affair, however, is merely symptomatic of the dangers of skin politics.

In the '60s and '70s the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Consciousness movements actively promoted the idea of Black solidarity. There was a concerted drive to increase the participation of Black people in all aspects of the socio-economic and political systems of this country as a strategy for Black empowerment and advancement. However, the proponents of Black consciousness never envisioned or advocated simply trading Black faces for White faces in old places. Black was seen as more than just a skin color. It meant acting differently than white in the sense that the goals of the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Consciousness movements were to end the oppression and exploitation of Africans in America and to build a more just and humane society. Therefore, black was/is not just a skin color, but is symbolic of an ethic, ethos, and philosophy of social justice and social change.

Unfortunately, it would appear that far too many African Americans have become disconnected from this concept. Instead, a kind of bland and uncritical Blackism has become prevalent in the African-American community. We now find Black faces everywhere, as mayors, legislators, Congresspersons, Cabinet members, judges, school board members, principals, and superintendents of school districts, members of boards of major corporations, and executives within Corporate America.

But beyond the benefits that accrue to people in these positions by virtue of their status, there is very little change for the masses of poor and working people and the so called underclass within the Black community. Indeed, Black faces in high places have frequently become an impediment to progress. Ineffective or corrupt Black people in positions of power or leaders who betray the trust of the community often go unchallenged. Because of the belief in a kind of cosmetic Blackness, we are not supposed to criticize a brother or sister. It was much easier to fight for change when White people occupied these positions of power because there was much less hesitancy to criticize the racist behavior of White people. Because of skin politics, however, Black America is now contending with the phenomenon of the new Black-on-Black crime: Black buffers who block progress.

The best hope for Africans in America and the world is our steadfast focus on social justice and social change, and our commitment to create a new and more humane society and world. This is the yardstick by which we must measure progress and judge those who would aspire to leadership within the African community in the U.S. and globally.

Armed with such a standard, it is clear that Clarence Thomas is no Thurgood Marshall and Mobutu in Zaire and Abacha of Nigeria are no match for Mandela in terms of ethics and leadership. Equipped with this guide, we will be able to unapologetically challenge self-serving, self- aggrandizing Black buffers who are blocking progress in our communities in the U.S. and the world. By avoiding the dangers of skin politics, African people will not only transform our condition as oppressed people, we will contribute to the liberation of oppressed humanity everywhere. That is our challenge and mission into the 21st century.