What About Oprah?

OprahIf passed, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative or Proposal 2 will ban affirmative action in state funded programs in the state of Michigan.

A lot of people believe that affirmative action is no longer necessary because a few Blacks have made great accomplishments in the US.

HERE is a recent essay in which Anti-racism activist Tim Wise discusses "The Oprah Effect" - the notion that the examples of a few individuals who have achieved superstardom in a racist America are an indication that racism isn't a problem in the US.
It's the one that goes roughly like this:

"If racism is really so bad, and blacks face so much discrimination, how come Oprah is one of the most loved people in America? How come she's been so successful, and has become so wealthy, and so powerful?"

As James Baldwin so presciently put it, some forty-five years ago, responding even then to the same "anyone can make it if they try" mantra commonly heard today:

"...the inequalities suffered by the many are in no way justified by the rise of a few. A few have always risen – in every country, every era, and in the teeth of regimes which can by no stretch of the imagination be thought of as free."

Which point brings to mind the obvious question: if whites were so willing, even in 1961, at which time Baldwin wrote these words, to insist upon the meritocratic nature of what was, after all, an apartheid system, what orgiastic irrationality would lead us to ever believe that this was a particularly persuasive argument, or that those putting it forth had even the faintest inkling as to what they were talking about?

Whites, as it turns out, have always said that racism wasn't that big a deal, and that the "determined will," as Baldwin put it, was sufficient to make all obstacles vanish in their wake, even when the evidence to the contrary was incontestable.

You need only go back and read the Gallup polls of white racial attitudes even before the passage of civil rights legislation, to see this fantastical vision of America on full display. Therein you can find most whites, even in the early '60s, insisting that blacks had fully equal opportunity in education, employment, housing and the like – a position that all would recognize as borderline delusional now, but which prompted no concerns for the mental health of the white masses at the time.

Wise also cites the example of Madame C.J. Walker who became a millionaire in 1911, a year when 63 blacks were lynched in America. That's more than one a week.

Progress has been made in America since the time of Madame Walker and James Baldwin, but conditions for the majority of Blacks and other minorities in the US indicate that there is still a long way to go. The fact that some whites don't recognize their privilige or the racism in our society clearly is not proof that they do not exist.

Vote "NO" on Prop. 2 on November 7.

Black Agenda Report


Paul Hue said...

In previous years when whites claimed that blacks had full, equal opurtunities, they were wrong; now they are correct (except for a few examples, such as some holiwood acting and pro coaching situations, though even those are improving).

If Michigan abandons govt AA, I'm sure that blacks will do just as well as with AA.

And by the way, those of us who oppose AA do not oppose it because "a few" blacks have done well. A collection of reasons compel us to have this view, including the relative success of various non-white groups whose average performances exceed that of whites.

Paul Hue said...

Tim Wise makes many logical mistakes, including mis-charactorizing the views of anti-racist activists like me and Tom Sowell as believing that "racism has been eliminated", or that we we hold our views due to the the great success of "a few" blacks. Other logic mistakes that Wise makes include interpreting disparity in results as unambiguous evidence of racis, and ignoring comparasions beteween whites and other non-whites besides blacks.

A great deal has changed between 1911 when Madame Walker became a millionare, the same year that almost 70 blacks got lynched by whites. How many blacks were lynched last year, Nadir? None. How many blacks lived in, say, Westland, MI, in 1911, and today? None then, lots now... and growing. The Ossean Sweat episode was just few years away. Now blacks move into all the fancy white neighborhoods, with seldom any incident, and never any worry of one.

One thing has changed for the worse: blacks on average are not taking advantage of the opportunities that they have as much as they used to, and they commit more crimes than they did in those bad old days.

In 1911, a "race" catagorization of "black" was a very important factor in detrmining individual success; today I believe it is essentially a non-factor.

Paul Hue said...

I will certainly vote to eliminate race preferences from government activities. I believe that black folks will do fine, just as all previous oppressed people.

Paul Hue said...

So, for 100 years whites have said that anti-black racism is no factor, and blacks have said that it is a major factor. We agree that 100 years ago whites were wrong and blacks were correct. Thus we agree generally that it is possible for a "race" of people to have a general misperception.

We then turn to today: which of these groups has the misperception, afterall, they can't both be correct. We agree that if "nothing has change" in 100 years, then the "race" with the incorrect perception must remain the same.

But what if instead a great deal has changed, and if that great change represents elimination of factors that created the old reality of anti-black racism: legal and factual lynching, legal and factual outright racial descrimination.

If a great deal has changed for the better, but the perceptions of both groups has remained constant, and we already agree that it is possible for one "race" to suffer from a general misperception, then it makes sense that the reality of the perceptions has changed. If not, then something just as dreadful as outright legal and factual lyching and racial descrimination must have taken the place of these factors. Otherwise, the massive, overwelming anti-black racism never needed lynching, Jim Crow, Restrictive Covenents, etc. If black folks are correct in the perception, then the entire civil rights movement was a big waste of time.

Paul Hue said...

Among the many enormous changes that people like me notice in judging anti-black racism a moot factor in the average situation:

100 years ago CJ Walker became wealthy selling products only to black folks. A few years later a single black actor, Butterfly McQueen, became wealthy and an oscar winner, by playing humiliating stereotypes. Lena Horne became somewhat less wealthy, and her non-humiliating, sex-appeal roles got minimized, and in the south cut from the film. And no black actor got any sex-appeal roles at all.

Today many blacks are even wealthier than CJ Walker, and in catagories dominated by white consumers. Operah, for example, has an audience that reflects the overall US demographic, which is white majority. Halle Berry and Vivica Fox and other black women, plus actors like Denzel Washington, get top billing and white audiences affording them top sex-appeal status.