(A somewhat different version of this article appeared earlier this week in Black Agenda Report)
When George Curry's Emerge Magazine published its famous 1993 cover depicting US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as "Lawn Jockey for the Far Right", he used ridicule to ignite a potent WMD --- a weapon of mass discussion among African Americans that clarified black opinion on the uses to which an earlier Bush administration put its prominent black faces.
In that spirit, Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor will be at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in DC this September 26 to establish a new tradition --- the awarding of the "Lawn Jockey" to the three or four African American members of Congress who score lowest on the semi-annual CBC Monitor report cards. The Honorable George Curry himself will present the awards. It's time to reclaim, to restart and to redeem the African American political conversation, the dialog among and about us that neither black nor white corporate media is willing to air.
2007 Lawn Jockey Award Comes to the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend, September 26
On Wednesday, September 26, the opening day of the Congressional Black Caucus's Annual Legislative Conference, Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor will be in Washington DC to issue the fall 2007 report card for members of the Black Caucus, and to hand out the first annual Lawn Jockey Awards. It's time to restart, to reclaim and to redeem the African American political conversation.
The Lawn Jockey Award commemorates the 1993 Emerge magazine cover in which Emerge Publisher and Editor George Curry depicted US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as "Uncle Thomas: Lawn Jockey for the Far Right", touching off a true WMD, a wave of mass discussion, clarifying black opinion on the uses to which an earlier Bush administration had put its prominent black faces. In that same spirit, the annual Lawn Jockey Awards establishes a tradition in which the three or four worst performing members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be singled out for the attention they richly deserve. We are honored by the fact that George Curry himself will be on hand September 26 to present the awards.
Reviving and reclaiming the African American political conversation is vitally important work to the entire American polity, and especially to the Democratic party. A 2005 study a few years ago by the Bay Area Center For Voting Research explains why.
"New research done by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research (BACVR) reveals who the real liberals in American are and the answer is not the tree-hugging, ponytail wearing ex-hippies you might expect. Instead, the new face of American liberalism is of a decidedly different hue. The nation’s remaining liberals are overwhelmingly African Americans.
The BACVR study that ranks the political ideology of every major city in the country shows that cities with large black populations dominate the list of liberal communities. The research finds that Detroit is the most liberal city in the United States and has one of the highest concentrations of African American residents of any major city. Over 81% of the population in Detroit is African American, compared to the national average of 12.3%. In fact, the average percentage of African American residents in the 25 ost
liberal cities in the country is 40.3%, more than three times the national rate."
The Congressional Black Caucus were once the most consistent progressive block of votes in the congress, and given the existence of large, longstanding & contiguous black communities, some of them got the most seniority. Not any longer.
As African American organizations from the NAACP to the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation succumbed to the lure of big corporate donations, so have the black caucus in Congress.
Chicago's Bobby Rush co-sponsored the bill in the previous congress which would have killed cable access TV everywhere, deprived local communities nationwide of any voice in regulating the ubiquitous cable systems laid in the public rights of way, ended net neutrality, privatized the internet, and allowed cable companies to continue to deny affordable broadband to African American, to poorer and rural communities across the country.
Worse still, in apparent response to the respectful attention and the generous donations of telecom firms, fully two thirds of the black caucus in Congress voted to redline their own communities in 2006, a worse record than congressional Democrats as a whole.
Whether you agree with black voters or not, there is no mistaking where they stand. They are to the left of the rest of America. If their elected representatives --- our elected representatives, since I am obviously black --- cannot hold the Democratic left flank, you have no solid Democrtic Party. That's the bottom line. If Dems cannot hold responsible those who should be the strongest and most unwavering liberals (assuming they represent their constituencies) nobody can be held responsible.
There was a time when the Congressional Black Caucus could and did justifiably call itself "the conscience of the congress". Not any more.
So when black activists attempt to hold CBC members to a higher standard than other Democrats, just remember. You've got a stake there too. Restoring the black dialog is vitally important work that impacts all Democrats.
We can expect no help from white corporate media beyond their standard practices of denying the existence and the legitimacy of the black political dialog at the same time they depict it as the self-serving creation of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and a few of their chosen targets. Black owned or black oriented corporate media like BET, Radio One and the rest of commercial black radio won't be of much use either. This is because black commercial radio and entities like TV One view black communities purely as marketing contraptions. To them we are only audiences to be targeted and delivered to sponsors, rather than a people with collective aspirations and a political will arising from our common history of struggle
There will certainly be those who will accuse us of a lack of respect for African American political figures. They will be quite right. Too much respect for authority has always been the enemy of democracy, and ridicule will always be a potent tool at the disposal of the people. The CBC Monitor team does have a great respect for facts, and the CBC Monitor report cards are based upon analyses of the legislative records of African American members of congress through the lens of the historic Black Consensus, the range of political views prevalent in African American communities.
Too much of what has passed for black journalism in recent years has been uncritical celebration of lifestyles and celebrities. In our estimation, this is not journalism at all. Ida B. Wells was a journalist. Frederick Douglass was a journalist. The job of journalists is to equip ordinary citizens with the necessary information to understand what is being done with their money and in their names. The job of journalism as we understand it, is to speak truth to power without fear or favor, especially when the powerful would rather not hear it. We at Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor intend to uphold that proud tradition, to have some fun at the expense of the powerful, and to unleash the weapon of mass discussion among our people as we evaluate the performance of African American members of Congress.
We invite you to join us in person on the evening of September 26, or at other events during the CBC's Legislative Conference, or virtually in this space and others via the internet during and after the event as we begin to reclaim and revive the the African American political conversation and the public space in which it must be conducted.
Bruce Dixon can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com