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(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)

Originally posted to zumbi50 on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:16 AM PDT.


The Congressional Black Caucus

40%10 votes
16%4 votes
8%2 votes
0%0 votes
16%4 votes
20%5 votes

| 25 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  just my opinion (0+ / 0-)

    but 1 & 2 on your poll seem to be the same idea :)

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. George Orwell, "1984", first sentence

    by tony the American Mutt on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:29:45 AM PDT

  •  yeesh (0+ / 0-)

    Lawn Jockey award?  Isn't this basically an "Uncle Tom" award?  I'm not sure how crazy I am about the wording here.  It suggests a racial divide (where Democratic = Black and Republican = White) where, in fact, it might be better described as an ideological divide.

    Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

    by zenbowl on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 08:36:01 AM PDT

    •  It certainly IS an "Uncle Tom" award (0+ / 0-)

      More precisely it points to an ideological abyss between black communities and black voters and the elected officials which nominally represent them.  But it is an ideological abyss within a longstanding racial divide.

      It is worth noting that "black communities" and "black voters" are far from being the same thing for two reasons:

      1.  The incredibly high incarceration rate of African Americans.  We are one eighth the nation's population and just short of half the 2.2 million in its prisons and jails.
      1.  Felony disenfranchisement (lifetime in states like FL and TN) and cumbersome regs intended to achieve the same effect by requiring ex-felons on completion of their sentences and probation to undergo a separate legal process to restore their voting rights) takes another million or two blacks, mostly men, off the voting rolls in states like GA and AL.

      There certainly IS a racial divide in America, and in the Democratic party.  It won't go away no matter how long we ignore it.  Sorry.  African Americans have been made, forged, if you will, into a separate and distinct community, a polity as a result of white decisions, not our own.  

      Given that those legitimate communities of interest now exist, and have existed for generations, we have a right to representation which reflects the distinct range of opinions which is found in those communities, a range of opinion that is generally well to the left of what is to be found in white America.  It is therefore absolutely appropriate to call CBC members who do not represent their constituencies "Uncle Toms", "Lawn Jockeys", or worse.  To suggest, as you seem to, that these terms have no political legitimacy is to say that we African Americans have no right to our own political dialog or our own opinions when they differ from those of white America.  

      •  You've explained it better here, I think (0+ / 0-)

        I'm not going to say that African Americans have no ownership of the black community's political dialog, I just worry that sometimes using such terms can backfire, but obviously there's a lot of thought going into this.

        I was just offering my own feedback.

        Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddha

        by zenbowl on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 02:10:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  a note on the Bay Area Center For Voting Research (0+ / 0-)

    Their research classified cities as conservative or liberal strictly based on the 2004 presidential election. Votes for Kerry or Nader, etc, were liberal, and Votes for Bush conserative(were there any wingnut parties that got many votes that year?). Really they were just ranking cities on whether they lean Democratic or Republican, not on how their citizens feel about the environment, abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, church/state separation, government spending, etc.
    I can believe that Detroit was the most Democratic city in 2004, but I don't think it was the most liberal.

    Quick! Man the Blogs!

    by HiBob on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 09:15:48 AM PDT

  •  Great diary. I like your take on the media (0+ / 0-)

    "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."

    I'm glad someone's calling out the least representative members of the CBC.

  •  Another Poll Option (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The Congressional Black Caucus out to be leading everybody.

    The painful knowledge of living with limited rights or even with governments who are actively out to harm you is within living memory of the CBC.  I think that they have a ton of moral authority here to lead a serious push back on the constant whittling away of American rights by BushCo.  Maybe they are, but I don't much see it.

    And I love your take on the view of the media of black communities.  I don't think I can stand one more article of a prominent AA that seems to focus on the quest for more bling.

    Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. - James Baldwin

    by cassandra m on Fri Aug 24, 2007 at 09:24:27 AM PDT

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