Booker T. Washington: Someone to Emulate Against Discrimination

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By Mario Alexis Portella |A recent anonymous letter allegedly from a black professor at the University of Berkley addressed to his/her fellow (black) colleagues Wilfred Reilly and Tom Sewell stated: “Black lives only matter when whites take them.” In light of the George Floyd killing—and now that of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta—the composer of letter stated that he/she was not accusing Reilly or Sewell of being ‘Uncle Toms’. Instead they are “intelligent scholars who reject a narrative that strips black people of agency and systematically externalizes the problems of the black community onto outsiders.” Polemical as this may sound, it is not necessarily unfounded.

Last week David Dorn, a retired St. Louis Police captain (77 years of age); he was gunned down by Stephan Cannon, a black man, after responding to a pawnshop alarm during looting amidst the riots after the George Floyd murder. Where were the mass protests and riots over Dorn’s death? Where was Black Lives Matter (BLM) to demand justice?

Reading into the aforementioned Berkley letter, the image given by groups such as BLM and its liberal associates who claim to defend the civil rights of black Americans are doing nothing but exploiting their injustices in order to promote their progressive and anarchist agendas.

This is, as Booker T. Washington once said: “There is a certain class of race problem-solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but all an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.”

In fact, what is happening in our American society seems to be a déjà vu of what Washington stated: “There is another class of coloured [sic] people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs—partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

Washington—having gone to a middle school (J.H.S. 54) named after him I was fortunate to learn his accomplishments—came one of black American leaders born into slavery who thereafter became a leading voice of the former slaves and their descendants; they continued to undergo oppression in the South by disenfranchisement and the Jim Crow discriminatory laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

In his famous “Atlanta compromise” speech given on September 18, 1895—criticized by some blacks for being too accommodating to the demands of the white community—Washington, instead of directly tackling the segregational laws and lynchings against his own people, encouraged them to combat the injustice through education in the crafts and industrial skills and the cultivation of the virtues of patience, enterprise and thrift. That did not mean, however, that he ceased to undo the Jim Crow segregation norms in the South.

As a supporter of Racial uplift—a term within the African American community that motivates educated blacks to be responsible in the lifting of their race—Washington had also organized throughout the county a coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders and white philanthropists and politicians, with a long-term goal of building pride and economic strength in the black American community. This is something that BLM, or for that matter black separatist groups like the Nation of Islam, should simulate but do not; the latter in particular instigates anti-Semitism and hatred towards white people.

What equally bad, aside of the racial divisions caused by such groups, is the jumping on the same bandwagon by white liberal politicians. Last week, for example, at the behest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, various Democrat lawmakers knelt in silence in Emancipation Hall for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in remembrance of George Floyd. Where they apologizing for the Floyd murder or those of blacks in the U.S.? 

Trump is still wrongfully being blamed for the Floyd death, as for those classified as minorities. Yet the same hypocrites remained comparatively silent when the like occurred under the Obama administration—according to the FBI’s uniform crime-reporting data for 2016, 90.1% of black victims of homicide were killed by other blacks, while 83.5% of whites were killed by other whites. In fact, as reported by the Multicultural Conservative Foundation, under President Barack Obama (who served two terms as president and with two black attorney generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch), more blacks were killed under his watch then under Ronald Reagan, George H.Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Jr. Where were the mass protests and criticisms against Obama?

What it does mean is that BLM and the left, which also includes so many within the Catholic Church hierarchy—I am a Roman Catholic priest and believe that I am at liberty to make a critique or two—should to take a look at legacy of Booker T. Washington and implement it. Albeit, perhaps not the perfect approach in tackling racial injustice today, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.

“Political activity alone,” Booker T. Washington understood, “cannot make a man free…. he must have intelligence and character,” which means to understand that responding hatred for hatred is no solution to racial injustice. It also means not to feel sorry for oneself but to make the best out of any given situation in order to thrive and rise above petty matters.

This is what heroic individuals, such as Booker T. Washington and Justice Clarence Thomas incorporated. Thomas—who has been accused of being an Uncle Tom for his conservative values—like Washington, never reacted with vengeance during his life whenever he suffered racial maltreatment from both whites and blacks, even when falsely accused of sexual impropriety by Anita Hill. Instead, he responded with both intelligence and character.

If only such icons could be emulated today by all Americans, we would have a much more peaceful society.

Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.

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