By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“It is not Russia that threatens the United States so much as Mississippi; not Stalin and Molotov but Bilbo and Rankin; internal injustice done to one’s brothers is far more dangerous than the aggression of strangers from abroad.”
Excerpt from An Appeal to the World, presented to the United Nations on October 23, 1947 by William Edward Burghardt “W.E.B.” Du Bois.
The more than 100-page Appeal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was co-written by W.E.B. Du Bois. On October 23, 1947 when Du Bois presented the Appeal to the General Assembly of the United Nations, he did so over the objections of former “First Lady” Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an American delegate to the UN.
Roosevelt, who sat on the board of the NAACP and supposedly a “friend to the Negro”, was not prepared to support “the Negro” in their fight to bring international attention to the White supremacist culture of America under which they suffered untold abuse. Almost six years later, Roosevelt documented what a great friend she was to “the Negro” in the February 1953 edition of Ebony magazine (http://newdeal.feri.org/er/er09.htm) in an article entitled “Some of My Best Friends are Negro”. After reading this excerpt from Roosevelt’s article about her good “Negro friends”, I am not surprised that she did not support the NAACP and Du Bois in bringing the Appeal to the UN: “It is a bit odd, perhaps, that I came to know Negroes and find among them many good friends, after I had first had contacts with foreigners. From my earliest childhood I had literary contacts with Negroes, but no personal contacts with them. Reading about Negroes came about this way: On Saturdays we visited my great aunt Mrs. James King Gracie, who had been born and brought up on a Georgia plantation. She would read to us from the Brer Rabbit books and tell us about life on the plantation. This was my very first introduction to Negroes in any way.”
I am just surprised that she did not mention how much she enjoyed seeing them dancing with all that natural rhythm they possessed. In his 2008 book, The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post-Racial America, African-American professor, Christopher J. Metzler, confirms: “The nail in the coffin for Black human rights in America was driven by the ‘friend of the Negro’ and NAACP board member Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Roosevelt and her husband (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) were members of the Democratic Party, which in modern times is viewed as “the party” that supports and is supported by African-Americans. However, the beginning of the Democratic Party was far from friendly to African-Americans. The Democratic Party opposed the emancipation of enslaved Africans and supported the extension of slavery. It was the party of Jim Crow supporting segregation and the lynching of Africans in the southern U.S.
“Bilbo and Rankin”, mentioned in the October 23, 1947 Appeal to the World were both White supremacist politicians in Mississippi and members of the Democratic Party. The names of both men, John Elliott Rankin (March 29, 1882 – November 26, 1960) and Theodore Gilmore Bilbo (October 13, 1877 – August 21, 1947) are synonymous with White supremacy.
Both men supported the actions described by Du Bois in his Appeal to the UN: “At first (the American Negro) was driven from the polls in the South by mobs and violence; and then he was openly cheated; finally by a ‘Gentlemen’s agreement’ with the North, that Negro was disfranchised in the South by a series of laws, methods of administration, court decisions, and general public policy, so that today, three-fourths of the Negro population of the nation is deprived of the right to vote by open and declared policy.”
With the election of the first African-American President, many people thought that the White supremacist American culture was a thing of the past. There was much trumpeting of a post-racial society where Jim Crow had been relegated to a distant and dusty past. However, it seems Jim Crow has morphed to suit the 21st century. The frequent extrajudicial killing of African-Americans caught on tape, the frequent brutalizing of African-Americans also caught on tape and the many incidents of White Americans in positions of power expressing White supremacist thoughts speak to the continued devaluing of African-American lives and Civil Rights.
Incidents of White supremacist actions and thoughts are not as publicized here in the Great White North where we dwell but they do occur. Here in Canada we face a mostly polite and subtle form of White supremacy, which is just as vicious in its impact on our psyche. On September 6, the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) hosted Dr. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination at a “Human Rights Forum on the State of African Descendants in Canada”. The documentary Crisis of Distrust: Police and Community in Toronto, by the Policing Literacy Initiative (www.youtube.com/watch?v=u627BsqA5BM) was screened which gives some idea of the state of over-policing experienced by African Canadians.
Over the years there have been countless studies done about racial profiling of African Canadians by police. The resulting reports sit on dusty shelves in various places until a spate of police brutality stories force another study. Nothing changes; from the time of the killing of Buddy Evans, Albert Johnson and Lester Donaldson by the police, which led to the founding of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) in 1988. Police continue to stop, question and in many cases, brutalize African Canadians. These incidents occur arbitrarily against African Canadians who are doing nothing except “living”.
Beginning in October 2002 the Toronto Star, a White daily newspaper, published a series of articles highlighting racial profiling. According to the definition on the website of the Ontario Human Rights Commission: “Racial profiling happens when you take action because you’re worried about safety, for security reasons or for the public’s protection, and your decision is based on stereotypes about a person’s race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion or place of origin.”
The Toronto Star used information from the police database (www.thestar.com/news/gta/knowntopolice/singled-out.html). The reaction from the various police services has been denial that they engage in racial profiling in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Following the 2002 series on racial profiling, there was a flurry of denial from police and White politicians. The Chief of Police declared: “We do not do racial profiling…there is no racism. We don’t look at, nor do we consider race or ethnicity, or any of that, as factors of how we dispose of cases.”
The President of the Police Association stated: “No racial profiling has ever been conducted by the Toronto Police Service.” Even the then Mayor of Toronto weighed in: “I don’t believe that the Toronto police engage in racial profiling in any way, shape or form. Quite the opposite, they’re very sensitive to our different communities.”
This was the same Mayor who had in 2001 infamously said that he would not go to Mombasa, Kenya to support Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Olympics because he was afraid of being consumed by cannibals. “What the hell would I want to go to a place like Mombasa? I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”
In the U.S., following the police killing of unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, even Amnesty International has recognized the human rights violation of African-Americans. On August 19, 10 days after a White police officer killed Brown, Amnesty International tweeted: “U.S. can’t tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won’t clean up its own human rights record.”
When Du Bois attempted to have the UN address the lynching and brutalization of African-Americans on October 23, 1947 he was unsuccessful because of the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt. In 2014, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record of racism against African-Americans: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.”
It will be interesting to read the report of the “Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination” after her visit to Canada.