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One African cultural attribute that lives on in this country’s Black community is the unlimited willingness of the village to attempt to defend and protect its own. Back in 1984, personalities as diverse as Vanessa Williams and Louis Farrakhan became targets of the larger society for wildly different reasons.  Williams, as the first Black Miss America, was dethroned because explicit nude photographs of her were made public. Farrakhan was universally attacked because of allegations of anti-Semitism. Notwithstanding the controversies, America’s Africans opened their arms and embraced these celebrities, providing them with enough love and support for each to re-group and move on to face new challenges.

Historically, there have been no articulated rules for this practice. Collective intuition has more or less produced consistent reactions by and among members of the Black community. For example, without the benefit of a group discussion, the general analysis of O.J. Simpson’s plight was that although he purposely distanced himself from our community, his lack of malice toward us, and the fact that he had been the target of an indisputably sloppy, if not racist police investigation, made him worthy of support by the African community.

Tragically, this tendency toward compassion by our community was cynically and opportunistically exploited in 1991 by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Although his career history had even then betrayed his racial self-hatred, he was not at all reluctant to describe allegations against him of sexual harassment by an accomplished, distinguished Black woman as a “high-tech lynching” of a Black man. True to form, much of the village came to his defense. As everyone knows, Thomas rewarded the African community’s love and support with a series of legal opinions that, in some cases, are so anti-Black (maybe even anti-human) that even his most reactionary Supreme Court colleagues have distanced themselves from his analyses.

Our willingness to embrace our prodigal sons and daughters is perhaps one of the most endearing qualities of African people. However, our survival depends upon our ability to distinguish members of the village who have erred from those (like Clarence Thomas) who have made a conscious decision to do everything possible to destroy the village. As Condoleezza Rice basks in the world’s spotlight, we have been faced yet again with the issue of whether to defend a controversial African.

Back in January, Rice jumped on the George Bush/Tony Blair bandwagon by characterizing Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Iran, Burma and North Korea as “outposts of tyranny.”  Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe responded by saying: “That girl born out of the slave ancestry, who should know from the history of slavery in America, from the present situation of Blacks in America, that the white man is not a friend. She says Zimbabwe is one of the five or six outposts of tyranny. Ah, well, she has got to echo her master’s voice. The white man is the slave master to her.”  Mugabe went on to point out that in the aftermath of his country’s war of liberation, the new government allowed the former brutal, racist white Prime Minister Ian Smith to not only keep his life, but to live in comfort, participate in political life, and routinely criticize the government. “How many [tyrannical] countries would have done what we did?” Mugabe asked. More than a few Blacks in America have gone on record as having taken great offense at Mugabe’s remarks. Once again, they have instinctively perceived that one of our own has been disrespected, and it is the duty of the village to rally to her defense.

As we consider this latest incident, we cannot allow the questions of whether Mugabe’s style was appropriate, or whether his comments are valid, to become the issue. The real issue is whether Rice is deserving of our community’s support regardless of how, and by whom she might be attacked now, or in the future. In general, is she simply confused about her racial obligations, while retaining her potential for redemption, or has she crossed the line and become a conscious and willing agent of the enemies of our community?

Rice has, for the most part, avoided making comments that specifically concern racial matters. With respect to reparations, she did comment that: “In order for us to get along [in America’s diverse society, some of us] will have to forget [about what happened in the past].”  When affirmative action was considered by the Supreme Court, her “support” for the practice was not even lukewarm. Such views alone are not enough to make Rice an “enemy.” There are many Africans in this country who share Rice’s opinions on these matters, and sincerely believe that such are in our collective best interest. Even Rice has spoken of her African ancestors with reverence and love.  To understand the danger that Rice poses, it is more useful to examine how she approaches her “job.”

Given her extensive formal education, demonstrated intelligence, and extraordinary world experience, Rice can reasonably be expected to have more than superficial insight into the most pressing geo-political issues, and the implications of Bush policies for her community. The war in Iraq is not a “race issue” in the usual sense, but Rice should know that the consequences of that aggression include the deaths of many Black soldiers, and the intensification of military recruiting in Black communities. Putting aside the issue of Zimbabwe, she should know that while she is attacking Cuba as an “outpost of tyranny,” that tiny island has sent perhaps more doctors to troubled regions of Africa than any other country. It also has allowed young Black people from the U.S. to train in its medical schools free of charge and return to this country to provide health care to under-served communities.

Rice’s crime is that she is so eager to please her boss that she not only carries out his plans, but she also initiates and orchestrates projects that further his objectives, even if Africans are unnecessarily harmed in the process. The relationship between Bush and Rice may not be as between master and slave, as Mugabe suggests. Rather, it may be more akin to the relationship between master and pet. Bush says “fetch” and Rice runs as fast as she can. Bush says “sic ‘em” and Rice doesn’t pause, even if the identified victim is from her community. Should our village protect such a person? In the same way that the world assumes a pet’s master will care for his animal, perhaps we are best served by allowing Bush to take care of his pet Negro while we Africans focus on the more important task of struggling for our liberation.

Mark P. Fancher is a lawyer, writer and activist.

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April 21 2005
Issue 135

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