NEWS & LETTERS, May 2004

Black/Red View

Bush's Black rightists

by John Alan

Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, are well-known African American members of President Bush’s administration. Neither has a constituency in the African-American world. They provide Bush with political cover against those who accuse his administration of acts of racism.

This happened when Colin Powell went to Germany recently to attend a conference on Afghanistan. He decided to answer questions from a group of high school students live on German TV. One of the questions was: "Do you still experience racial discrimination in America?" Powell said that he had faced racial discrimination growing up in America as a child of Jamaican immigrants. He said, "I knew as a young man what I could do or not do in certain parts of the country... You had to behave a certain way if you didn’t want to get in trouble."


Powell gave those German students a bland description of racism in America. He never said anything about the terror and the dehumanizing nature of racism, or the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, Powell told the students that one day in July 1964, a Civil Rights Act was signed into law and: "The next day I went back downtown and went to a restaurant and got a hamburger. I thought it was a great achievement. If I had done that a week earlier, they would have arrested me."

Many of those students had read Michael Moore’s book, STUPID WHITE MEN, one of three books by Moore on Germany’s bestseller list. Moore recounts how Bush won the presidential election when his supporters in Florida removed thousands of innocent African-Americans from the voting rolls by falsely claiming they were felons.

Powell didn’t want a serious dialogue about racism. According to the press: "With a wry smile, Powell said he didn’t face such discrimination as the Secretary of State." In this answer, Powell divided himself into two separate individuals, one as an African American and the other as the Secretary of State of the most powerful capitalist nation in the world.

He did not see the deep antagonism between those two parts. Thus, he told the German students that "the civil rights advances in the United States are proof that democracy works," without mentioning that "democracy works" because the masses of African Americans had organized and struggled constantly to make it work for them.


Neither Colin Powell nor Condoleezza Rice had ever been active in mass struggle against racism. The African American middle class leadership has, at various periods in American history, attempted to work out a compromise with racism. Booker T. Washington did so in 1895 and he created a storm of protest in African-American communities across the nation.

W. E. B. DuBois wrote: "Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual economic development and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more advanced races are coming in contact with the less developed races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified; and Mr. Washington’s programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of Negro races."

Powell and Rice don’t have the status among African Americans that Booker T. Washington had in 1895. However, speaking and acting in the interest of imperialism and its inherent racism, they play a similar role. Bush needs them as a façade for his imperialist and racist agenda.


African-American masses in action have been revolutionary in their reasoning. This attribute doesn’t automatically appear in individual African Americans who seek their own personal advancement in capitalist society. Therefore, today there is a whole pool of conservative African-American legal professionals that the Bush administration would like to appoint as judges in the federal court system. This has placed the NAACP in an awkward position of opposing Bush’s appointments of conservative African-American judges to the federal courts.

A recent case was the NAACP’s opposition to Bush’s nomination of Janice Rogers Brown for the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Janice Rogers Brown is a California Supreme Court Justice with a long conservative record on issues regarding free speech and a women’s right to have an abortion. She opposes affirmative action in the name of individual rights.

The African-American struggle is a permanent one and takes a new form each time it achieves a new level of political freedom. New beginnings will emerge from African-American masses struggling for full freedom in their everyday lives and not from the unprecedented number of individual African Americans achieving a place for themselves in the political arena.

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