David Horowitz's Campus Cross Burning

Students Confront Insult to Black People

Revolutionary Worker #1099, April 22, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

At the University of California at Berkeley in the year 2001, after years of assault on affirmative action, the number of Black students has dropped to 3.9 percent, barely half of what it was four years ago. The power structure has hung out a big "You're not welcome" sign and the elite campus feels more hostile than ever. So it was like a punch in the face to open up the college newspaper, Daily Cal, on February 28 and see a full page ad mocking Black people and their demands for justice.

The ad, written by right wing crusader David Horowitz, was called "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks--and Racist Too." It denounces the demand that some people have raised for African American people to be compensated by the U.S. government for the brutality that they suffered under slavery.

Thirty years ago David Horowitz was the editor of a respected radical magazine, Ramparts. Based on credentials as a "former radical," Horowitz has made a career attacking the '60s, the Black Panther Party, and revolutionary movements generally. Recently, he summed up his life: "I got the ball going. Now I'm trying to help roll it back."

Horowitz's ad argues that U.S. society is not marked in any real way by the legacy of slavery and that Black people should be grateful for what they have. In interviews, Horowitz argues that evidence of inequality is not proof of systematic discrimination. In his ad, he writes: "No evidence-based attempt has been made to prove that living individuals have been adversely affected by a slave system that was ended over 150 years ago." He claims that there are no obstacles facing Black people that can't be overcome by individual effort. In an inflammatory passage he says, "If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world, and indeed one of the highest standards of living of any people in the world....

"Where is the gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?"

Every line of Horowitz's ad distorts both the past and the present--in a deliberately insulting and disrespectful way. It reverses right and wrong, blames the oppressed for their own suffering, and covers over the crimes of their oppressors.

Outrage and the "Free Speech" of Racists

Horowitz attempted to place this ad in campus newspapers across the U.S.--during Black history month! It was a deliberate provocation -- like an academic cross-burning in front of your dorm. (And, with an average of $700 paid for each ad in some cases--it was a well-financed provocation.)

Over 60 papers received the ad, and almost 40 righteously rejected the ad and the money. In several places, including Berkeley, Brown University in Rhode Island, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the ad went into print--and progressive students mobilized to denounce it. Students confronted the editors of some school newspapers and demanded a chance to respond to the ads -- running counter ads in the press.

At Brown, anti-racist students were told they would not be given space to answer the ad, so they removed papers containing Horowitz's racist attack from the newsstands. Police were called in to protect remaining caches containing Horowitz's message. In several other places, including Berkeley, stacks of campus newspapers were similarly trashed.

As Horowitz went on a national speaking tour, progressive students have challenged his arguments and protested his presence--causing conservatives at Brown to drop their invitation and forcing Horowitz to leave his podium at Berkeley.

The mainstream media reporting has been infuriating and revealing: Horowitz's ad is treated as a respectable "solidly mainstream" set of arguments. The protests against his ad are portrayed as attacks on free speech. The media is promoting the rightwing lie that a "dictatorship of political correctness" is unfairly suppressing "conservative views" and preventing "reasonable debate over race" in the U.S., and especially on campuses.

Who really has power over others? Did the pro-Confederate Senator John Ashcroft just become Attorney General or not? And whose views are really suppressed? Where in this controversy were anti-racists allowed a national platform to answer Horowitz and explain their outrage?

A Case of Justice

"David Horowitz is a modern-day version of the 19th-century apologists who claimed that Black people were happy with their lot under slavery. Black people demanding compensation for the oppression suffered since their ancestors were dragged to these shores in chains have right on their side. But this country could never compensate Black people for the brutality and indignities inflicted on them during slavery and down to the present day. If it paid and paid and paid, it could never balance the scales of justice for these horrible crimes. To do that would take proletarian revolution--millions of the people of all nationalities locked onto the bottom of this society, backed up by allies drawn from all walks of life, rising up in revolution to wipe this bloodsucking system off the face of the earth once and for all. And going on to replace it with a completely different society--one where the white supremacy that characterizes things today has been done away with, along with everything else foul that this system enforces on people."

Carl Dix, national spokesperson
for the RCP,USA

It is perverse for Horowitz to act like African American people have a privileged position in the world. If Black people have more income than people in Africa, what does that mean? It means that European colonialism and the workings of imperialism since then have so devastated Africa that the people there live worse than almost anywhere in the world. Are African Americans supposed to be grateful for that? Does Horowitz expect them to feel pride when the IMF crushes the economy of another Third World nation, or cheer when the CIA stages some coup ?

In fact, life for Black people in the U.S. today is marked by profound inequality. Black people get the worst housing, the worst of bad health care, the worst education and other social services and so on.

Take overall household wealth: In 1998, Black median household income was only 60% of white median household income. But the legacy of deep systematic inequality shows up even more when you look at household wealth--which is what people own minus their debts. In 1995 median Black household wealth was just $7,400--only 12 percent of what a median white household owned. In 1998 the average wealth of Black households was $272,000 less than the average wealth for white families. Meanwhile Black household wealth shrank 17 percent from 1994-1999, to $7000--during the supposedly prosperous Clinton years.

Unemployment is routinely twice as high for Black people as it is for white people--and it is always sky high for Black youth. While Black kids are being excluded from the University of California at Berkeley--millions are forced to choose between demeaning nickel-and-dime jobs or the dangers of the illegal economy. In 1992 there were more Black men in prison than in college. Since then hundreds of thousands more have been rounded up and put behind bars.

If all of America suddenly experienced the unemployment and poverty of the Black community it would be considered a horrifying crisis, a depression and an outrage.

Horowitz says that the existence of the Black middle class shows that "the hardships that occurred were hardships that individuals could and did overcome." But even middle class Black people face obstacles and discrimination of many kinds, like racial profiling, red-lining, loan discrimination and exclusion from old boy networks--exactly because they remain part of an oppressed people. The fact that Black students at the elite campus at Berkeley have to put up with racist insults from people like Horowitz in the pages of their own campus newspaper is itself an example of that.

The Living Legacy of Slavery

"The tradition of all the generations of the dead weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living."

Karl Marx, founder of modern communism

This inequality is something imposed on Black people by the working of U.S. society--and it has everything to do with history, a history that has forged them as an oppressed people here.

Black people were dragged to North America as slaves. Their work cleared forests, built railroads and levees, drained swamps, and planted cash crops for a world capitalist market. Horowitz tries to claim that "There is no single group clearly responsible for the crime of slavery." But clearly there were people responsible: the European and American slave traders, the class of Southern plantation owners, the capitalists in the U.S. and England who ran the textile mills.

When Horowitz points out that only a tiny group were actually slaveowners, he wants to suggest that the blame is quite limited. But in fact these slaveowners had the full backing of the whole U.S. system for almost a hundred years--the Constitution, the courts, the police, the army, the churches and so on. The labor of slaves contributed massive wealth to the emergence of the United States as a world power.

The institutions and ideologies of white supremacy created in slavery time were preserved and transformed even as slavery itself was abolished..

After the Civil War, Black people did not win liberation and justice (and still less were they given their freedom by the U.S. government, as Horowitz claims)--but after giving their lives on the frontlines of that war they were violently disarmed, stripped of their rights and forced to labor in serf-like conditions, as sharecroppers on the plantations. The white plantation owners--many of them former slaveowners or their family--used lynch mobs, the KKK, the Jim Crow laws, and all the institutions of the society to maintain this oppression. In these conditions, Black people were forged into a separate, distinct, oppressed nation in the area known as the "Black Belt South" (because of the color of the soil there) and they faced intense continuing oppression, as a people.

This national oppression went through further changes as millions of Black people were pushed off the land and pulled into the northern cities--concentrated in the most exploited sections of the working class. But Black people are stilled oppressed as a people. The changes in Southern agriculture, the needs of Northern industry, the rising resistance of the Black masses, north and south--and a wave of anti-colonial and national liberation struggles around the world--gave rise to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s. Once again the question was posed: will Black people be integrated into this society on the basis of full equality. And the system answered: NO.

Want to see the legacy of slavery in today's capitalist America? Check out the continuing (and even intensifying) segregation of Black people into ghetto areas and rundown schools. Watch how the police in cities like Chicago target Black people who "leave their areas" for work in the suburbs. Go to the courtrooms, where Black people jokingly say you find "just us." Or look at the continuing fight (150 years after the Civil War!) over whether the hateful flag of slavery should fly from public buildings throughout the South. Or you could look at Horowitz' ad.

The discrimination, customs and practices of white supremacy have survived because they have been defended, updated and enforced. Horowitz and others say that immigrants often "find the rungs of the ladder of opportunity" and ask why Black people can't. The answer is that it is profoundly profitable (and always has been) for the rulers of the U.S. to keep and exploit the masses of African American people at the bottom of society -- working first as slaves, then as sharecroppers, and now, when the majority of Black people are proletarians. The oppression of Black people as a people is woven so deeply into the fabric of U.S. society that it will take a revolution to change things.

Time's Up

In the mean-spirited and divisive way typical of conservatives, Horowitz acts as if any justice for Black people must be something taken away from ordinary white people (or even from Latinos and immigrants). But fighting against the oppression of Black people is a key part of moving to overthrow and finally end this system. Anyone who feels messed over by this system--who identifies not with the rulers but with the victims of this system--anyone with a sense of justice should feel deeply moved to join wholeheartedly in this fight.

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, wrote: "Socially as well as politically, any attempt to really sever this national oppression from the fabric of U.S. society and reshape the society without this oppression would completely 'unravel' and tear apart the whole social fabric as it now exists, as it has been historically developed under capitalist rule. Obviously, while we, representing the revolutionary proletariat, welcome this, the imperialist ruling class absolutely does not and can not."

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