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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Where Are The Black Cindy Sheehans?

This week, Earl Ofari Hutchinson asks "Where are the black Cindy Sheehans?" He connects the question to the lack of black participation in anti-war protests.

I've been asking lately asking the same question from another perspective. When white people look at the Cindy Sheehan protest - and now the counter-protests, do they see what I see? Do they see a civil war among white people? Do they see a racially-homogenous (white) exchange passing for a discussion that might include all of us? I doubt it.

Allow me to add more "color" to the conversation:

1. In the "war of the mothers" (those face-offs between pro/anti Sheehan soldier-mothers), the mothers are always white and inevitably show the political-culture divide among white Americans. Cindy Sheehan and other soldier-mothers on her side sound like the kind of white people who voted for Al Gore and John Kerry. Those on the opposite side of Cindy Sheehan sound like the kind of white people who voted for George Bush - both times. One side sounds like they'd be against any use of the American military, not just Iraq. The other side sounds like they'd support the use of American military, no matter how misguided or unplanned it was.

2. What about the mothers of soliders who died in Iraq who aren't white? Well, we're never going to hear an open and honest hearing of what they have to say. In the current state of things, it would never occur to white progressives to put a black or latino mother in front of the TV cameras with Cindy Sheehan. It would never occur to white conservatives to find a mother of color either, until they saw this as an opportunity to rehabilitate their racial image. Meanwhile, our mass media is so "colorblind" that it thinks nothing about showing ordinary white people in front of the camera all the time, on a war that directly or indirectly affects us all.

The white-on-white battle about Iraq is getting us nowhere. The public conversation is getting too far removed from how to win the "Global War Against Violent Extremism." How to win with bullets is overtaking strategies to win the trust and the hearts and minds of people throughout the world, which is the only way that this country will be safer. These are the real issues, regardless of how long we stay in Iraq and the sacrifices that we endure to be there.

The ideals and the common sense of African-Americans need to part of this conversation.

White people left to argue with themselves are destroying the country.

Emancipated by Quintus Jett @ 12:01 AM

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I can't speak directly to this particular media event because I have to admit that I still don't even know what Cindy or the other Military families at Camp Casey look like. (I'm getting very good at avoiding the t.v. now adays.) However, I have to agree that what I recall of the news was the occasional black politician getting a small bit of media time and any other time that a black is shown on the media is usually because of crime. I blame this for much of the racial divide.

Back to the topic though, it's my recollection that until just recently the media didn't want to even recognize that we had any sane mothers in America that were against the war. It was just crazy progressives that were against the war and by being against the war; they were thereby against the troops. It's refreshing to hear that we're finally getting news time with someone that middle America will be able to relate to.

What we need now that the door is open for all Americans to start showing their displeasure with the direction this country is taking. We need folks to write their local newspapers, call their local t.v. stations, show up at Camp Casey and get themselves noticed. Let's show America that it doesn't matter what color your child was that went to fight in Iraq; they deserve to be treated with respect and they shouldn't be used to help Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell get richer.

It's good to get ticked off. That's the only time we seem to lose our apathy and step out of our comfort zone. These are the times when social gains can be made. It's time for gain; we've lost too much with this administration.

Posted by Blogger catamount @ Thursday, August 25, 2005 12:58:00 AM #


I find it is not only the media failing to ask African Americans their opinions on these topics but also many African Americans aren't speaking up. Any African American mother of a soldier could easily step up and join Cindy or start her own protest.

I think you have two things happening. One is you have a segment of the African American community that doesn't feel as if things are so bad since they are doing much better than their predecessors. The other segment is just so disenfrachised, it has stopped caring/fighting for more progress.

I talked to one African American gentleman recently who stated that he used to be involved in politics, but had lost the stomach for it. I think after our conversation, where I talked about how Howard Dean's campaign made me realize that politics needs to be a participation sport, he started considering getting involved again. Hopefully I planted a seed in him that will grow and he will decide to participate somehow in his community. I also plan on following up with him soon to see if he'd like to get involved in DFA.

Posted by Blogger Schnee @ Thursday, August 25, 2005 1:01:00 PM #

Oscar, Elaine Johnson is, or was, at Camp Casey. She's an AfricanAmerican Gold Star Mom. Her son Darius was killed Nov. 2, 2003, after being in Iraq for 6 months. She traveled from SC to put flowers on Darius' cross at Arlington West.


Posted by Blogger Terri @ Thursday, August 25, 2005 1:05:00 PM #

sorry, that was for Quintus.

Posted by Blogger Terri @ Thursday, August 25, 2005 1:06:00 PM #

Schnee, I believe that African Americans must play a constructive role, and not just be critical. We do need to speak out more, at the level of the ordinary person. A number of our politicians and commentators have already been quite outspoken.

Culturally speaking, the Cindy Sheehan protest is a white progressive show. One black woman showing up wouldn't change that. I think a group of black mothers arriving would be something else altogether.

Some of the rhetoric of the Sheehan protest would necessarily shift, I believe for the better. For instance, I think Cindy Sheehan is very clearly an icon of mothers who are serving in Iraq, if you're political orientation is already "blue." To white Americans who are "red" in political orientation, they can tell the longer that Cindy Sheehan talks that she is NOT one of them...

I don't think that white progresives have learned yet that in a numerical matchup against white conservatives, they will LOSE. That's why they need the sensibilities and language of African Americans (and other people of color) guiding them.

Posted by Blogger Quintus Jett @ Thursday, August 25, 2005 6:56:00 PM #

Quintus, I find this an intriguing question... yet I do not share your viewpoint about it. You're black, I'm white. So out the gate we have way different perpsectives on race related issues, not the least of which being "an understanding of the wide range of what might be called, for simplicity sake, 'the black community'".

But your premise seems to be that we aren't seeing Black Cindy Sheehans because whitey too dumb to put the dark folk on camera. While I'll be the first to say that Democratic Party whitey strategists are among the dumbest whites I seem to encounter in life -- and lack street smarts or even a modicum of common sense re media power and how to use it and NOT use it, nevertheless, I think that's a copout suggestion.

I ask that question "Where Are The Black Cindy Sheehans?" and wonder: "Come to think of it, yeah! where the f are they?" ... And yes, particularly because more Latinos and blacks have given their lives for this country that privileged whites have, that's for sure, and, sadly, by design at some level of the Pentagon and Congressional chambers.

Look, there is an unprecedented amount of TV programming on Network and on cable which predominantly features African American characters as leads. I think that's great and surely about time. You tell me: Are the producers of those shows using their venues to make political points like showing grieving black mothers -- or the anguish of losing a son or daughter to this war fought for oil and other lies told to America? If so, give me some examples because, quite honestly, I don;t watch much TV at ball, and don't have cable?

I don;t know the answer to this next question either, but Oprah has one of the highest rated shows of its kind in America, and Oprah is a "crossover" leader for all races in America. maybe she HAS done some shows dedicated to the burden of loss carried by the African American community for george's hubristic and callous war. Do you know? Has she? If so, great. Then where are the Black Cindy Sheehans?

And if not, what's up with that?

It's been my experience as a liberal white guy who gets involved in community and social causes for past decade or two that Middle Class black America is AWOL for every major critical issue that faces our country. Sure, we can see Maxine Waters, but she is merely a representative. I can tell you first hand that back during the L.A. riots, a tremendous amount of white people (and all colors) went down to South Central and pitched in in every possible manner, be it clean up, or in my case starting up a small business development org which helped people get small business loans, coached them through the paperwork, helped set up meetings with black entrepreneurs seeking to find investment opportunities in South Central, meeting with black bank owners in South central. And this group, comprised of many colors of people, made direct progress, got hands on results. Sadly, this group was predominantly white... and I was its leader. Time and again, all too regularly, I would ask the 3 African Americans -- all middle class, all very sharp and strategic in their thinking, "Where is the Black Middle Class?" Why can't you find any recruits within the middle class Black community to take on this org and run it? I don;t WANT to run it. I feel uncomfortable running it. It just doesn't seem right."

I can't recall the answers but I can assure you they had no defense for the lack of participation by middle class blacks. So I can't explain it. Can you?

Because it seems completely synonymous with the situation you are describing and are scratching your head about. For SURE there MUST be middle class blacks who are well organized and who have solidarity and good infrastructure who know how to play the media game.

So,the point of my message is not to take any responsibility away from whitey at Camp Casey, but tell me, where in the world is Camp Turrell? And why isn't it staffed by 1000 people from across the nation?

Where's the proactivity?


Richard Hoefer

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Friday, August 26, 2005 5:23:00 PM #

FOLLOWUP from Richard Hoefer.

(NOTE: Quintus cross-posted this main blog entry at a yahoo list called NGdiscuss -- NG standing for National Grassroots. It used to be a more activer list but now gets next to no traffic. I replied there, and he replied to me there as well. And I replied back. So in the interest of trying to widen the readership on this discussion, I am reposting my second comments below. They follow a comment further down in this message from Quintus -- and then a followup to Quintus by Lauren Shannon... Sorry for the length. Hope is is useful. rh+)

Lauren, I agree. Just wonderful stuff Quintus raised -- and a really great followup post below (from him).

Quintus, you have the raw material -- if you so chose -- to become a guiding leader in this proposed new shift you speak of -- in changing the entire dynamics of political debate in this country from white conservative vs white progressive to a whole new approach. It's been needed for a long long time. I agree with everything you said in your followup... and my only point of contention from your initial post (at African Americans for Democracy blog) was that I didn't see enough onus and responsibility being put squarely on the shoulders of African American communities across America.

You clarified that in some of your followup comments -- and thus I have no disagreement with you now.

I also agree with Lauren that you personally have a very important voice -- and I want to remind you that if one did a search at this almost-dead list "NGdiscuss", there was an exchange you and I had a number of months back -- perhaps in April? -- in which your raised this overall theme of there being not merely ADDITIVE value for African Americans to speak up -- but rather ESSENTIAL and UNIQUE value which quite possibly could become a major strategic front in taking back this country. I completely agreed with you -- and observed that if anyone in America has had experience in living with the absurdity around us all -- and with blatant injustice occuring left and right all over the map, it was black Americans. And thus there was a tremendous knowledge-gap and experience gap that African Americans have vis-a-vis white Americans -- and one in which black Americans could teach white Americans a tremendous amount about not just coping with and withstanding nonstop abuse, but also being resilient to even the worst of conditions -- managing to persist and keep eye on the prize, even if that prize is further off in the distance than one would first hope or imagine.

I am not doing justice to that original exchange, but I think I have remembered the essence. I believe one of your points was that is was sort of humorous to you, sort of, how white progressives were so aghast at how bad things could get in America, and that the very act of their expressing that state of fear, anxiety, and incredulity with such volume and agitation underlined how practically out of touch many white Americans are with the longstanding struggles endured by black Americans... The impression I remember having back then, in reading that particular essay, was enlightening. For I had not seen it expressed before -- at least not to me... something like "Quintus is essentially bemused at how "progressive whitey" is today getting a firsthand taste of and experiencing maybe 1/100th or 1/1000th of what almost every black American experienced in the past two centuries of this country. And by and large there is a lack of consultation ( an imprecise word but it will do for the moment) by white progressives to actively seek out strategies and experiences of black America to help mine the best methods and combined strategies for dealing with the GOP menace that has been ruining this country. And that it was a loss to the whole progressive movement.

And I thought this theme-line that you presented was so potent and so promising for further scrutiny and active followups that the subject would get discussed here in this venue (the NGdiscuss email list).

But it didn't. It died on the vine pretty much after I replied to you.

And that was sad and unfortunate. But I chalked it up then to the overall decline in participation in ALL progressive yahoo groups since the loss of the election and the subsequent blatant incoherence of the Democratic Party in developing strategies to take on the failed policies of the Bush administration. I for one lost interest as well.

But Lauren, you tell me -- maybe you know: When you say "There needs to be a whole blog or writing area just on these particular issues. Esp. considering who are the large % of folks fighting and dying in this illegal war" -- are you suggesting that Quintus' blog is not such a place? Or are you unfamiliar with it? (Just asking... because it would seem to be a perfect place for such writings -- since apparently they're already there :) ) .... Or are you saying that "yes, African Americans *ARE* discussing these issues in predominantly African American blogs and web venues, but by and large there seems to be a lack of these needed discussions AT LARGE within ALL of the progressive communities, white, black, latino, Asian, etc?"

If so, then I would like to suggest that Quintus consider doing what others have done and are doing more of these days: Cross-posting every blog entry as a DIARY ENTRY at DailyKos. I can't think of a larger catalytic community than DailyKos. After all, that is the venue where Barbara Boxer first addressed a blog community. Then Rep. Conyers, then Louise Slaughter, then others, including most recently Cindy Sheehan. Let's face it, it's the highest trafficed progressive blog, period. And those who have mastered its daily dynamic know WHEN to place their daily diary entries (blog posts) such that they get initial large exposure, and can be "recommended" and elevated to the coveted "recommended list" -- where up to a million or more people a day see these topics and participate in the discussions.

A great example of how to use DailyKos -- to build readership at one's own blog -- is Jeffrey feldman of "Frameshop". He developed a loyal following at KOS, and then he added Demspeak to his crosspost circuit -- until he finally launched his own blog. But he continues to use DailyKos to maintain and grow readership and participation at his own more specialty-blog than the all-purpose DailyKos mega blog.

In the case of Quintus, he's already got his own blog and venue -- so the suggested strategy i am advising is that he invest some time at DailyKos, and build a name for THESE KINDS OF ISSUES. They are NOT by and large discussed at DailyKos -- and I think, Lauren, that your point is, there needs to be a large venue where these impt and probably CRITICAL issues get aired in a wider and more demgraphically diverse environment.

Seems like a win-win to me.

Quintus, when you get back from your trip, I hope you will find this message and give it some serious thought.

Keep at it, and thank you for responding to my reply to your initial post. Thank you also for cross-posting it at NGdiscuss. Even if it is now a low-low traffic list, at least I saw the post -- and that's what counts.

best regards,


On Aug 26, 2005, at 9:54 PM, lauren shannon wrote:

Quintus, great to see you writing and wonderful stuff here!
There needs to be a whole blog or writing area just on these particular issues. Esp. considering who are the large % of folks fighting and dying in this illegal war.

Did you vote yet for demfest 06?

On 8/27/05, maroon_society wrote:

Hi Richard,

One of my points is that if someone hadn't raised this question, most
white progressives wouldn't have thought about it. If they had, it
would have been in a way that was superficial, somewhat in the way
that Republicans are becoming adept at using race now. Most black
people wouldn't have thought about the question either, which I also
consider to be problematic.

I'd like to see groups of black Cindy Sheehans. I'd like to see so
many, that the way this war is discussed reflects some of the language
and aspirations of African Americans. I took a stab at it towards the
end of my post. I'll rephrase it this way: striving to pull out of
Iraq will go NOWHERE until it is combined with some other affirmative
strategy to address the war on terror.

Another of my points is that white progressives might be so caught up
in the spy vs. spy game with white conservatives, that this larger
picture is being lost on the white progressive side. Meanwhile, the
white conservative side has lost perspective and has given a support
that too focused on the use of bullets. We will only be safe in the
long run if we can regain the trust of others in the world.

A third point is that white people on the left might see more truly
racially inclusive strategies (not the superficial stuff) if they were
to accept that conservatives will always win in any all-white
political referendum.

I discovered this past week that a well-known African American
columnist was asking himself the same question that I was about the
lack of black presence and engagement in this Cindy Sheehan story.
While he chose to analyze why we might be participating in the
anti-war movement, instead I feel that we as African Americans need to
speak out much more than what we do. I'd like to see ordinary black
people in America break our silence. I understand some of the factors
that contribute to the silence, including an experience that white
people on the left won't listen or can't see the things that they do
that keep progressive movements from being multi-racial in charcter.

We need to speak up more because the progressive/conservative
treadmill among white people (the dominant tit for tat that we see in
our media) takes us nowhere. The country's not making progress that
it could, and I don't think we as African-Americans can wait for
white-led progressive movements to figure things out on their own
anymore. This Cindy Sheehan story kind of reminds me of the Downing
Street memo, that last big story that white people on the left thought
would bring the Bush house down.

I am not saying that black Ameicans should ask for an invitation to be
heard by white Americans. I think we should speak out and participate
more, regardless of what the majority white population thinks about
it. Right now there is too much at stake.

I just emailed you my cell phone number, as I'm flying out your way
tomorrow. I'm glad I caught your post, because I'm not checking email
again for another couple weeks! :-)

If all the ideas here aren't all connected, well sorry. I trust that
someone here will get what I'm talking about. I must finish packing!


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Saturday, August 27, 2005 1:56:00 AM #

Shooting from the hip here, but if I had to guess why there is a lack of participation from Middle Class Blacks then I would point to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Most Middle Class Blacks don't feel secure, just like Lower Class Blacks, and as such don't necessarily think about directly helping others in the grand scheme of things. We'll help our neighbors, family and friends of course, and will tithe and give an offering at church to help the needy, but when food, clothing and shelter is an issue (working in White America it is always and issue, you have to be much better than your White peers in too many instances in order to be considered equal with your peers) so stress from the job will limit your community activism. Add in a spouse and kids and there's no time for a Black woman (or man) to be Cindy Sheehan.

See what happens to the job of a Black woman who takes a month off from work to protest George Bush - Door-->Butt-->Bang!

Posted by Blogger Athanasius @ Saturday, August 27, 2005 1:08:00 PM #

1. you have to be much better than your White peers in too many instances in order to be considered equal with your peers) so stress from the job will limit your community activism.

2. Add in a spouse and kids and there's no time for a Black woman (or man) to be Cindy Sheehan.

Oscar In Louisville , that has an immediate ring of truth to it, and let's suppose these are the actual factors that limit the visible participation of Middle Class African Americans.

So what can be done about this --

You're essentially equating "a Cindy Sheehan" to someone who can afford to take off a month to go protest down in Crawford. But that is not how Cindy Sheehan became "a Cindy Sheehan". It began with her speaking out.

Even with the stressors and difficulties of being a good parent and with an economic system that makes it way harder on blacks than whites to be considered competent at one's job (thereby allowing some "slack" to be away from the work desk to do a TV interview), is the proposition all or nothing?

You mean to tell me a Middle Class black mother who's lost a son or daughter to this insane war can't get on the 6 oclock news or 10pm news in, say, New Orleans, LA?

That's my hometown and I just visited there again, and there are plenty of black people populating the local TV news in on the street segments.

Is it really that hard to have a Middle Class black mom who' got a 8-6pm job make a statement to the news after 6pm which could run on the 10pm or 11 pm news? In a heavily black populated city like New Orleans?

Now multiply that by any number of other localities where the black population is high percentage-wise -- and local blacks are frequently the faces you'll see on on-the-street reporting by local news stations...

My point is this: It doesn't take "taking off a month and flying down to Bush-town" to be a "Black Cindy Sheehan". It seems to me that is an extremist definition of what it takes to get TV time.

Cindy Sheehan got TV time long before she gathered her Camp Casey in Crawford -- which was a strategically smart thing to do.

There most clearly IS outrage in black communities over the loss of sons and daughters. Why can't we see it locally on the news, in 10 cities across the country, why not 25 cities, why not 50 cities or 100 cities?

Creative organizing could go a long way towards upping the visibility of Moms of fallen American service men and women. And that's what I would like to see.

Now -- with complete sincerity -- tell me what I've missed; or where I have failed to grasp the situation.

Thank you,

Richard Hoefer

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Saturday, August 27, 2005 3:38:00 PM #

It's a matter of focus. Cindy spoke out because she felt like it might make a difference. Many if not most Blacks understand that our opinion doesn't matter much to mainstream America - you don't often see the news interviewing Blacks except to make us look ignorant. Think about it - who decides which faces go on the 6pm, 10pm, or 11pm news? Who decides how the story is going to be slanted? For the most part the people who make those decisions look more like Cindy Sheehan than me. Blacks watch TV - we know that it's not us making those decisions and we're generally not trying to waste our time playing a rigged game that we can't win.

From a Black POV, a particular situation may indeed suck but that's just life in America - you deal with it because you can't change it. That mindset has been planted deep within Black consciousness for more than 400 years and it hasn't be eliminated in the last 40 years - it won't be eliminated in the next 40 years either. The cause has to be eliminated before the effect will wane - we won't put down our shields until Whites put down their swords. When Blacks feel like this is actually our society and that we're not just barely-tolerated visitors then I would expect Blacks to start acting like this is our society. In the mean time I simply expect Blacks to do for Self.

Obviously, there are exceptions - just like there are Whites who truly see all people as their equals - but in both instances they are in the minority, comfortably.

What can be done about it? I have no idea. That's why I focus on the areas where I can make a difference - doing for Self.

Posted by Blogger Athanasius @ Saturday, August 27, 2005 4:17:00 PM #
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