Farrakhan Harps on Past, Conservatives Look to Future

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan used the pulpit at the “Millions More March” Saturday to arouse emotions, claiming the U.S. government actually bombed the levees in New Orleans in an attempt to kill blacks who lived there.

Farrakhan’s speech–citing racism as the root cause why many blacks are poor, uneducated and unemployed–was a sequel to his address at the “Million Man March,” which took place in Washington, D.C., in 1995. Although turnout was lower for Saturday’s event, the cry was the same.

But while Farrakhan and other extremists dwelled on the past, increasing their irrelevancy, black conservative leaders have stepped forward to discuss the future. They acknowledge a sentiment of racism still exists, but they say it is not a top priority or concern to be dealt with.

Confronting issues that plague much of the black community–high crime and abortion rates, poverty and a lack of personal responsibility–five black conservatives leaders recently shared insights and reflections on where black America is today and where it needs to be headed.

The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny and an outspoken critic of black liberal leadership, led the discussion, “Reclaiming Our Destiny: The New Black Vanguard II,” sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and carried live by C-SPAN last Tuesday.

All five participants–Shelby Steele, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute who is an expert in race relations and American culture; Linda Porter, founder of the Jochebed Education Project (based in New Orleans, it educates young women about the dangers of abortion and the importance of self-responsibility); Joseph Phillips, a Los Angeles actor and columnist; LaShawn Barber, a conservative writer and blogger; and Peterson–agreed that leaders such as Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson are so busy crying “racism” that they don’t let people move on and deal with current issues.

Steele said while blacks continuously make whites accountable for the shame of racism and hang on to the past, they limit their development in many areas. He said often the term “racism” is shouted to distract people from the real problems.

Poverty in New Orleans

A current example would be that of New Orleans. According to Steele, a “deep and intractable black poverty” existed there that broke his heart. It embarrassed him that four decades after civil rights victories, people still lived in such poverty. He said he knew he was not the only one uncomfortable watching the news coverage and figured it wouldn’t be long before someone blamed the disaster on racial prejudice.

“Part of the shame is the fact that you know white people are looking at this, and they’re seeing it and you know they are judging you,” Steele said. What’s even worse, he said, is that they judge people but don’t say anything, because they know better.

However, the shame goes both ways. “I often think that maybe the deepest racial problem we have is that both races witness each other’s great shames,” he said. He explained that blacks have seen the ugliness of white supremacy, and whites have witnessed blacks’ inferiority brought on by four generations of slavery.

Phillips said the charge of racism in New Orleans was a diversion to cover for government failure. “There is some culpability on the part of the government, and in my view, this talk about race is just to obscure that.”

He said Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco seemed “in over her head,” and he said he is amazed at the rapidity with which New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has bounced back into popularity and referred to him as “the Teflon mayor.”

“It all comes down to personal responsibility,” said Porter, who was present when the warning came to evacuate New Orleans. “Churches, ministers should have been involved. I’m not going to sit here and blame the government. There were many, many people who did not do what they should have done. I don’t see racism there, I just see unfortunate circumstances that caused many people not to leave.”

Barber said a so-called “underclass” exists in New Orleans and other poverty-stricken cities. They aren’t the working poor who count their pennies to survive on a daily basis. They are a group of people who have lost the will to keep trying, he said, who don’t care to take control of their lives and demand the government provide for them.

“They’re not lacking because they can’t find a job, but generationally they haven’t built up the work ethic,” she explained.

Dependent on Government

Steele suggested the Great Society programs of the 1960s spurred this lack of will. Programs implemented under President Lyndon Johnson to help blacks “catch up” instead taught them to be dependent on government help and handouts, he said.

Welfare is one example of a solution that did more harm than good, according to Steele. It “dehumanizes people”–they get stuck in a cycle of poverty that many “can’t and don’t care to get out of,” he said. “You lose people who don’t come back, and we’ve lost a lot of people who aren’t going to come back, I don’t care what you do.”

But, as Phillips said, “[Al]though we lose people we don’t have to lose generations because children of those people are not lost. You can influence the way people view the world, their choices and begin to make changes.”

Leaders need to step up, the panelists said, and not be afraid to criticize and correct the black community if changes are going to happen.

Peterson said neither whites nor blacks want to say anything about the problems affecting the black community. “We’re not being dealt with by anybody,” he said. Whites don’t want to be labeled “racists” so they keep their mouths shut and blacks don’t want to be one against many.

Defending Bill Bennett

Peterson said he’s glad Bill Bennett, talk-radio host of “Morning in America,” spoke up. Others agreed.

Bennett made a comment to a caller on his show September 29 that drew national attention when he drew a connection between blacks and crime, Peterson explained. Taken out of context, the comment came off horribly racist, he said. But Bennett was drawing the comment from fact: black crime rates, as well as abortion rates, are extremely high when compared to those of other ethnicities.

Steele said blacks feel they have moral authority as victims of white supremacy, play the pity card and whites feel guilty. “How do whites get over that?” he asked. “They have to be like Bill Bennett. The most important thing I think that Bill Bennett did was not apologize. That’s a good sign.”