Q. What was the most significant tactical error committed by the civil rights activists, and why?
Clearly, the problem of racism remains despite the tremendous efforts made by the civil rights activists. What are some of the things that the activists could have done better to neutralize the global system of racism? What lessons can we learn from them to apply in the struggle today?
A. The greatest error of all civil rights leaders in the US was the extent to which they failed to inculcate proper economic realism into their political base. The result is that no sound economic measures were ever included in people’s understanding or assessment of racial bias. The result is that the tactics of the civil rights era have been repeated time and time again, ie political activism of the non-violent social protest type which expects results delivered in the form of government policy. To the extent that the civil rights movement, specifically MLK and A. Philip Randolph did speak upon economic matters, their actions were narrowly focused on organized labor and the tactics of strikes and boycotts.
Notice that this was something that Malcolm X, whom I would consider *outside* of the civil rights movement, did not cosign. Malcolm was a religious conservative whose tactics did not coincide with the agendas of the NAACP, SCLC, or CORE.
This is not to say that the civil rights movement was wrong. It’s approach and results were substantially correct, but to the extent that a civil rights agenda is perceived to be racial, or ‘in the interests of black people’, those interests were only very narrowly drawn. They are political issues that we can all recite without thought, ‘equal access to education, health care, employment’, to which the government properly responded with anti-discrimination legislation. And when it became self-evident that a level playing field was not sufficient to deliver parity in short order, Affirmative Action became the political solution. I think this is something that Malcolm X and the later Black Power Movement activists saw clearly. However Malcolm had other fish to fry, and quite frankly the Black Power folks, including the Panthers, US, Carmichael’s SNCC and subsequent radicals simply didn’t possess the vision or brainpower to sustain.
More black Americans allied themselves, consequently with ideas like changing to African names, protest in solidarity with convicts, counter-culturalist movements, international socialism and revolutionary rhetoric rather than economic awareness, business acumen or real community development. So profound was this ‘civil rights’ brainwashing that black Americans were more suspicious of their own inherited English language skills, churches, family ties and capitalism that they became convinced by and large, that none of this would work for them. In other words, the post-civil rights era produced a kind of radical separatism that was in fact at odds with the mainstreaming inclusionary vision of civil rights integration.
Since all of this was couched in (false) racial terms, the relatively large black American population easily split into different ideological and class camps yet there remained the idea that only a racial unity and racial agendas could raise the fortunes of the race. Consequently anything that depressed the fortunes of the race, in part or in aggregate, was attributed to racism. But it’s obvious that any group that is economically ignorant, spouts revolutionary rhetoric, allies itself with socialist radicals, asserts phony ties with Africa (not specific to any country or regime, or even ‘Kmet’, ancient Africa), disowns the Christian Church, etc is not going to be as successful in America as a group that does none of these things.
Quite simply, MLK’s dream was based on the American Dream, the Black Nationalists were anti-American. MLK did not call himself Black in that way. The failure of the civil rights movement was that they, and all who inherited their ‘race raising’ ideas became too responsible for the fate of black America and outlived their usefulness. Now it falls to this catch-all of racism being responsible for black America’s fate.
In other words, a few political activists, ‘the civil rights establishment’ morphed into the figurative leaders of an entire race of people, something they were never capable of being. And their particular narrow tactics ‘against racism’ suddenly became what all black Americans were suppose to be responsive to and responsible for. But in fact, nothing about success in America works that way. That’s a socialist trickle-down fantasy.
All one has to do is consider the path of men like Vernon Jordan, Lee Archer, David L. Brewer III, Stan O’Neal, Ed Brooke III, Guy Bluford or Colin Powell to understand how success comes to black Americans without adhering to some narrow political tactics of so-called black leaders.
It is a fiction that racism is the Devil and that civil rights, or ‘black leaders’ are prophets. The brief, successful, civil rights movement correctly brought anti-discrimination policy to be the law of the land. That’s as far as it ever had to go. The greatest mistake of civil rights activists and those who followed them was to believe there was more to gain from that formula, specifically economic power.
Also, there is no global system of racism. See here.