I've sometimes wondered what's up with Juan Williams. His project on the Civil Rights Movement, Eyes on the Prize, is powerful and inspiring, but when I hear his remarks on NPR or on PBS news I'm often struck by how pro-establishment he seems. Today, offers a clue of what's up. NPR says that this week it's "sampling the debate over African American leadership," and begins the series with Juan Williams assailing current African American leaders as "delighting in victimhood." Williams' piece is provocative. After describing the heroics of the Civil Rights Movement, he contrasts today's leadership as "a generation of leadership that somehow delights in victimhood," offering "conpiracy theories…wrapped in this cloak of victimhood..." He claims that current African American leadership "defends negative disfunctional behavior" giving the interesting example of African Americans who ask, "Why is there a lesser penalty for powdered cocaine than for crack cocaine instead of saying don’t do" either drug. (I found this an interesting example because it is a question that goes to the heart of the current prison-industrial complex and "drug war" policy that has criminalized a huge portion of the Black community.)
The most disturbing thing though about Williams' piece was its utter lack of details. Who are all the voices of victimhood that he denounces. Only Al Sharpton's name comes up. And what about the incredibly short-lived life of affirmative action and the roll-back of civil rights that really got rolling with Reagan? What about the complete destruction of more militant African American leaders by the police and government in the 60's (e.g. Fred Hampton)?
I don't object to raising thorny issues about problems in the African American community--but where is the contextual perpective?
Williams did have a few details that hint where his loyalties lie. When asked what Black leaders are "getting it right" he cites Sen. Barak Obama, Colin Powell, and Dick Parsons (CEO of AOL/Time Warner)--deconstruct that! I can tell you as an Illinois progressive that Obama is a pathetic disappointment supporting the war in Iraq, hawkish on Iran, and hawkish for Israel. Powell (UN liar and Vietnam cover-up man) has surely disgraced himself in his salesmanship for the Bush project in Iraq and the Middle East, and then Parsons [helped with Bush's Social Security Commission] the head of a mega-media conglomerate (we know how democratic and progressive they are!). Yes, Williams wants self-empowerment all right--but only if it's cozied up with those in power--regardless of what wrongs they are committing.
We'll see if this NPR "series" offers any progressive voices from the African American community.