Saturday, July 6, 2013

Here We Go Again – Elbert Guillory (R) Switches Parties

I am so pleased to introduce Melissa Prunty-Kemp, M.A., M.F.A. I invited some other writers to share their race and culture experiences, and Melissa is the second writer to guest post. If we cannot view our experiences through the lens of honesty and forthrightness, we cannot begin to heal our shameful history of racism and look forward to a new unified America.

Perhaps recent storms, bridge collapses or the trials of Jody Arias and George Zimmerman distracted you from this recent earth-shaking announcement by former Democratic Senator Elbert Guillory, now new R-Opelousas, Louisiana; that he switched parties and is now a Republican.  Not only has Guillory experienced this “Apostle Paul” moment, you should as well, especially if you are a Black American.

In this statement originally sent to me from a Facebook friend as a YouTube video, Guillory purports to show many misguided African Americans “the way.” Fortunately for me especially (because I hate video), I found a transcript of Guillory’s speech.

If you are a person who believes political parties have any real purpose different from each other (I do not—they all want the same thing in my opinion, which is security for monetary and military interests but they each have a different method of fostering that security), then it makes sense for you to pay attention to what the parties do and who is affiliated with which party.  If you think race has something to do with how the parties operate, then it makes sense to pay attention to which racial/ethnic groups affiliate with which parties.  I, however, believe that political parties, like race, socio-economic status, age, gender and other demographic delimiters serve one purpose only—to distract and divide people so that they never pay attention to the real problem—the wizard behind the curtain.

So what’s Guillory’s premise in his speech?  He believes the Democratic Party is in favor of “public” welfare and that the public who receives such is being insulted with it.  He states, “You see, in recent history the Democrat Party has created the illusion that their agenda and their policies are what’s best for black people.”  The operative words in this sentence and in the whole argument, which weakens it and makes it irrelevant, are “recent history.”  What’s recent is a matter of when you are born.  My son and my own “recent history” are radically different.  It amazes me that Guillory could be his age and make the statements he’s making, considering the “recent history” he experienced in Louisiana.

He could be right with the rest of his contention, however: there is no shortage of parties, groups, doctors, politicians and a host of others who know “what’s best” for black and any other people, whites included.  I’d define that as “parochialism” or “paternalism,” both of which are faulty.  It presupposes the belief that ethnic groups and their individual members are incapable of deciding what’s best for themselves and that they need the great hand of someone smarter than they to do it for them.  Guillory should be slapped for continuing to perpetuate such a statement.  I definitely don’t need anyone to tell me what’s best for me.  My brain and critical thinking function quite well, thank you.

Guillory’s speech then continues to posit that Republicans are much more humane and have been such since 1854.  Presumably, he thinks they are the best party to know what’s “best for the people.” He then goes on to prove the accuracy of this statement.  It would take me a week to demonstrate how wrong-headed it is for any group of people in the USA to discuss the humanity of Democratic or Republican parties toward minority groups or women. We could all be smashed flat by the weight of publications to the contrary.  Both parties are guilty at various times in history of inhumanity and grand hypocrisy from the beginnings of this country until today, and the same will be the case tomorrow.  Individuals do and have done great things.  The parties often have not.

Some of Guillory’s proof of the great good will toward blacks at the hands of Republicans is pretty shaky:  Abe Lincoln, while a great president, was no saint.  Most people know these days that the abolition of slavery was not his purpose in the Civil War, nor anyone’s purpose.  It was a convenient and happy circumstance for slaves that Emancipation became a political tool, and most of them were grateful for freedom.  But if you read deeply, you will find that some were not and were “happy” with the “security” of their slave existence - wrong-headed and misguided—yes. 

But if you consider that a slave was a person ripped from their home at the hands of their own countrymen and relocated several thousand miles away across an ocean which they (perhaps) miraculously managed to survive being transported over; if you consider that a slave might have been purposefully BRED here after the slave trade was abolished (after all, why engage in the expense of transport or even of purchase on these shores when a slave owner could just make as many of his own slaves as he desired); it’s not difficult to imagine that one tortured and terrified in this manner wouldn’t want to be released to “freedom” into the wilds of an unknown country never travelled, with little or no idea really how to negotiate travel, not to mention all those murderous whites who might kill you still (reference the 1890s, Red Summer of 1913, the rise of the KKK and other hate groups, and subsequent Jim Crow Laws.) 

Guillory’s next example of Republican largesse is “voting rights.”  This is another problematic issue as stated by Guillory, who says, “It was the Republicans in Congress who authored the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments giving former slaves citizenship, voting rights, and due process of law.”  Republicans did sponsor the 14th Amendment, but it was in reaction to the Supreme Court’s (also mostly Republican) Dred Scott Decision.  So in fact, it wasn’t Dred Scott himself that was the reason for the 14th Amendment; it was quelling a corrupt Supreme Court (see Anastaplo’s Lincoln biography, 1999.)

It’s also well worth noting that the 1965 Voting Rights Act wouldn’t have been necessary had the first rights to vote been enforced.  The 1965 Voting Rights Act was a bi-partisan sponsored bill and signed into law by a democratic president.  Guillory writes, “It was the Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who championed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but it was Democrats in the Senate who filibustered the bill.” Eisenhower, a Republican, was a great president, but unfortunately, he couldn’t get the Civil Rights Act passed.  It would take the bully-muscle of a Democrat to do that.  Had not Kennedy and Johnson been in office, and had not Johnson been in need of establishing his might, I don’t think the act would have been passed without much more bloodshed. Consider the numbers reported of blacks mostly and some whites who were killed or injured from 1954 – 1968 during the Civil Rights movement (89 murdered and 176 injured that I could find from various sources). Had not Johnson intervened in 1964 when he did, I really believe things might have devolved into all-out civil war or another instance of genocide in the USA.

Guillory switches in his speech at this point to talk about government.  He writes, “You see, at the heart of liberalism is the idea that only a great and powerful big government can be the benefactor of social justice for all Americans.”  What exactly is “big government?”  Where is it actually stated what size our government should be other than what the constitution implies, keeping in mind that times and situations call for adjustments.  Our country has chosen to use government as a means of operation.  We have 315 million+ people in the US as of December 2012.  Who and how are we to manage all those people and their needs without government of a reasonable size to perform operations? 

We’re doing a terrible job at actually managing the needs of the people.  Reference the recent bridge collapses as one example of how well we are not doing.  According to the USDA, 47,558,164 Americans, or roughly 15% of our total population, are receiving food stamps, an increase of 2.8% since last year. They are not having their needs managed either. I promise you, none of this 15% woke up and decided they wanted to try to feed their families on $45 - $100 a month.

Yes, of course, Americans tend to complain about “social programs,” which is ridiculous, especially since many of those programs are benefitting the people who complain.  Take welfare for instance.  The current statistics show that there’s a 1% difference in the numbers of blacks and whites who receive welfare at around 39.8%.  Only around 16% of Latinos receive it.  We spend
·      $139.1 billion on welfare and our current total spending budget is $3,803.4 billion.
·      3.65% of our budget on welfare. 
·      $916.1 billion on healthcare
·      $901.4 on defense
·      $875.3 on pensions. 
I hope you see a problem here.  Less spending on social programs (almost none) and more spending on defense and healthcare. If you don’t eat well, you will become sick sooner or later. We could fund the welfare budget 8 times over with the defense or even the pension budget, and subsequently reduce spending on healthcare if our government had different priorities. We will spend ever-increasing amounts on healthcare at this rate due to our inability or disregard for our responsibility as humans to care for people who make up our society.  Or, we will just decide to let people die in the streets.

Guillory targets welfare as a program intended to keep blacks in poverty and not lift them from it.  He writes, “Programs such as welfare, food stamps, these programs aren’t designed to lift black Americans out of poverty, they were always intended as a mechanism for politicians to control the black community.”  Since Guillory himself is black, I presume this is why he has only talked about blacks in this sentence.  However, his contention is true for ALL people using the service.  It’s not meant to be a way of life but a bridge to a better life.  But, what does one do if the bridge is collapsed, has been blown up, or simply doesn’t exist where you live?  Consider here the demise of manufacturing in America.  Some of the arguments heard are that skilled laborers should train for other jobs. What if those other jobs aren’t there? 

Here’s Guillory’s one (mostly) accurate statement: “The idea that blacks, or anyone for that matter, need the government to get ahead in life is despicable” (2013, para. 6).  I agree.  However, as we have allowed ourselves to devolve over time, and given in fully to our terminal interest in profiteering, there’s just too much money to be made by having people dependent on government, one way or another, whether it’s for job creation, protection of our finance and banking system, oversight of our corporation operations, and the list goes on.  Things should not be this way.  I’m not a happy capitalist; this and other economic systems, along with individual greed and desire for power, corrupt all that should be had in any economic system.  None of them work as long as power-mongers are in charge.

Guillory mentions how “freedom” is tossed around and has lost its punch.  I agree.  I also think that virtually no American wants real freedom.  And nowhere on the planet does true freedom, or, for that matter, democracy, actually exist. We have pseudo versions of these ideas. Freedom is regularly suspended in situations like these:  (1) you are a group of youth, regardless of race, who are congregating and making some other people nervous because you are congregating; (2) you are a homeowner who needs a mortgage modification, but Bank of America and/or Chase are practicing fraud which impedes your progress and can substantially affect your freedom to resolve your financial situation; (3) you’re a black youth [read and then fill in the blank of the exhaustive list of things that can impede your freedom that you actually have no control over, like being shot inside your house from a bullet meant for someone else, or being forced through hazing into activities that lead to your death (definitely not only occurring in the black community)]; (4) being hit and killed as a child while sitting in church from celebratory gunfire; (5) your government is afraid of terrorists and thus decides it needs to monitor and record all communications of all Americans.  This list goes on.

In short, Guillory is free to choose whatever party he wants and to switch at will.  That he does so has absolutely no bearing on what I believe will ultimately save this country, and that has nothing to do with politics.  In fact, when we pay less attention to politics and more attention to compassionate humane treatment of everyone, regardless of color, creed, gender or party affiliation, we might have a chance.  We need a great deal more respect for difference. 

In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how this nation, of all nations, can be so recalcitrant and xenophobic about difference.  The indigenous peoples in America are not the ones currently in charge—the start of the problem.  Perhaps it’s time that the USA should split up into smaller units where people of like minds can live in peace.  If you want to hate whomever, not feed whomever, keep your women barefoot and pregnant and your citizenry wholly ignorant about certain things, there ought to be a place for you in these United States.  You should be able to practice what you want, and you should NOT be able to impede me from doing the same.  In your area, your own individual citizens will easily abide by the cultural will of the people in your area, or they will have to leave and go to another one where people live as desired.  If I want to play the violin, be gay, levitate the Pentagon, manufacture, drink and sell raw milk and non-GMO vegetables, consume no pharmaceuticals, drink clean water, write poetry, smoke weed, have group sex, watch porn, gamble, drink and do drugs, have academic conversations, write books, I should be able to do that with like-minded people and not be attacked or impressed into behavior I don’t espouse.  If I want to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Yoruba, Wiccan, you should be able to be so and not have others attack you for it.  That’s what America is supposed to be.  So we waste our time trying to police others into being like us because in fact, that’s against the principles of freedom.  I hope America shits or gets off the pot.  Either be the free society your constitution says you are and work out a reasonable way to do so, or stop lying and be the fascist, communist, dictatorial beast this country is fast becoming. 

Melissa Prunty Kemp is a 27-year English professor and former General Education department chair.  Her education background is varied—she earned a B.A. in Psychology from Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, and was the second African American to earn a M.A. in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, VA. She studied Early American and Harlem Renaissance literature at Kent State University.  Her final degree, a Master in Fine Arts Creative Writing, was earned at from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. 

She wrote her first poems at age 13, which were published in the junior high literary magazine, The Bagpipe, and in yearbooks.  She says, “I knew no other way at that time to extol the love I had for an unknown Cheyenne Indian in Wyoming; a poem had to be it.  I have been writing and attempting to publish ever since.”  Her love of writing drives her to write and publish academic and technical articles and online publications about art, race, politics, black history and local history of African Americans in Salem and Roanoke, VA.  Her poetry and articles have appeared in The Journal of Women and Language, California Poetry Quarterly, We Used To Be Wives (anthology),, Callaloo Journal and Art & Understanding Magazine.

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