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Critical Thinking And Constructive Criticism

by Ron Daniels Friday, Oct. 13, 2000 at 3:25 PM

"To be a critical thinker is to refuse to simply accept things as they appear on the surface, to question and analyze before acting." Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, spells out exactly what this means for the liberation struggles of Africans in America--and, indeed, for all of us.

Critical Thinking And Constructive Criticism The Black World Today

October 9, 2000

Critical Thinking And Constructive Criticism:
Essential Elements Of The Liberation Process

By Ron Daniels

As Africans in America and the world continue the journey towards liberation from cultural aggression, racial oppression and economic exploitation into the 21st century, it is vitally important that we strive to develop educated, conscious and critical thinking citizens of the Pan-African world. The experiences of African people in the 20th century should have taught us that being biologically black in and of itself is not sufficient to guarantee liberation for the masses of our people. In the U.S. and throughout the African world our experiences with corrupt, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, dictatorially inclined "Black" leaders should have exposed the fallacy of skin politics -- a focus on and allegiance to skin color rather than substance.

It is my contention that as a people we have often been victimized by skin politics because we do not think critically, engage in critical discussions about the issues of the day or engage in constructive criticism of our leaders. To be a critical thinker is to refuse to simply accept things as they appear on the surface, to question and analyze before acting. To complete our journey towards liberation, we need informed, tough minded, critical thinking Africans who are unwilling to accept pronouncements from on high from Black leaders or anyone else without a serious and thoughtful examination of the questions and issues at hand.

Recent history offers some telling examples where Black political leadership has demanded of Black people that we accept their pronouncements uncritically. For example, William Jefferson Clinton, despite a decidedly mixed record on issues affecting Black people, has assumed almost hero status in the Black community merely because he is not as bad as Bush or Dole might have been and because he gets along well with Black people. Some comedians have gone so far as to dub him an honorary Black man. Similarly Clinton was recently received in Africa like he was a savior. He was paraded around in traditional African dress and given five African names, an honor that was not bestowed so abundantly on notable African leaders from the U.S. like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King.

Despite the passage of the Africa Trade Bill, which most progressives believe is a prescription for institutionalizing neo-colonialism, Africa is still not very high on the foreign policy agenda of the U.S. African leaders seem so starved for attention and economic trinkets from the U.S. that Clinton is welcomed and presented to the African masses as a savior for offering a more slightly polished set of shackles. It is not necessarily wrong to develop working political relations with Clinton or to even support him. However, the people should demand that the "leaders" tell the truth about why we might choose pragmatically to deal with Clinton instead of presenting him as the best thing to happen to Black people since sliced bread. There is nothing inherently wrong with supporting a political candidate or leader because his/her positives outweigh the negatives given our agenda and interests at a particular time. We used to call this "critical support."

This is how Black people should treat this Presidential election or any election for that matter. But during the Democratic primary, I was stunned to hear Cornel West, as a self-defined radical democrat, introduce Senator Bill Bradley to Black people like he was a "revolutionary" alternative to Al Gore. Amiri Baraka actually used the rhetoric of revolution to describe his embrace of Bradley! Cornel should have simply provided a reasoned explanation of why Bill Bradley's record was incrementally better than Gore's on certain issues. Now that Gore is the candidate, Black Democrats are presenting him to Black folks and praising him to high heavens as if the sky will fall if George Bush becomes President. And heaven forbid that a Black person should consider Ralph Nader, even though his politics are closer to that of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, the insurgent candidate for President in 1984 and 1988, than either of the candidates of the establishment parties. There is a reasonable rationale for supporting Gore, but Black leaders should present him without the halo.

The campaign to mobilize Black voters to assist the Democrats to recapture the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, is also devoid of discussion and debate. My recollection is that it was a Democratically controlled Congress that cowered before Reagan and later Bush in drastically reducing spending for social programs while beefing up the military budget and expenditures for police and prisons. The question is what do the Democrats propose to do differently this time. It is not enough simply to tantalize Black voters with the prospect that Charlie Rangel will be Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and that a number of other members of the Congressional Black Caucus will Chair powerful committees and sub-committees. Charlie Rangel and other prospective Black chairs of committees should be campaigning across the country sharing their vision and platform for what they intend to do when the Democrats regain control of Congress. Instead the Black electorate is being asked to support the effort to reclaim Congress so that Black faces will replace White faces in powerful positions and places. Our experience in the 20th century strongly suggests that this does not necessarily lead to empowerment for the masses of Black people.

Black leaders need to speak to the people about their goals and objectives and not assume that pigmentation equals liberation. And, knowledgeable, conscious and critically thinking Black people should not let Black leaders get away with it. Critical thinking and constructive criticism are vital elements of the liberation process.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Black World Today. All Rights Reserved. Republished by permission of the author.

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