“What better way to enslave a man then to give him the vote and tell him he is free.”
– Albert Camus
“The vote has been used as a tool of oppression against Blacks.”
--H. Rap Brown (now Imam Jamil Al-Amin)
It is time we have some “frank talk” about this Little Rock mayoral race. While we are told many are committed to taking down the old politics that has controlled this city since its inception, Frank Scott, Jr., an African American candidate, is running for mayor. He is increasingly received like a mythical personality, mystifying that what the gathering of forces for Scott is based, is a retreat from every principle that those who oppose white supremacy once held. It is a retreat from Black autonomy, self-determination, confronting police brutality, and mass incarceration. It is also a departure from principled coalition building, uniting all oppressed people across race and gender lines, with Black toilers and the unemployed finding their power not servile employment. Instead there is a growing unity around opportunism and careerism. The Scott campaign has exposed that those who condemn institutions as inherently racist are willing to discard this claim for individuals and policies that are far from profound.
The Scott coalition includes bankers, real estate developers, the religious right, and the police. It is also a coalition that satisfies the left bloc of capital and those who embrace American empire. Scott ran as a conservative in the general election and has repackaged himself as a progressive in the coming days and weeks leading up to the run-off against Baker Kurrus, a real estate developer and former school superintendent. Scott is a blue dog Democrat, a conservative Democrat from a Southern state, that has a conservative record even by the normative standards of systemic barbarism.
Scott is a disciple of Harold Ford Jr., whom he interned for in college. Ford, a former longtime Tennessee Congressman who moved to New York (like his friends the Clintons), has been described by Margaret Kimberly of Black Agenda Report as “never missing the opportunity to throw Blacks under the bus” and a “suck-up to Neo-Confederates.” Glen Ford has called Harold “George Bush’s favorite Black Democrat, an ally in the fight against social security;” “a Black whore for white capital” who flirts “openly with the racist redneck vote.” Scott seems to have similar capacities of his mentor Ford, which could make him both electable and loathsome.
Some objections have been raised to Scott during the general election that are still worthy of consideration. As State Highway Commissioner, he voted to approve the interstate expansion on the eastern side of Little Rock. There was a long debate and strong opposition, and Scott ignored it. Expanding highways in our city can be viewed as valuable, and in some ways may lead to overcoming traffic congestion. But the hard reality is that the freeways have allowed large numbers of white families to flee Little Rock, and return here to work, while living in their overwhelming majority or all white suburban communities. Scott is an ally of white flight in a city whose history is marked by a school desegregation crisis – really a pogrom against the Black community and Black children in particular – as embodied by the struggle of the Little Rock Nine in 1957. Most of the Little Rock Nine have long been coopted into being used as a tool of the cultural apparatus of the city and state and have endorsed Scott.
Being progressive in Little Rock today is actually a retreat from combating injustice in exchange for cheap cultural symbolism, disparate oppositional identities that are hollow and thirsty to be friends with the state and capital. Still, it is not a natural conclusion for Blacks and progressive voters to oppose a Black man running for mayor when too many white men have governed for too long in Little Rock. Moreover, I am not suggesting people should vote for Baker Kurrus.
Conscious Black folks and anti-racist white folks who are not a fraud should think about voting for “none of the above” and staying home. In a state like Arkansas where there is strong evidence that there is repression of both black and white voters, voting for “none of the above” may be misunderstood. Consider that the actual meaning of voter repression is that we go uncounted between elections no matter who is in office. Might the vote disorganize us from our real power and potential?
Stated more bluntly, a Black banker and religious right pastor does not represent the self-determination of ordinary Black folks or a campaign to dismantle white supremacy and the empire of capital. We are not obligated to vote for Mr. Scott just because he is Black man. And before people start saying “but our people died for the right to vote” – they did not. They died in pursuit of freedom, fighting racial capitalism and fascism, not reconciling with these beasts. And this freedom struggle is not finished. Don’t be fooled that the rich will allow us to vote away their wealth or vote away the police state that degrades and kills our people.
The Vote as a Tool of Oppression and for “Organizing” Blacks
H. Rap Brown stated “the vote is a tool of oppression.” But what does it organize Blacks for exactly? It disciplines and subordinates Blacks, for the Black masses have tremendous revolutionary potential, to politics, economics, and institutions that we do not control. In exchange, it lifts those who seek fat back and biscuits and who wish to be the spook that sits by the wealthiest and powerful white folks’ door.
The mavens of Black electoral politics’ view ordinary Blacks as embarrassing, marginal, ignorant, and insignificant. It assumes we, in Little Rock, do not know the difference between “black on black crime” and what the so-called respectable uplift the race crowd does to us. How does one become a “Black leader” in the institutions of official society? He/she is elevated, appointed, funded, and approved by the most oppressive and powerful white people. They then turn around and confirm white folks every fear, every debased and degraded image, and every psychopathic viewpoint they have of our people. Let us consider how this is accomplished, for we know the “master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” Race management can be a tricky thing. It can change pretenses and uniforms.
Privilege Politics Is At Work in Little Rock
The critique of white privilege, like the vote, is a tool of oppression of Blacks. I know many do not think so. I can hear twisted contestations as I type these words. But no aspiring Black leader goes around telling Stephens or the Rockefeller families about their white privilege. Instead, opportunistic Blacks (and whites) tell white middle class and white working-class people about their privilege while taking money from the Stephens and the Rockefellers, etc.
The “privilege card” is strongest where white folks who criticize capitalism and the police (and we know how few there are who do this) subordinate themselves in a mistaken coalition with Black opportunists. They could seek out genuine Black radicals, but the truth is, they are too scarce in The Rock. “White privilege” is used to divide and disorient insurgent potential in the service of the white wealthy who fund every liberal and cultural organization for “social justice” – a word we should stop using.
There is a willful blind eye toward an imagined progressive ruling class, even if only potentially, the standard for which is always retreating. The cynical discarding of aspirations toward a new society has given way to equal opportunity to rise to the top. Combating privilege and fighting for social justice and self-determination means, in the final analysis, the right for certain Blacks to place their own interests above solidarity with the most oppressed and potentially insurgent in our own community, and those allies who wish to genuinely fight.
Black misleaders don’t want allies to fight the cops, the Klan, the patriarchs and the empire of capital. Instead, they want to use the history of violence and real contemporary threats and attacks as their social capital. They want a sandwich, and if there are no sandwiches, they will take “fat back and biscuits.” And eventually they want a profession, property, pensions and investments. Alliances with the uncompromising will not secure that.
A Black leadership class is manufactured by the very people one would think embody white privilege. In Little Rock, it might be the Stephens, Walton, Massey, Coulson, Dilliard, Ford, Rutledge, or the Rockefeller family. Name one so-called Black leader who talks about “privilege” in their mixed company and has denounced any of these families as “privileged” in Little Rock? If they do anything, they coddle and wink as if they are getting ready to milk a cash cow.
Encouraging Black insurgency is something that is not compensated, where it unexpectedly takes initiative beyond the containment of invented Black leaders, their white wealthier allies artificially placed them in front. Hence, the critique of privilege becomes a divisive and disorienting weapon against coalitions pointing toward rebellion that do not seek photo-op arrests. While it would be nice to clean out the phony civil rights halls of shame while the elder misleaders are still around, Little Rock needs to ask questions about those “just communities” who give out humanitarian awards to these foxes, wolves, and razorbacks. While there are genuine racial and gender blind-spots among commoners, isn’t it an education that on the spectrum of the Waltons and Rockefellers, those activists that critique stumbling progressives do so while securing their access to philanthropic wealth for being race leaders and culturally competent community brokers?
Frank Scott is not qualitative, but he is indeed qualified to be mayor because he supports state murder and capitalist thievery as authentically as all the previous candidates including Kurrus. It doesn’t require a special intellect or maturity to have those values. They are derivative of adjustment to a hostile society. But it does require a careerist and opportunistic imagination to be a Black banker and pastor who attended college and worked in Governor Beebe’s administration and insist many in the Black community are surprised at “his success.” There is no “Black Pride” in this.
When did contemporary Black pride in Little Rock become less independent thought and action, and instead proving to whites that we are not inferior on their terms? Are we going backwards? Or is our politics being disciplined by a few handkerchief heads? White people do not have the monopoly of beauty, intelligence, character, or strength. Scott is one of many Black leaders in Little Rock who will supposedly turn the page on a degraded Little Rock history by winning the election. But he can’t project this modest standard. Is it because Scott, the “educated man,” is not sure?
Those who believe they are against white privilege, use the manipulation of privilege as social capital, and do not tell the truth to white folks. Instead they want to have interracial fellowship dialogues to look into each other’s souls or in the case of the Pol Pot regime, have purification rituals. Some of us don’t want to find insecure white folks or recovering racists to pimp. Some of us already have Black friends (we are friends with ourselves), know we are human, and would rather spend our time confronting those people and institutions who are planning our demise. We have true allies and don’t wish for guilt to be born in minds.
These Capitalist Exploiters, Black or White, Ain’t Loyal
There has been some dispute among progressives in Little Rock, as to whether Frank Scott is a tool of the Chamber of Commerce. Sadly, most don’t seem concerned one way or the other. It is important to grasp that Scott, like other members of the Black political class and their white sponsors, even where pro-capitalist, cannot be easily seen as lackeys of the Little Rock Chamber. But this is not what you might first think. The rulers of Little Rock disagree as to how effective the Chamber actually has been in enhancing economic development in the city. Recent indicators show little “growth,” if not stagnation. Nevertheless, Scott has argued in his campaign that as mayor, he would create a Little Rock Economic Development Corporation (LREDC) that he would chair with other stakeholders and drive economic strategic planning.
Scott has explained that the LREDC’s key stakeholders would include University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (the state’s only health science center), the Chamber of Commerce, and “respected business leaders” like the Stephens family. Now, we cannot understand the political economy of Little Rock without understanding that the Stephens family of global bankers were the underwriters of the first public offering of Wal-Mart, they were the major economic power behind Bill and Hilary Clinton, and they were also connected to global money laundering for the drug trade, the Iran-Contra scandal, in their links to the BCCI bank and CIA. Most Black millionaires in Little Rock, there are surprisingly many, are spin offs from associations with the economic tree of influence of the Stephens family in some manner.
Frank Scott, a banker with First Security, controlled by the John Rutledge family, is familiar with new market tax credits and empowerment zones. Scott is also familiar with how the Arkansas Capital Corporation and Arkansas Development Corporation function. That is, he knows how to, in the name of “free market” economics, use government to mix tax payers money with loans for economic development, including minority economic development. Through a type of state planning, the LREDC can “stimulate” the economy by giving loans and then forgiving them to friends already with many assets in sweet heart real estate and land deals through massive wealth transfers that never impact starvation wages. He is supported by Richard Mays, Bill Walker, Sherman Tate, and Bob Nash, Black businessmen who claim to be civil rights leaders and know all about the hustle. Little Rock is a money laundering capital whose scandals are well-known but scarcely prosecuted. It is shameful that those who speak for reforming and policing disenfranchised and drug infested Black communities and against Black on Black crime are those Black wealthy complicit with the government and white capitalist forces that placed the drugs in the Black community.
Frank Scott is part of the fraternity of banksters who would never be the subject of swooning among the “conscious” (but still led astray) in Little Rock if he were a white. His concept of job creation is a lot like feminists who want “equal pay for equal work.” Scott will strive to close “the racial wealth gap” between black and white, male and female corporate executives, and he will strive to ensure that those who clean hotel bed linens and hospital bed pans also get equal pay regardless of race or gender. Social equality means: relative equality among those with mansions and big boats AND those with starvation wages. The local “poor people’s campaign,” sponsored by the McArthur Foundation and the Rockefellers, are not surprisingly deficient in making this clear.
Solidarity is key, not cultural competency.
Solidarity is key, not cultural competency. Nobody is sufficiently competent in the many archives of world cultures. And to talk cultural competency is really racial eugenics talk. We learn and grow as we struggle together. But effective struggle is organized around common ideologies and strategies that combat hierarchy and liberalism. We make our own policies and institutions before choosing a leader, and they should not be anointed but easily recallable.
The attempt to have a progressive discussion as to what is wrong with the African American banker and pastor Frank Scott Jr.’s campaign in terms of social justice has failed. Like the Age of Obama and the recent campaigns for governor in Florida and Georgia by Andrew Gillum and Stacy Abrams respectively, social change and moving forward for Black folks has been boiled down to a “if it’s good for me, it can’t be all bad.” Change we can believe in means no profound transformation. Moving forward means by no standard or measure. Think Justice, as a brand for Philander Smith, means many youth are admitted who cannot read, and they are bamboozled and led astray when thinking about what it means to protest and resist oppressive systems, even within their own institution.
What it means to be progressive or for social justice – no one will say. In Little Rock, the meaning is clear. They think they are allies of the white rich. They think (some) Black folks are human by some peculiar measure. On this basis, Little Rock is talking about the cultural terms for “coming together” as a new breakthrough.
Toward a resolution for the “threat of crime” or maintaining young black men in prison lines?
Scott proposes to resolve “the threat of crime” in Little Rock. Will he arrest the Stephens and Bob Nash for money laundering for the drugs placed in the Little Rock Black community during Iran-Contra? What about his friends Bill Walker and Richard Mays for their real estate scams with government complicity? Will he call for the investigation of the accreditors and trustees of Philander Smith and Arkansas Baptist for accepting an inferior standard of basic skills for Black college students? Scott is for a different type of “community control.” His emphasis is not popular self-management but control.
When Scott speaks of a “threat of crime” he is talking about containment and adjustment of our people. He is talking about war on his own people who he believes fulfill racist stereotypes. Scott really believes he is “not like the other coloreds” and campaigns in this spirit. Why be proud of being “rooted” if ordinary Blacks are already located where you claim? This means his rootedness is overstated. Even a junkyard dog, chained to the fence, stays in the neighborhood and pretends to have a bark. Scott is uniting black and white elites around the premise of Black self-destruction. He has a type of eugenics philosophy. He wants to cleanse the unfit from our community. It would indeed be prison reform if we put the white ruling class and the Black misleadership class in prison and thought about programs to rehabilitate their humanity.
Is Scott a Friend of the Police?
Nobody can run for mayor without conveying comfort with the police state. Those who oppose the police state on Tuesdays should stop getting out the vote for it on Thursdays. The Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP), a white supremacist association, has tried to suggest that Scott will be “soft on crime.” The FOP has conflicts with the professional association of Black police (which no progressive says is also a white supremacist organization). The FOP is a notoriously anti-black organization all across the country. Scott had the opportunity to denounce the FOP as white supremacist in his counter-statement clarifying they wished to defame his character. He instead said the FOP represents “the old politics” and not “the future” of Little Rock.
Scott had the opportunity to bring the city together around “frank talk” about white supremacy and instead showed he is the type of Negro that can be trusted not to tell the police to go to hell but to preserve their legitimacy as an institution. This is despite a Washington Post reporter last month recently “uncovered” a pattern of illegal no-knock raids on Black folks in Little Rock under the guise of “the war on drugs.” Now this is “award winning” reporting. Police brutality and murder, and false arrests, has been questioned as “illegal” in one American city. With investigative reporting like this, the sky will be discovered to be blue shortly.
Scott has said he supports a federal government investigation of the Little Rock police. This is like giving approval to a force of superior jurisdiction (if not ethics) – it shows no special character of Scott. In fact, Scott campaigned in the general election on the platform of putting over 700 more police in “crime ridden communities” to “take back” Little Rock.
Scott doesn’t propose the police occupy the hills where the white wealthy’s mansions are, with conspicuous Black domestic servants, overlook the Big Dam Bridge and the golf course. He doesn’t propose they be placed in Westrock. Does Scott really know how to pursue crime? Scott proposes to “improve police community relations.” Are white folks skeptical of the humanity and ethics of the police and vice versa? Scott talks of “bringing the city together.” Who expressed the concern or catastrophe that we might be apart? Certainly, Blacks folks know each other well. White folks know each other well. Surely Scott doesn’t propose elevation of a labor movement uniting black and white toilers. Improving police community relations is a code word for disorient Black anger and dissatisfaction with perennial abuse. A police chief “dedicated to social justice” is farce when one understands the history and true function of the police as an institution.
Is Frank Well-Rounded or Inconsistent?
Frank Scott seemingly has an interest in ballet and modern dance. A former football player, Scott drops the name of artists and theorists Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky. Scott comes off as superficial and as someone who doesn’t really know what he claims to know. This seems to be the planted talking points of a political consultant who amplified a couple of dance lessons Scott took. In no way has Scott shown the cultural range that studying their life and work might suggest.
Duncan was raised in San Francisco and made her name in Europe and was greatly taken with the social and political movement that led to the Soviet Union. She said she was a “revolutionist.” Nijinsky was a Russian controversialist for performing ballets that were noted for sexually suggestive homoerotic scenes. Scott doesn’t seem to be a revolutionary or controversialist but the mediocre dreamers are attaching themselves to his campaign anyway. What is he not telling us?
A major change of clothes for Scott’s campaign was he ran uncritically as a pastor of a religious right congregation and led a public life that did not take a stand for LGBTQ rights and mingled effortlessly with Black folks who projected that homosexuals and queers were sinners. Now as part of the runoff, he has proposed to revamp the human rights commission – of the police department – to respond to LGBTQ needs. He has been endorsed by a married couple of prominent professional white males. Why could Scott, the great communicator, not market, affirm, or find endorsements of queer people in our Black community or within his church?
How can one have currency with the rich and the poor, the racists and Blacks, the homophobes, patriarchs and the LGBTQ folks? Cultural competency in electoral politics essentially means we hope that everybody with social integrity, and even principles and actors we believe are consistently wrong, can come together around the same candidate and policies. This makes little sense unless we remember why the vote is a tool of oppression but also an organizer of Black folks.
It is not clear how Scott got his opportunity to be misleader of the moment. His approach is very similar to Fitz Hill, before he disappeared from public view after the protracted scandal at Arkansas Baptist College. But the Hills and Scotts can be here today and gone tomorrow in the shell game of white ruler approved Black leaders. Folks waiting and sometimes scuffling for “their due” are celebrated in the Arkansas Business Observer which could be renamed the Aryan Blacks Observer or the Approved Blacks Originator. Every Negro in Little Rock in pursuit of wealth, counting his blessings, who agrees not to criticize powerful white folks in public (or only as a puppet of misdirection) gets a spread elevating them as a leader of the Black community in this publication. And some run around chiding those for racism and selling out for not getting out the vote for Frank Scott. The audacity of traitors.
It is important to underscore Frank Scott is not the first approved black, endorsed by supremacists, to pretend to be orchestrating a transformational moment. Those chanting for this false new beginning in fact elevate Babylon while foreseeing a coveted future government post or contract or sweet heart wealth transfer for their business or institution. But the Black masses of Little Rock have been pushed to the brink. Little Rock in 2019 could easily be Ferguson in 2014, Baltimore in 2015 or Charlottesville in 2017. Just as importantly, the real purveyors of “Black on Black crime” may be discovered. And surprise, surprise -- they might regularly wear belts, suits and ties, and not sag their pants! The bottom line is, if Little Rock doesn’t come around, it can burn down.
Manufactured Negroes won’t mind despite public lamentations defending the master’s house or its contemporary forms. There will be more “fatbacks and biscuits” for pretenders than ever before in such a situation. But ordinary Blacks understand there will never be a “1957” again. There will be no sustained pogrom on the Little Rock Black community ever again without the aid of Black misleaders. And those who get out the vote traffic in conspiracy, misdirection, and fear. This fraud is another reason to stay home and vote none of the above. Of course, white racists mobilize the vote by fear of black power. And Black folks mobilize the vote by telling our people that who holds state power is decisive for containing lynch law. This obscures the multi-cultural police state is the most efficient white supremacist institution today.
The task is for the future leaders of Little Rock (they might be elders, they might be youth) who are not sell-outs, to produce the forms of social organization that cannot be reconverted into the affirmative action empire. From telling our people the truth about the crisis in basic skills, we must teach about pride and creativity in designing the new society out of the coming civil war. We must cultivate an education to govern.
While the Age of Trump encourages the cracker and peckerwood, be mindful there is a civil war within the Little Rock Black community itself. This will bloom as the future will be marked by clashes not just with Cops and Klan but with fraudulent misleaders and multi-racial coalitions from above. Those white folks, progressive and wealthy, and the Black misleaders who get out the vote for Frank Scott deceive themselves about how explosive we really feel. Of course, they already want us dead or servile. But what Scott’s mob and tantrums refuses to acknowledge is they fear our latent power and radical impulses not to compromise with those who tell us we have freedom through the vote when it mobilizes us toward the new shackles like a pestilence. Those rulers and race managers with walls of engraved plaques ultimately will know the penalty of their acts.
Zachariah Wilkerson can be reached at [email protected]