Public Comment

Commentary: Racism From the White Left

By Jean Damu and Alona Clifton
Friday July 27, 2007

The jaw-dropping attacks on Michigan Congressman John Conyers this week by members of the white, leftist sector of this nation’s antiwar movement have proven how deeply racism exists. 

Conyers was picketed and attacked by leading activists and spokespeople of the anti-war movement because he, as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, determined that there did not exist enough votes to move to the floor of the House of Representatives a discussion of the impeachment of president George Bush for creating the war in Iraq.  

“Conyers has betrayed the American people,” bawled Global Exchange and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. “Conyers is no Martin Luther King,” wailed former analyst of the CIA, Ray McGovern. Lefty journalist David Lindorf scribbled, “The shame of John Conyers.” All three articles appeared on the July 24 version of the progressive website Commondreams. In addition, Cindy Sheehan, anti-war mom, had herself arrested sitting in at Conyers’ office.  

Give us a break! 

What does impeaching George Bush have to do with ending the war in Iraq? And what gives white, anti-war activists the right to call into question the moral and humanistic motivations of John Conyers because he determined the political will did not exist within Congress to impeach the president? 

From our point of view (and speaking as progressive African Americans) Conyers is the outstanding member of Congress, who has been most outspoken in support of the anti-war movement and against the Bush Administration.  

But here is something else. Year after year, actually every year since 1989, John Conyers has introduced into congress HR 40, the African American Reparations Study Bill. It is a bill that is likely the lowest common denominator of the Black reparations movement in the U.S. To date Conyers has never had the votes to get it out of committee, onto the floor of the House. But each year he re-introduces the bill, constantly searching for more endorsers. He has never given up on this issue that is supported by the vast majority of African Americans.  

To the best of our knowledge neither Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, David Lindorf and certainly not Cindy Sheehan or few of the other “leading lights” of the white left in the anti-war movement (with the notable exception of Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich) have ever lifted a finger or raised their voice in support of African Americans cry for repair from the legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade.  

But yet, how ironic that these normally progressive whites feel perfectly comfortable labeling John Conyers “a betrayer of the American people.”  

Here is another irony. If white Americans had voted against George Bush by half the percentage points that Black Americans voted against George Bush, Dubya would have never gotten near the White House.  

As for McGovern’s claim that Conyers is no Martin Luther King, we say, who is some white guy to tell us who is and who is not our leader or leaders? That is what J. Edgar Hoover tried to do to us with regards to the Black Panther Party. Also, who is to say, if Martin Luther King were alive today, what he would or would not say?  

Some white sectors of the anti-war movement need to re-focus themselves and try to build allies in the streets and in the halls of government to end the war, rather than engaging in mindless racism and alienating the most progressive and anti-George Bush communities in America, namely Black America.  


Jean Damu is active within the Reparations Movement and Alona Clifton is a former member of the Peralta Community College board and a long-time political activist in Oakland. Both are members of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration Steering Committee.