Debt Ceiling: All "Great Compromises" Always Harm African Americans

During this debt and deficit debate President Obama has been very clear on his position that an agreement must include revenues:

“Not only is it not fair if all this is done on the backs of middle-class families,” Obama said, “it doesn’t make sense. … That’s why people from both parties have said the best way to take on our deficit is with a balanced approach … one where wealthy Americans and corporations pay their share, too.” It appeared as though closing tax loopholes and increased revenues coming from the “…oil company or a corporate jet owner that’s doing so well …” was not a point of compromise.

As the hour of judgment draws near, Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has proposed a compromise. In short, Reid’s plan implements cuts to discretionary spending and includes roughly $1 trillion that will come from savings as troops are drawn down from Iraq and Afghanistan without measures to increase revenue.

As every one in the middle and working classes will be dramatically impacted if this issue is not resolved in a balanced fashion, African Americans will be disproportionally impacted. According to the most recent Pew Research Center report, based on 2009 data, “The typical black household had just $5,677 in wealth … in 2009 and the typical white household had $113,149… Moreover, about a third of black (35%) households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, compared with 15% of white households.”

With Republicans being insistent on attacking entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicade, compromises that do not share the sacrifice by closing tax loopholes and increased revenues from the wealthy in America should be suspect. All too often, America has compromised at the expense of and upon the backs of African Americans. This can not happen again.

Since its founding, America has suffered from a Political Multiple Personality Disorder (PMPD). The great experiment of democracy, America, has struggled to reconcile its stated goals with its reality. Too many times through out its history America has compromised its stated values of liberty, equality, and respect for human rights, for profit and property. Slavery, racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of dispirit treatment of many of its citizen’s conflict with the ideals upon which the country was founded and are clear examples of America’s PMPD.

For example, in order to get the Southern slave states to sign onto the Constitution and strike a balance between the slave-holding states and free-states a number of compromises were reached, all at the expense of the Africans in America. They were not African Americans since the 14th Amendment providing a broad definition of citizenship that overruled the “Dred Scott v. Sandford” ruling of 1857 was not ratified until 1868.

For the sake of taxation and representation, the Three Fifths Compromise was struck (Article I, Section 2). In Article I, Section 9, the importation of slaves was allowed to continue until 1808, not because of the founders desired to end “The Peculiar Institution” but it was determined that after twenty additional years of importing slaves and procreation, America would be able to “breed” their own through childbirth within America. Finally, the Fugitive Slave Provision (Article IV, Section 2) was incorporated into the Constitution. Since there were free-states and slave holding states operating under the same Constitution, any person held to Service or Labor in a slave state who escaped to a free-state was to be returned to their slave-state upon demand.

These compromises of values and lapses in judgment are not only found in the Constitutional foundations of America but the courts and legislature have been used to support, codify, and institutionalize the ideology of White supremacy in America.

It was Chief Justice Roger Taney who wrote in 1857 in the Dread Scott ruling:

They (African’s in America) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

In 1877 Democrat Samuel J. Tilden conceded the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes on the understanding that Hayes would remove the federal troops that were propping up Republican state governments in the Southern states, effectively bringing an end to Reconstruction. This has come to be known as the Tilden – Hayes Compromise or the “Corrupt Bargain”.

In Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in public accommodations under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” Justice Henry B. Brown declared, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Plessy remained the standard doctrine in U.S. law until Justice Harlan’s insight and wisdom became the majority sentiment on the court in the1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision which was in itself, another compromise. Instead of requiring all states to immediately integrate their schools or setting a reasonable deadline, the Court allowed the states to integrate, “with all deliberate speed.” This compromise resulted in the need for the Brown II case in 1955.

Compromise can be tricky. At almost every turn too many of America’s great compromises have been at the expense of the either Africans in America or African Americans. Keep a close eye on Senator Reid and the Obama Administration. We can ill afford another “Great Compromise”.